Watch Dogs Legion is available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One console on hard difficulty with permadeath enabled. My previous review in progress is still available and may provide some additional insight if you require it.
Gotta-recruit-them-all would be an accurate slogan to explain my time with the game. Sure at its core, Watch Dogs Legion is a third-person shooting/sneaking/driving game. But it’s ambitious play-as-anyone system and NPC simulation gently nudge it into the realm of immersive sims.
In a gaming climate of derivatives, trend chasers, and reskins, it’s nice to see a big dog like Ubisoft tackle a fresh concept like this. We should praise the attempt, regardless of its execution, especially since Ubisoft is often the butt of jokes in conversations regarding repetitive formulas.
That said, the execution is indeed solid even if it does stumble in places. There are two very large factors to consider with Watch Dogs Legion. One is your own expectations, games do indeed have limits, and Watch Dogs Legion is no different. The second is in order to get the most out of the game the player needs to actively commit, and engage with its systems.
That wasn’t a criticism, in fact, it’s the opposite, more games should put the ball in the player’s court, even if that means not always catering to the lowest common denominator.
I recruited a bruiser named Chris Kincaid. He was an arena fighter I had beaten in an underground fight pit. He dealt more damage in melee combat than most people. Chris was tough, and his melee attacks even staggered nearby enemies. The first time I played as Chris, I stood outside of an Albion infested area I needed to infiltrate and hack something inside.
I was thinking about how I wanted to play him. Chris was a big dude, he had a mohawk and wore a leather jacket with a skull on the back. When I was thinking about who he was, I couldn’t imagine him hacking the cameras, sneaking around, or even drawing a gun. No, there was no way this guy didn’t just walk through the front door and punch the guard behind it.
So equipped with some electric knuckles, the first guard was quite shocked when Chris walked in. Most of the time, enemies won’t escalate to guns right away unless you do. So as the next guard came running Chris jammed his optics which allowed Chris to take him down quickly and brutally.
He dispatched a few more in melee combat. Though he didn’t really sneak much, he still caught a couple of guards unaware and body-slammed them because that’s how he rolled.
That’s how I played any mission with Chris. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t, like when he got a hostage killed, and finally in one mission it cost him his life. But it always felt true to him.
More than that, playing my operatives in this way kept the game from being repetitive. There’s nothing stopping you from grabbing a single operative, hooking them up with some guns and tech, and playing them the exact same way all through the game. Especially if you don’t have permadeath enabled. But that’s missing the point.
Intentionally engaging the systems Watch Dogs Legion presents to you, will make it far more enjoyable. In fact, I think playing without permadeath is a mistake, regardless of what difficulty you chose. Not only does it add stakes to your gameplay, but without it, you have much less reason to recruit at all.
Freeing up boroughs always grants you a specialist of some kind, and without permadeath, you will never lose them. At most, they might get arrested or injured for an hour, but that’s it. The game feels designed for permadeath.
If you care about these operatives and step into who they are, there is a lot of fun to be had. You can even get some information on them. Knowing that Chris was an ex BDSM model didn’t really help my playstyle, but hey, I knew about it!
It’s more than just a bit of roleplaying though, the melee combat is kind of shallow. You just have some light attacks, a guard breaker, dodge, and counter-attack. The combat animations and stealth takedowns are super cool, but each character has a limited variety. If you only played one character, it would feel limited. But it’s really not.
Chris body slammed people, my hitman choked people out with a fiber wire or pulled John Wick style gun executions. My doctor zapped guards with a deliberator while my Hypnotist put them to sleep. The variety is there, it’s up to you to utilize it.
A Different type of Protagonist
There is no denying that the story does lose some cohesion without a stable protagonist. The dialogue doesn’t always run together smoothly because the game has no idea what type of person you’re going to be using at any given time.
But the fact of the matter is, there is a protagonist. It’s DedSec, it’s your team. Once you realize that other members are watching you through a feed, it makes more sense. Your entire team is experiencing the same story beats as the character you’re playing as.
If Watch Dogs Legion was a movie, it would be a team film. You would see one operative rescuing a hostage from a gang before the camera flips over to another one in a high-speed chase. It’s another factor you miss if you only ever play as one character.
Even knowing that, the story isn’t winning any awards, but it is entertaining. If you were turned off by the meme style tone of Watch Dogs 2, you will be happier here. Despite the wise-cracking AI companion called Bagley, the tone is much darker and even disturbing at times.
A Simulated World
The second half of Legion’s ambition is less impactful than the recruitment system but, it’s still interesting. The game tracks people close to you, whether they are connected to your operatives or on the list of potential recruits you saved for later.
