The full review can be found here. But you may enjoy reading the review in progress for additional insight.
If I am being honest, a lot of my time in Watch Dogs Legion so far has been spent playing Pokémon with people. I gotta recruit em all. I know at some point London needs saving from the oppressive PMC Albion or the villainous Clan Kelly, but it can wait until my addiction is sated.
That’s okay though, unlike Pokémon recruiting new operatives isn’t as straightforward as hitting them with your balls. Actually, if you hit them with anything, it ticks them off and complicates the process.
Each potential recruit spawns a somewhat procedurally generated mission that functions and plays like a standard mission. Assuming they like the idea of Dedsec at all. If they don’t, you have to work even harder to win them over.
It’s not a simple process, and it takes time. That’s a good thing. It makes you more invested in that character, and if you play on hard and permadeath like I am, it can be intense. To recruit a new agent, you must put an existing one at risk.
You can get lucky sometimes. Rescue someone in the world, and they might just join you right there. But that’s just taking in any run of the mill mook. If you want the good ones, you have to search and profile them. Find one you like, and you can add them to your list and track them down later.
You can, in fact, recruit any NPC. Your everyday citizens have a random mish-mash of traits, weapons, and abilities. But specialists exist, and while they are rare, you can use common sense to seek them out. Construction workers can be found near construction sites, doctors near hospitals, Spys near MI6, and beekeepers in parks. It’s forced me to pay attention to the actual buildings and areas of the city, and I like that.
Going beyond mere abilities, there is a shocking amount of back door simulation going on with the NPCs. I’m sure the game doesn’t track everyone, but it does track recruits you’re interested in, and a few others that you interact with organically. An NPC you hurt may appear later as an adversary, for example.
The NPCs that the system views as important, have schedules, family members, and connections that you can view in real-time and mess with. I’ve toyed with it a little, and I’m not positive how much of it reflects meaningful gameplay yet, but it is very interesting.
If you hurt a family member of someone you want to recruit, they get angry. At the same time, I accidentally plowed over a competitor of a recruit I had been eye balling and won them over.
I found the niece of another person I was interested in playing darts in a bar. I played a game with her (one of a few mini-games) but, it didn’t seem to affect anything.
The entire “Legion” system in Watch Dogs Legion is its selling point, and I’m impressed with it so far. The game isn’t infinite. Traits repeat, and there is a limited number of specialists types, but there is enough variety that I’m still collecting my dream team and discovering new things.
Another thing that does impress me is the sheer variety of appearances the NPCs have. If I’ve encountered clones, I haven’t noticed. It’s perfectly reasonable to select members based on how cool they look, and each borough’s citizens have their own style. Although you can alter their clothing.
These characters are more than just looks and traits. They affect how you play, and not everything about them is immediately obvious. My skinny nerd hacker wasn’t the best at throwing punches in melee combat. But my recruit, who had a melee shockwave skill enters the fray with spinning kicks. The brute brawler I found in a fighting arena punches with the impact of a rhino and body-slams people when I sneak upon them.
My construction worker who wields a wrench has a completely different sneak attack and finisher animations than my trained hit woman. This physical feeling is in addition to weapons, abilities, vehicles, and traits they may have. A hacker may be able to turn drones to your side, a hypnotist can turn foes into temporary allies. Someone else might just have a really big gun for you to use.
Playing these characters has had a subconscious psychological impact on how I play. The way I approach a situation as my meek hacker is vastly different than how I approach with my hitwoman who wields a machine gun. When I go to play my beekeeper, I cry instead because I didn’t anticipate the old woman’s frailness and got her killed in her first mission.
In a game like the previous Watch Dogs, the protagonist was capable of doing anything you wanted. In Watch Dogs Legion, each character has strengths and weaknesses, and my playstyle switches up based on who I am playing as. It’s quite nice and helps keep the gameplay fresh. You do have to purposely lean into the mechanics and try different characters to get that effect though.
If you aren’t playing permadeath, there is nothing really stopping you from just sticking with one operative. They might get hurt or arrested for a bit, but after around 30 minutes of real-time, you get them back. But that’s any game. You have to want to engage with the mechanics to get the most out of it.
Since there’s no main protagonist, you do lose a bit of cohesion in the dialogue. I think it’s a worthy trade-off in this case. The story is about the operatives you choose, and it does an admirable job of matching the dialogue, even though you could be playing as any number of archetypes.
I am enjoying the Legion system a great deal. The sandbox nature of using those operatives with the added fear of losing them in permadeath feels good. There are a few concerning hiccups though. Recruitment missions make up the bulk of the side missions, at least so far. This means outside of the main story missions (which have been fun) and freeing the boroughs. You will mostly be using your recruits to obtain new ones.
I also feel that the game is scared to commit to its design. Early on, the story makes a big deal about the need to recruit a construction worker, because they can summon construction drones and use them to fly to high places.
Yet nearly every important area of the game has a drone landing pad nearby where anyone can summon and hack a cargo drone. You also obtain tech points that you can use to buy new gear, upgrades, and hacks that your whole team can use. One of those is the spider bot.
Each operative can only equip one gadget at a time, and you can’t swap if you are in a red zone or being pursued. There have been numerous times where I needed a spider bot and didn’t have one. Yet only a few feet away the game would provide a spider bot box where I could summon and use a spider bot anyway, invalidating the fact that I didn’t bring one. Why would Albion even have these things laying around?
Watch Dogs Legion bends over backward to avoid inconveniencing the player, but at the cost of drastically reducing the impact of your decisions. From which operatives to recruit and what gear to bring, the game makes it easy for you by simply providing you with whatever you needed in the first place.
The Tech you can unlock also seems to make some character abilities redundant. For example, there is a special hacker trait that allows them to temporarily turn any drone into an ally. You can unlock a tech that gives this ability to anyone.
Granted, you have to unlock it for each specific type of drone, where the hacker can hack them all from the get-go. But it would still have been nice to have tech abilities disconnected from the character abilities.
The game looks good, sounds nice and runs well on the Xbox One. I have crashed several times though, I’ve never lost any progress, but it can be frustrating.
Overall I’m having enough fun that I want to stop writing and go back to playing it, which is always a good sign. The recruit anyone system is working incredibly well, and it’s super addictive. The simulation is impressive, even if I haven’t determined how much of that simulation affects the gameplay yet. And The few design flaws haven’t been enough to hinder my enjoyment after 16 hours. Here’s hoping it remains that way as I continue working on my full review.
A copy of Watch Dogs Legion was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Ubisoft for the purpose of review.
While you wait for the full review and video. You might enjoy my reviews of other Ubisoft titles such as Farcry New Dawn, or the The Division 2.