A peculiar element of Watch Dogs: Legion was it allowing for both a revolutionary mechanic – Play As Anyone – inserted into an otherwise standard open-world affair. While, yes, it is fun to be able to start a hacker army comprised entirely or partially of grannies, foreign spies, DJs and goth computer wizards, the unique aspect of this is left at the door once you start actually playing them.
See once you start controlling these figures, their animation and sometimes their dialogue may be different, but all have the same goals, ideas, mindset and skillsets to large extents. Whether you’re an old, retired engineer or a young, athletic doctor, you complete missions in pretty much the same way. Worse still, their backgrounds and individuality do not come up at all in terms of intra-group politics. The story is not moved an inch by the inclusion of or playing a terminally ill spy, for example.
Instead, what this feels like is merely changing the skin of Main Character, not their personality. To put it another way: Legion is more akin to body-swapping adventure franchise Trine than the Xcom it somewhat purports to be.
The absence of actual characters is a loud background noise to this franchise, with dialogue delivery following suit: flat, lifeless and often quite strange.
With the “Bloodline” DLC, however, Legion overcomes some of those issues.
BRING OUT YOUR DEAD
Everyone’s “favourite” hat wearer, Aiden Pearce, is back. The franchise has tried desperately to make him seem “cool” and a “badass”, sometimes outright just having other characters call him that. This lifeless sociopath was the least interesting lead since Pac-Man, who at least had the wherewithal to show some emotion by being frightened of ghosts.
However, in “Bloodline”, his antics have landed him in the position of being isolated and alone. The game makes a point of showing how toxic he is as a person; that those who’ve made him out to be an icon are in fact adding to a terrible narrative, undermining the damage his done to those around him – especially his family.
The first game attempted a ghost of this: Aiden is directly responsible for the death of his niece and uses this as a basis to go on a revenge quest, where he hurts hundreds of people. This includes hurting his sister, the dead girl’s mother, again.
In “Bloodline”, Aiden’s antics again land up hurting a child of his sister, this time her surviving child, Jackson. However, not only does Jackson have agency but is somewhat hateful of his uncle. Jackson constantly calls out not only Aiden but those who venerate him to this cult-status, as a badass. He is not. He is a dangerous, selfish mercenary, who only cares about himself. The game does not shy away from this.
However, the game also seems to shy to lean fully into this. When Aiden first gets to London, he acquires his “iconic” hat and trench coat – and suddenly the camera spins, rock music blares, he flips out his cattle-prod, tucks his cap, all an attempt to make Aiden look like a badass. It’s an odd moment.
Added to this is Aiden encountering Wrench, the buffoon from the second game. Wrench is something akin to the target audience for Ubisoft: a nerdy person who thinks Aiden is a badass. Again, Jackson calls Wrench out on this, noting how this dehumanises Aiden and gives him and those who want to be like him an excuse to do whatever they like – no matter the harm it causes.
Why this is important is how this character-driven part is, naturally, completely absent from the main game. This highlights the fundamental point: there are no characters in Legion, only skins.
However, props must be given to the creators: They managed to weave both Aiden and Wrench into the main game’s story – they are fully playable and properly voiced, giving their own take sometimes on the situation around them and in cutscenes. Indeed, I’d argue this might be the best way to play Legion since it gives you real characters. Ubisoft itself noted that it reworked the entire campaign to suit Aiden.
“Bloodline” takes place after London is put under lockdown but before the events of Legion. Aiden comes to London for a contract, Wrench is there to steal… something and Jackson, who studies in London, is thrown into the middle of it all. It’s nothing special but there are some great character moments and set-pieces, making me wish this was how Legion had played out – centring it on actual characters, rather than scenarios. Indeed, Legion often feels like an MMORPG rather than an action adventure, since your character is irrelevant to the outcome. As long as you hit all the right beats and buttons, that’s all the game cares about.
“Bloodline” has enjoyable situations and encounters. You play as both Aiden and Wrench and both feel somewhat different. Both are often quite well-written and their performances are top-notch.
If you’ve played Legion, or any Ubisoft open world, you know the deal: you get a large sandbox, you get missions, you upgrade as you go. There’s a central story, which gets the bulk of the attention and budget, which has unique and fun set-pieces.
“Bloodline” is nothing to right home about but is definitely worth your time, more so than Legion itself. Aiden is not entirely made out to be iconic or good or amazing: he’s quite pathetic and the game often does not shy away from this. If nothing else, that to me is reason enough to play. It’s not every day you play a game that makes somewhat of an effort to actively hate on its playable lead.
(Review code from Ubisoft / Played on PS5).