Recruit Anyone! That has been one of the key selling points of Ubisoft’s latest; Watch Dogs Legion ever since its reveal back at E3 2019. This isn’t exactly a new thing, Monolith Productions allowed players to recruit any orc to their army in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. However, in the case of Watch Dogs Legion, these recruits aren’t just NPCs. You can literally recruit any resident of London (minus a few tied to the narrative) and play as them and boy did the developers pull that off in a spectacular manner.
The Watch Dogs franchise has been mired with controversy and criticism since the first game came out back in 2014 and was criticized for its bait and switch tactics when it came to the visual fidelity and gameplay features. Due to that, the sequel Watch Dogs 2 despite being a far better project didn’t fare so well as people were just not willing to give it a try because of the legacy tied to it. So for all intents and purposes, the biggest hurdle Watch Dogs Legion has had to cross was its very own legacy.
Recruit Anyone and Everyone
How do you release a new, cross-generation game that appeals to the masses? You take away a central character and give players the freedom to wreak havoc while liberating London from oppression with whomever they see fit. A James Bond-esque spy? A professional hitman to live out your John Wick fantasies? An amateur fighter? Yes you can be either one of them and more! Even someone like a homeless person, who can literally beg others for some money, but also happens to carry a silenced MP5.
There is however a caveat attached to recruiting people off the street. While you can recruit anyone, it isn’t as simple as walking up to them and having them sign a contract. Every person will require a recruitment mission to be completed before they join your merry band of cyber delinquents.
While the missions you do for them are random, they ultimately boil down to pretty much the same standard affair. Go to a place, steal some data, hack or kill someone and the character will happily join your team.
This sounds ok in theory but after a couple of recruits under your belt, the novelty starts to wear down when you are doing pretty much the same mission, in similar-looking places, again and again.
Since each recruit is somewhat unique, they also have unique inventory and skills. I can have an ex-cop who drinks beer to resist damage in combat or I can have a paramedic that has the case of hiccups which ends up alerting nearby enemies.
Characters are basically divided into classes while not being restrictive like traditional RPGs. An example of this is that while any character can use non-lethal weapons and hack things, only a certain few come with actual guns or can use unique drones or gadgets of their own.
A hitman comes equipped with abilities like dodge roll, a pistol and an assault rifle while a hacker might have their own unique shock drone and a police offer will have a baton as a melee weapon. It is always a trade-off as not every character is capable of interacting with every aspect of the game world.
While understandable to incentivize using different characters for different playstyles and activities, it also makes the experience a bit restrictive.
It makes sense that a dancer I recruit off the street wouldn’t be adept at killing people like a hitman but because of that very restriction, many people will often decide to not even bother with recruiting more once they have some good standard characters like a Spy, Hitman, Getaway Driver and Hacker on their team.
To fix this issue, however, Watch Dogs Legion also has a permadeath mode and that is where the recruitment process is really worth it. If all your operatives are dead, it is game over so you always need to keep recruiting, if you can get past the monotonous recruitment mission structure.
With the big recruitment feature aside, let’s talk about the normal mission structure and the narrative side of the game.
Because of its approach to playable characters and not having a main protagonist, a lot of people were afraid that the characters might be lacking in personality and relatability since having a central character seems important in driving a narrative.
Thankfully, Watch Dogs Legion has no issues with delivering with its overwhelming number of available characters to choose from. They might not have the inner demons of Aiden Pearce or character development of Ezio Auditore but each recruit in Watch Dogs Legion comes with their own quirky personality that surprisingly ends up fitting in with the overall narrative instead of clashing and sticking out like a sore thumb.
The main story was never a strong point for Watch Dogs games. The original was criticized for a pretty bland and cookie-cutter revenge story while Watch Dogs 2 was a standard “stick it to the man” style rebel group affair.
While there is nothing wrong with that, after all the entire theme of the franchise is a hacktivist group called DedSec trying to fight back against and exposing the corrupt and growing influences of mega-corporations. However, because of those things, nothing really stood out in the previous games when it comes to narrative. After all we have seen numerous games with similar themes in the past.
