London’s calling, and you’re going to want to pick up.
The third instalment into Ubisoft’s dystopian Watch Dogs series is upon us, and this time there’s a major twist. Whereas Watch Dogs had the moody Aiden Pearce at its helm and Watch Dogs 2 had the chirpy Marcus Holloway, Watch Dogs Legion has… anybody you want. No, really. In lieu of a central protagonist, Watch Dogs Legion‘s unique selling point is that you can recruit just about anyone to DedSec’s cause.
You’ll choose a character from a line-up to begin with, but after that, you can interact with pretty much anyone on the streets and, after doing a short mission, they’ll become a DedSec recruit. There are caveats, of course; if someone hates DedSec – and there’s a fair few of ’em – then it’s unlikely they’re going to want to come over to your side. But the freedom to play as any one of literally hundreds of characters is something quite novel. Does not having a central character impact Watch Dogs Legion‘s narrative? Perhaps not as much as you’d think, but we’ll get onto that later.
As you’d expect from a new title in the Watch Dogs series, Legion offers up a huge open world to run riot in. This time, the setting is London. It’s not a 1:1 scale recreation of the city, obviously, but at times, it feels damn close. There are numerous familiar buildings and landmarks, and if you’re familiar with England’s capital, you’ll get a kick out of seeing how accurate much of it is. It looks fantastic, too. A huge amount of care has gone into adding so many small details, and it pays off to create a city that’s as living and breathing as the real thing.
There’s a hefty story campaign to get through, taking about 20 hours, and a wealth of side quests, minigames and activities to complete. But you’re likely to find yourself having just as much fun simply taking in the sights and sounds of London. There’s always something going on, be it an impromptu street performance, someone acting drunk and disorderly, or law enforcement getting a bit too carried away. Walking around always reveals something new to you – maybe a protest, or maybe even two old lovers necking in an alleyway (really) – so it’s worth taking some time out just to take in your surroundings from time to time. You’ll probably also want to make use of Watch Dogs Legion‘s built-in camera mode to capture some of the beauty – and the madness – you see.
Of course, you’ll need to dive into the story eventually, and it’ll likely keep you gripped throughout its runtime. There are four major ‘factions’ to take down in London, all posing their own particular threat on the city. At the forefront is Albion, a private police organisation that’s ruling London with an iron fist, and its deplorable CEO, Nigel Cass. There’s also intelligence agency SIRS, which is working with Albion to monitor all of London’s residents. If that’s not enough, there’s crime lord Mary Kelley and her cronies, carrying out horrifying acts on innocent civilians. And to round it all off is the anonymous Zero Day, believed to be behind a large-scale bomb attack in the city. So, yeah, DedSec has its work cut out.
You can tackle story missions as any character you like, but you’ll have to recruit some particular characters to make use of their skills. You see, some Londoners have special abilities, skills or career paths that are useful to DedSec. If you want to infiltrate Albion, for example, it might be handy to have a disgruntled employee on your side. They’ll happily carry out your bidding, but their Albion uniform will make it much easier to sneak in a secured building undetected. You might also benefit from a drones expert, who can command their own drone, or a construction worker, who has unlimited access to huge cargo drones.
Special abilities don’t stop there, either. Having a doctor on board means that if a team member gets injured, their recovery time is much shorter. And if you recruit a hacker, they’ll have extra skills to help you out on missions. Some recruits may be better at hand-to-hand combat, too, while others may have access to more guns, or their own personal vehicle.
Having a wide selection of recruits available to you will come in handy, especially considering that most missions are open for you to complete however you like. Go in all-guns-blazing if that’s your style – though you might bite off more than you can chew later on. As the series always has, Watch Dogs Legion encourages you to be stealthy and make use of the tech on offer; hacking cameras, using drones and spider-bots, interrupting enemy comms. But most characters are well-equipped with weapons too. And usually, an approach somewhere in between full-on stealth and gung-ho works best.
While choosing a ‘favourite’ recruit to play as based on their skills may make more sense, then, you’ll probably find yourself being drawn to one based on their personality. Each and every one of them has their own characteristics, their own mannerisms and their own way of communicating. Some of them are dull as dishwater, but others are infectious. My operatives of choice were Geraldine, a cockney hacker with a delightfully foul-mouthed vocabulary, and Arthur, a rather posh executive-type.
Both offered a very different experience due to their opposing personalities, but both are equally fun to play as. It means that dialogue and cutscenes will vary from player to player depending on their character. As a result, chances are nobody will have an identical experience when playing Watch Dogs Legion, and that’s rather cool. My initial instinct was to assume Watch Dogs Legion‘s narrative couldn’t possibly have the same sort of impact as a game with a lead protagonist, but actually, I feel like Ubisoft’s expensive gamble paid off. My main characters felt like mine; the odd mission I couldn’t play as them left me missing them, and if I got them injured or captured, I genuinely rued my reckless actions. You can enable permadeath, meaning if an operative is mortally injured, they’re gone for good. Thank god I didn’t turn that on. Geraldine is too precious.
No matter what character you’re playing as, you’ll be gripped to Watch Dogs Legion‘s narrative as it unfolds. It’s a tumultuous time, and Albion’s rule has turned the city into a state-controlled dystopia. Nobody has any freedom; there are signs of destruction everywhere you go, and a general sense of unease and hopelessness runs through the streets. It’s of course a complete work of fiction, but certain missions or story threads do touch a little too close to the bone. Some of it is difficult to stomach – especially Kelley’s heinous actions – but it makes for a storyline impossible not to get invested in.
Outside of story missions, there’s a lot of extra flavour to absorb, too. Notes and recordings are dotted all over the city, all giving a deeper look into London’s happenings, either through recollections of events, or conversations between noteworthy characters. There’s also a podcast you can listen to through a car’s radio, offering more insight into Watch Dogs Legion‘s world. It’s often worth taking a detour, or sticking a car on ‘autodrive’ so you can take in a podcast. Or flick through the music channels; there’s an excellent and eclectic soundtrack to enjoy, too.
I’ve loved all three Watch Dogs games, but Watch Dogs Legion may be my favourite. Perhaps it’s the familiarity of London, or perhaps it’s the unique joy of being able to take control of pretty much any character you want. There’s so much to see and do; the amount of character and life breathed into the city is unrivalled by pretty much any other open world game. Even once the credits roll, there’s so much left for you experience. It’s not perfect (what is?) but there’s nothing else quite like Watch Dogs Legion. If you love an open world game and revel in the freedom to approach missions however you want, then this is the game for you.