Watch Dogs: Legion review: Hack teh world

The third installment in the Watch Dogs franchise is the series at its most ambitious. Our review.

10

Watch Dogs is still relatively young in the pantheon of ongoing AAA game franchises. It also happens to be one that has struggled to find its footing. 2014’s Watch Dogs received lukewarm responses from both critics and fans, and Watch Dogs 2 also underperformed, despite a much more positive critical response. Watch Dogs: Legion is the third outing for Ubisoft’s open-world hacking franchise, and it’s the developer’s biggest swing yet. 

Across the pond

Watch Dogs: Legion leaves the United States behind in favor of a European setting. Taking place in the bustling city of London, Watch Dogs: Legion once again follows the hacker group DedSec, this time fighting to clear their name. Following a terrorist attack on Parliament, DedSec is falsely accused as the perpetrating party, leading to harsher surveillance laws being enacted, and a large portion of London’s population seeing DedSec as a terrorist group. 

Now, players are tasked with rebuilding DedSec’s ranks, and must recruit characters from all walks of life via the new “play as anyone” mechanic. It’s a story that delves into political intrigue, drama, and betrayal. The simple question of “who was really behind the Zero Day attack?” is one that kept me guessing until the very end. While it lacks the emotional swing of Watch Dogs 2, it’s a pretty solid story following our favorite group of hackers. 

Play as anyone

The focal selling point of Watch Dogs: Legion is its “play as anyone” mechanic. Unlike past entries in the series, Watch Dogs: Legion has no set protagonist. Instead, players are able to recruit practically any NPC they come across and play as them, allowing anybody to be the hero. 

Being able to play as anybody truly delivers on the promise of Watch Dogs. Since Aiden Pearce first took to the streets in the original game, players have been able to scan and hack data on any character, revealing unique personal information and details about any given citizen. However, this was always a feature that never went further than the occasional laugh. In Watch Dogs: Legion, a character’s occupation and hobbies are directly tied to how they play. 

If an NPC is a construction worker, recruiting them may yield a nail gun weapon, as well as a personal cargo drone that players can summon to lift themselves into the skies. This will also allow players to enter areas restricted to construction workers without having to sneak and hide behind cover. 

New recruits

It’s the integration of this feature that makes Watch Dogs: Legion a blast. During my playthrough, I saw an Albion officer (Watch Dogs: Legion’s militarized police force) harassing folks on the corner of a busy street. With his occupation, he already had a negative view on DedSec. After diving into his profile, I discovered that somebody was blackmailing him with some personal information. I went and found the blackmailer, erased their files, deeming them powerless over the aforementioned Albion officer. After learning what I’d done for him, the officer was no longer negative towards DedSec. I was then able to recruit him into the hacker group.

That Albion officer became my go-to character for nearly the entire Albion arc of missions in the Watch Dogs: Legion campaign. I’d simply walk right into any heavily protected facility, just needing to act natural in order to keep my cover. It completely transformed the way I approached any Albion mission. 

This is how Watch Dogs: Legion shines. The franchise has always given players the power of choice, letting them run into a mission with guns blazing, or completing the same mission without ever setting foot in restricted territory or harming a soul. Play as anyone takes this concept and multiplies it by 50. I found myself constantly swapping between characters in order to find whatever DedSec operative was best suited for a given mission. 

What I found fascinating was Watch Dogs: Legion’s permadeath mode. Players can toggle this on, meaning that any operative killed in combat is gone forever. To up the stakes, players can turn on Iron Man mode, which locks the campaign in permadeath. If all operatives are killed and there’s nobody remaining, game over. You’re done. Playing on Iron Man mode raised the stakes exponentially, as I couldn’t allow myself to be careless when approaching any given mission scenario.

Blank faces

The characters also have unique interactions with others based on background. While playing as a famous livestreamer, passerbys would say things like “I’m a huge fan!” or, “I love your work!” When strolling around as my Albion officer, other members would give a head nod or ask how my day is going. These same officers would shove or potentially try to arrest me if I got too close while playing as different operatives. It’s an attention to detail that makes London feel alive and immersive. 

As great as the play as anyone mechanic is for gameplay, it takes a bit of the luster away from the story. In Watch Dogs 2, we got emotionally invested in characters like Marcus and Wrench, wary about how their stories would end. In Watch Dogs: Legion, it’s hard to develop a personal attachment to any one character, as they’re essentially NPCs that you assign to fill slots in the story. While it’s extremely fun and silly to see my paintballing street artist in cutscenes with powerful politicians and rich moguls, I never felt that emotional investment that I got in previous games.

It doesn’t help that there are a ton of reused faces, further eliminating the sense of individuality in several of the characters. This was made worse due to facial animations being a bit robotic when watching NPCs speak during cutscenes.

