Watch Dogs: Legion is a strange game. It’s a third-person, open-world game without a central individual character, but rather a single conglomerate – hence the name “Legion”.
You take on the roll of the hacker collective known as Ded-Sec, which has been long established since the first Watch Dogs game
This game is set several years after the events of the first two games, in London. After a terrorist incident destroyed various buildings, killing hundreds, London goes into lockdown – under the iron thumb of a private military group. Turning into a laughably evil Orwellian nightmare, with checkpoints and needlessly aggressive security personnel, Ded-Sec is blamed for the attacks and you – as a, or rather the, collective – must find out who did it and clear Ded-Sec’s name.
The key mechanic in this game is the Play as Anyone mechanic, which, in fairness delivers on this. Any one of the hundreds or thousands of NPCs you see around London can be recruited into Ded-Sec, then played as, using their individual skills and weapons.
However, what is a bit difficult to truly grapple with is placing the centrality of the group or a particular individual.
What is Ded-Sec?
In Watch Dogs, Ded-Sec was a humourless, slightly antagonistic group; in the sequel, Ded-Sec turned into a punky group of young but capable of group of hackers. It was in the sequel where you played as a member of Ded-Sec: A proper, fleshed out character, named Marcus, with his own motivations, relationships and skills.
In Legion version, there’s no personality at all. I say this not as criticism but as description.
If the first game was mute grey colours, and the sequel multiple bright hues, then this game is what happens when you throw all colours together: A black of non-existence. Sure, you play as individual members, some of whom have quirks, throughout the game. But they have no backstories, no real goals, they are glorified iterations of a single individual. All that is different is each individual’s skills and appearance. Sometimes their movements are different, in terms of walking and running, particularly if they are old. But when one character can achieve the same ends and utter the same dialogue as another, then no single character is really a character.
Players should instead approach Legion with the view that Ded-Sec is itself the character. Indeed, NPCs speak to you as one of these individuals and simply call you “Ded-Sec”, which is … weird. It’s like saying to Fox Mulder’s face: “Thank you, FBI”.
Anyway, if you understand Ded-Sec is itself a character, with many arms, faces, heads and abilities then it becomes easier to understand. The name “Legion” is therefore brilliant. What you acquire when you “recruit” any one of the hundreds of NPCs is, in reality, nothing more than skill upgrades – since you don’t just recruit willy-nilly: you recruit those individuals who have specific skills that will aid in your next objective. For example, a building contractor who can use a cargo drone to get to heights unreachable, a disgruntled police woman who can get into police stations without raising the alarm, and so forth.
Indeed, if you view it as putting on different costumes to get access to certain areas – like a weird Agent 47 – then you will be playing this game correctly.
There’s no doubt enormous effort went in to making this system and this game: After all, it’s not merely individuals but the their relationships to others you can witness. You will find recruit’s family or lovers throughout London. One way to recruit someone is to save a loved one, then the potential recruit will be more willing to join.
But these aren’t exactly fleshed out either: They’re data points without execution. You never see them actually go home or have a life. While the game very carefully outlines someone’s day and shows them performing as such (10AM: protesting at parliament; 12AM hanging out with boyfriend; etc.), seeing it with every character ruins the illusion. Further, the hundreds of voices they had to do somehow made the performers sound stilted and hollow – I assume this is a result of the modulation they used to negate the repetition of voice performances.
The game itself
It’s hard to know how to feel about Legion.
At once, it is quite well-made with some amazing story beats. I find the world often quite beautiful and varied, given the tech involved. Ray-tracing is delicious.
Also, it has been a very stable experience which says a lot for a Ubisoft title.
However, the missions tend to be fairly repetitive. Nonetheless, the designs do often mix up the play, by forcing you to use your tools to solve environmental puzzles: For example, navigating a drone that has a light on it so your character can move in the dark; finding out the secret of a genius scientist’s secret lab; the origin of the Zero Day movement who have set out to bring down Ded-Sec.
The performances from all the totally unplayable characters are all consistently excellent, too. (I am actually interested to see how they implement boring growly angry man, Aiden Pearce, from the first game, since there will be no need for voice modulation there and it is being reworked entirely for him..) In particular, I adored Bagley, voiced by Pascal Langdale (who you might now as the “Press X to Sean” character, Ethan Mars, from Heavy Rain.): who is sarcastic, all-knowing and self-aware.
The soundtrack is also excellent: a fantastic original score by Stephen Barton and a great selection of licensed titles on the radio – with podcast performed by actual podcasters, which are themselves also well-written.
Watch Dogs: Legion has some weird frustrating design choices, however.
The second game allowed you to walk around with your phone, navigate its menus and use it as one might do with an actual phone. Marcus could listen to music, summon vehicles and so forth while walking on the phone. In Legion, the phone is basically a glorified menu: Everything stops. Phones aren’t really phones and that tactile aspect is simply absent. There’s no way to walk around playing podcasts or music, like Marcus could do in the second game. I cannot fathom why this is not a feature since you spend so much time on foot in the game world.
The wardrobes are also incredibly strange: you have to physically get your character to specific stores. Instead of allowing you to browse online, it forces very boring treks, undermining the fun dress up. Further, due no doubt to the infinite number of characters you could have, there is not a large range of body-types. Yet, clothes are worn similar and don’t really vary in size or scope. You can’t get nice long coats! In London! What?
Cars can’t be summoned but often drivers of vehicles magically vanish, allowing you to simply get in to many vehicles. There’s no way to summon a vehicle for every character unless the character itself is one that allows for the summon of a particular vehicle (for example the spy or getaway driver type). It’s a bit weird but not really frustrating.
Coming out in that strange juncture between console generations, it attempts to leverage the power of next-gen to give us one of the first examples of ray-tracing in an open-world game (from a third-party developer). The lighting is gorgeous and reflections quite wonderful. Also strangely, this appears one of those titles, according to Digital Foundry, where the PS5 version appears to b operating at a higher level of complexity than the Xbox Series X.
It’s hard to know what to make of this game. I enjoyed my time with it and will be going back for the DLC. That probably indicates enough that I enjoyed it. While the play as anyone mechanic is quite astonishing and no doubt revolutionary, it seemed to merely flatten the range of skill types into two arms and two legs, rather than articulate individual characters. This is obviously just the first stage and could no doubt go on to be something remarkable: The combination of, say, the Nemesis System and the Play as Anyone Mechanic might make for a fascinating, non-linear eternal single-player experience.
If you enjoy Ubisoft open world experiences, my time on PS5 has been smooth, solid, often quite pretty. The character models still look very dated, but the lighting is truly extraordinary. It also doesn’t leverage next-gen in terms of loading as fast I’d like. Regardless, if you enjoy often clever environmental puzzles, the standard Ubisoft open world affair with forgiving fast-travel, but a basically non-existent lead character with weird voice performances, then you might have a good time with Legion. It certainly has a lot of really excellent stories I lost myself in and could not stop thinking about. It is a really well-thought out world with good stories to get involved in, if nothing else.
(Review code supplied by Ubisoft, played on PS4 and PS5. Available on the usual platforms.)