They have families, friends, and schedules. They go to work, on dates, and more. You can track them down at any time and see it in action. If you rescue or hurt someone connected to one of these people, it affects their relationship with you. I’ve earned the trust of recruits by helping out their loved ones, and I’ve made enemies by accidentally hurting them.
One, in particular, hated me so much they kidnapped one of my operatives, and I had to go rescue them. Sadly that’s about as far as the simulation go’s toward affecting gameplay, but it still helps create the feeling of a living world.
I had one guy on my list of potential recruits that was neutral toward DedSec. When I was ready to recruit him, I found that he was mad at DedSec, I could still work toward recruiting him, but it would be more difficult. Why? One of my operatives gave him an STI. I had NOTHING to do with that, but I still appreciated that the world existed without me, or at least it was pretending to.
This simulation feels like it’s in its infancy, and I hope it’s something Ubisoft expands upon in a future game. Much like Shadow of War expanded on Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system.
Fighting for the Resistance
The melee combat may be shallow, but the stealth, gunplay, and hacking are all solid, if familiar. The real game-changer to your playstyle is the type of operative you’re playing since they can have a wide variety of traits and weapons.
That said, you can unlock tech with tech points and equip any operative with some neat gear, and they all have access to at least some hacks. This affords you a great deal of leeway in how you approach the objectives.
You can go in guns blazing, stealthy, or a combination of the two. You can hack the camera network, or utilize a spider bot and never even enter their premises There is a lot of room for creative ideas as well, such as hacking a news drone and sticking a shock mine to it for a remote-controlled non-lethal missile.
The moment to moment gameplay is a ton of fun if you lean into the operative system. I noted in my review in progress that most of the side missions seemed to be the procedurally generated recruitment missions. I actually opened up even more side missions later in the game, and they are pretty interesting.
However, it’s the core gameplay that also falters a bit. I’ve talked a lot about the player’s commitment to the mechanics, but Watch Dogs Legion has commitment issues of its own.
It often dips its toe into potentially polarizing mechanics, only to quickly rip it out and scream “It’s just a prank bro!” at any given moment. A lot of enemy-controlled areas have all sorts of entrances. One handy use of a construction worker is the fact they can call cargo drones allowing you to literally fly.
Well, the game wouldn’t think of inconveniencing you, so they invalidate that ability by placing cargo drone pads everywhere. Thus, anyone can summon one, and often times, that is clearly going to be the most effective option, making the other entry points moot.
A spider bot is one of the gadgets you can equip, but if you don’t have one, fear not. There will be a box where you can summon one literally five feet where a spider bot can be used. It made me wonder why it’s a gadget I could choose in the first place since the game always had a free one ready for me. It really doesn’t help that it’s a bit overpowered, since it’s able to clear many areas without ever risking your operative.
Quite a few missions took my agency away altogether by requiring and providing a specific drone for it. I could play these missions as a low mobility grandma, a spy, hitman, or big old Chris, and they would play the exact same way regardless of who I was, and that’s disappointing.
It really felt like Watch Dogs Legion had a vision, but they had to hit that mass-market appeal so some mechanics were compromised. Yes, you can ignore those spider bot spawns or cargo drone pads, and roleplaying your operatives as I mentioned earlier helps with that. But you shouldn’t have to.
There should never be a case in a game about player choice where the most effective solution is plastered on a giant billboard with neon letters that reads “LOOK HERE, DUMMY!” Yet Watch Dogs Legion does exactly that.
Despite my griping, I still think Watch Dogs Legion is a great game with new ideas, and that makes it worth picking up. Yet there is one more issue I need to address.
The bloody crashing. I am quite impressed by how well the game runs on my standard Xbox One. It looks good and runs good, but it crashes frequently. It’s more than annoying, it can be infuriating. I’ve never lost any progress, and I expect that it will be addressed within days, but it’s pretty bad as I am writing this.
Watch Dogs Legion is a solid if familiar title. However, the innovative recruitment system and neat simulation elevate the experience into something novel and worth experiencing, even if the game doesn’t always commit to its design the way it expects players to.
A copy of Watch Dogs Legion was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Ubisoft for the purpose of review.
You might want to check out my previous Watch Dogs Legion review in progress.
- Solid gunplay, stealth, and hacking mechanics.
- Play as anyone system works great, and is highly addictive
- Procedural Recruitment missions are nice
- Lots of gadgets and viable playstyles
- Interesting simulated world
- Lot’s of ways to customize the appearance of your operatives
- Difficulty settings present
- The simulation has a rather small impact on gameplay
- Many main and side missions play the same regardless of what operative you bring
- The game contradicts its own mechanics by trying to spoon-feed the player.
- Frequent crashes on a standard Xbox One.