Gadgets and guns

Gameplay in Watch Dogs: Legion is once again a balance between traditional firearms and technology. Players can hack cameras and drones to get behind closed doors and either complete objectives or scout locations. Legion adds a brand new controllable gadget to the hacking series - the spiderbot. This eight-legged robot can be used to infiltrate restricted locations and hack physical circuits. It can even stealthily take down enemies along the way. The spiderbot quickly became my favorite tool in Watch Dogs: Legion, as I prefer to keep my character out of the danger, letting the bots and drones do all of the heavy lifting. 

As for weapons, players will no longer go to a store and buy the equipment of their choosing. Instead, recruiting operatives with their own personal weapons will allow other members of DedSec to equip them, given they’re able to use that item class. For example, the secret spy I recruited to my team used a silenced pistol, which I couldn’t access by any other means. This incentivizes players to get out into the world and add more characters to their ranks. 

Starting a revolution

In the open-world of London, players will find the city divided into different boroughs. Each borough has different uprising tasks that will turn public favor towards DedSec. These tasks can be vandalizing propaganda, photographing evidence, or rescuing arrested freedom fighters. Completing all of the uprising tasks will unlock a special recruitment mission for one of several unique operatives. These agents come with rare bonuses, like a car that shoots missiles, or a personal attack drone. 

More or less, the boroughs and their subsequent tasks are Watch Dogs: Legion’s take on Ubisoft’s common open-world formula. However, there’s only 3-4 tasks per area, so it never feels like I’m being bombarded with busy work just to light up more dots on a map. Plus, turning a borough will make the citizens in that area more fond of DedSec, making it easier to recruit operatives.

Offline

Watch Dogs: Legion is undoubtedly the most fun and exciting entry in the series. Play as anyone is a mechanic that really elevates the gameplay experience, truly delivering on the core premise of the franchise. The campaign is solid, though it lacks the emotional investment and standout characters of previous series entries. Watch Dogs: Legion is a hacking good time and a great addition to Ubisoft’s technology-based saga.


This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Watch Dogs: Legion launches on October 29 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for $59.99 USD.

Contributing Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Watch Dogs: Legion
8
Pros
  • Play as anyone mechanic is fantastic
  • So many ways to approach any given mission
  • More weapons and gadgets than ever before
  • London feels like a living, breathing city
Cons
  • Lacks emotional link to protagonist
  • Wonky and stiff facial animations
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 28, 2020 4:01 AM

    Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Watch Dogs: Legion review: Hack teh world

    • reply
      October 28, 2020 5:12 AM

      Seems like a typical Ubi game. I’ll give it a shot since I got it with my card, but we’ll see how long I play it before getting bored.

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        October 28, 2020 5:14 AM

        Instead you could just send it to meeeee who will gladly play it :)

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          October 28, 2020 5:36 AM

          Wish I could. You need a 3080 in your system to claim the code.

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        October 28, 2020 6:42 AM

        Yeah, it is very much a Ubisoft game. If you didn't like the last Watch Dogs game, or any other major Ubi release in recent memory, Legion won't be the game to turn you around. But you got it for free so give it a shot!

        Also congrats on the 3080 ;)

    • reply
      October 28, 2020 5:38 AM

      $90 dollars for standard edition in Japan. :/

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        October 28, 2020 6:43 AM

        Damn, that's rough. Is that the case with most AAA releases in Japan or just a thing with Legion?

      • reply
        October 28, 2020 6:52 AM

        Maybe Uplay+? Doesn't seem like a title you'd be treasuring as part of a (now-undownloadable) digital collection in 2050

    • reply
      October 28, 2020 5:41 AM

      8 out of 10. Higher than I expected. I just can't decide if I am in the mood for a Ubisoft style game.

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        October 28, 2020 6:44 AM

        It's really fun, but like you said, def a Ubisoft game. If you haven't liked any of their stuff in recent memory, not sure if this will be the game to change your mind.

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          October 28, 2020 6:49 AM

          Last one I played was Ass Creed Origins. I really enjoyed it, but the quests got old. I skipped Far Cry and Odyssey.

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            October 28, 2020 6:53 AM

            Assuming it hasn't changed much from Watch Dogs 2, Legion will be a more compact experience than AC: Origins.

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      October 28, 2020 6:54 AM

      got it for free through the nvidia promo so will probably try it out... didn't care for the first one but the second was good fun.

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        October 28, 2020 8:04 AM

        Yeah if you at least moderately like WD2, I'm confident you'll have fun with Legion.

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      October 28, 2020 7:00 AM

      How's the variety of recruitment-related missions in the game?

      Not that it really matters to me at this point, since I already own the game, but I'm curious, and it might be relevant to someone else.

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        October 28, 2020 8:03 AM

        It's fairly solid. There's a range of character backgrounds and stories behind how/why you're recruiting them. That being said, most missions come down to you going to a restricted area to delete/download/steal something. There is unique dialogue for a lot of recruitment missions too, which I thought was neat.

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