E3 2019: Watch Dogs Legion

E3 2019: Watch Dogs Legion

Watch Dogs 2 stole my heart. I never played the first game (I’m actually playing through it right now) but I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t have to care about Aiden Pierce’s battle against a technological nightmare society to enjoy the sequel. Set in San Francisco, you play Marcus Halloway who cast his lot with Bay Area hackers who 3D print weapons and wreak financial havoc in Silicon Valley. The game was a total blast to play. I was also a fan of the stunning recreation of San Fran and its surrounding areas, whizzing through the hilly streets in electric zip cars. As someone who loved to spend time cruising around the state in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, having the freedom to drive, walk, and bike around a city as colorful and lively as this one made me incredibly happy.

Watch Dogs: Legion takes players to another huge, famous city: London. Contained within a post-Brexit world, where surveillance was already at an all-time high, it’s going to take more than a ragtag bunch of computer experts to influence an entire city’s worth of living, breathing playable avatars. Instead of controlling a major character, Legion lets you play as any NPC, from a beat cop and viral video star to sweet, old ladies and housewives. Seeing all this unfold in the E3 trailer left me scratching my head. Can you really play as anyone? Or are there just a small, but a plentiful handful of characters you can interact with? How can you tell a meaningful narrative without a singular major character? 

Rather than play as a central protagonist, you are the DedSec movement itself. Ideology is the main character in Watch Dogs: Legion as you build an Anonymous-style collective to fight against the dystopian rule of Albion, a mega-corporation that took advantage of the chaos after a Brexit-like event that caused London to spin out of control. They don’t stand alone, however, as other organizations, both criminal and secretive in nature, are looking to take a piece of the pie. As DedSec, your job is to recruit people to the cause and use them to bring this technology-induced nightmare to a crashing halt.  

Blessed with an opportunity to play around twenty minutes of Legion, I have to say that the game feels legit. Picking from a small roster of previously chosen allies, my demo began inside a pub where I was encouraged to walk around and hack people’s phones to learn about and eventually approach them to join DedSec (I could also step outside and pick someone off the street). One detail that stood out from previous games was the additional of marked traits in every NPC’s character profile. These tell you what these particular characters are good at across three archetypes: strength, stealth, and hacking. After about five minutes of scouting (you can mark NPCs as potential targets to recruit later on), I stumbled across an aged, tired businessman whose claim to fame was that he once wrestled a bear for a viral video. How could you not go with that? 

I secretly confronted the viral bear wrestler and attempted to recruit him. He softly rebuked the offer, which ultimately revealed a gameplay mechanic that mark certain people in need of developing a favorable opinion of DedSec before joining the group. This is done by performing a mission or two to solve whatever problem they are dealing with, be it bills, a testy loan shark, or something hanging over their heads that a quick hard drive wipe can’t solve. Once you done enough to help these people, they become characters you can control, assign an archetype role, and play missions with. You’re allowed to accomplish missions any way you want, be it stealth or bust through the door with guns blazing, though there are some variables to consider. For example, the demo’s starter character was an elderly woman and because she was in her twilight years, she moved a lot slower and couldn’t run nearly as fast as some of the more younger and agile allies (she could, however, fire a machine gun like a total pro which was funny in of itself). However, she had great hacking stats, which made tinkering around with people’s phones and was capable of using a nice collection of gadgets and drones. 

While taking on The Man, if you’re arrested or severely injured, that character becomes temporarily unavailable to use until they served their time or healed up. Taking control of another character and using them to hack the police databases can reduce their time behind bars. Make a last stand that ends up killing them, however, and they are gone for good. 

Watch Dogs Legion emphasizes that the NPCs inhabiting London go about their own virtual lives. While on the hunt for another person to recruit, I could open a map and see an entire outline of their day to day life, marked on the map as a series of markers that indicate what that person does at any point in the day. For example, if I were already involved in a mission or some other errand that would have me miss her 12:00 PM scheduled visit to a coffee shop, I could wait a few hours and meet her at 3:00 PM, where she had an appointment with her loan shark. The ability to trace and track NPCs to recruit them is cool, functional, straightforward, and easy to grasp. 

Legion feels huge, ambitious and I can’t wait to really dig into the type of systems and gameplay mechanics it has to offer. I’m also looking forward to exploring the city of London. Knowing how much work went into creating the facsimile of San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2, I’m keen on stepping through every nook and cranny this sprawling virtual city. While I am appreciative to those at Ubisoft who gave me a chance to try out the game, it was also kind of cruel. I saw some really exciting stuff and being told that the game won’t be out until next year has me impatiently counting down the days until it’s 2020 release. 

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.