Watch Dogs Legion, however, plays with this same familiar narrative tone in quiet interesting ways and at its core presents a highly compelling mystery investigation where DedSec is trying to uncover and expose the villainous Zero Day for framing us for a crime while also dealing with the growing influences and unchecked authority of evil corporations in a near-future London. The standard affair led by a lot of infiltration, investigation and detective work that should remind you of the Batman Arkham games.
One of the biggest criticisms lauded against the first game was that it was too serious. Ubisoft seems to have taken that at heart and the resulting Legion is a game that ends up being a surprisingly refreshing experience thanks to the fact that the game never takes itself seriously.
Not exactly saving the Galaxy but think of DedSec in Legion as Guardians of London. Everyone is quirky and sarcastic and at the top of the “joker” pyramid sits Bagley, your AI assistant.
That in no way means the game is all jokes and juvenile humor. The plot of fascism and oppression at the core of Watch Dogs Legion is extremely relevant in this day and age and anyone who has an issue with games being political has clearly never played the franchise and should probably stay away from this one as well.
The game doesn’t shy away from those dark moments that suddenly turn your smile into a horrified gasp.
A perfect example of this is an early game main story mission that feels like a mash-up of Fullmetal Alchemist and a dark take on Alice in Wonderland from the mind of someone like Zack Snyder.
However, the real beauty is in how you balance the somber moments and themes while also ensuring that your game isn’t all doom and gloom. Watch Dogs Legion seems to have almost nailed that perfect harmony between Guardians of the Galaxy and Schindler’s List.
The main story coupled with side missions or requests from other characters delivers an overall solid narrative to keep you hooked for well over 20 hours.
World of London
The futuristic London of Watch Dogs Legion might be its weakest link. Sure it has the British charm thrown in but there is little that makes it stand out.
Gone are the vistas and horizon shots of sunny San Francisco and replaced with narrow London streets and corporate buildings resulting in neighborhoods that are difficult to tell apart from each other.
Minus a few real-life landmarks like Piccadilly Circus, King’s Cross Station, Tower of London and more, there is little that sets apart the different locations of London. Every street is lined with Albion forces, detaining citizens without any provocation while drones patrol the sky.
Speaking of drones, these tiny flying tech pieces might be the single most annoying new addition to the Watch Dogs franchise. With the constant drone patrols, checkpoints and turrets everywhere, it is a hassle and absolutely not worth helping citizens getting their heads bashed against the pavement.
Hitting the Albion forces doing the bashing will only result in a chase that is a real pain to get rid of because of all the drones that persistently track you down even when you are flying away on a drone of your own.
In my permadeath playthrough, I have lost numerous good quality operatives just because I decided to help out a kid in a football jersey getting harassed and decided to intervene.
Did I do a good thing and helped someone who for some reason starts fighting back the instant I engage the enemy instead of running away to safety? Perhaps. But whether it was worth it or not I can’t be sure as I just lost a very useful Hacker operative in the process of getting away.
All in all, however, these are just minor grievances and in no way take away the charm from an overall exciting and fun game that you can spend hours into even after finishing the main narrative while you wait for the upcoming Online experience and paid DLCs.
One of the most crucial questions people ask when deciding on playing a Ubisoft title is whether it runs well or not.
The company has sort of a messy history with open-world game performances such as the disastrous launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity, the unoptimized performance of the original Watch Dogs and many other instances.
Watch Dogs Legion also happens to be the first Ubisoft title that makes extensive use of Nvidia’s Raytracing and DLSS tech. Being a cross-generation title and new consoles supporting raytracing, obviously, a lot of people would wonder how the game performs with all the bells and whistles.
Since I reviewed the game on PC, I can’t talk much about the console performance but the developers have confirmed the next-generation of consoles will be running Watch Dogs Legion at 4K 30FPS so it should be an experience to look forward to.
The PC side of Watch Dogs Legion’s performance however is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, it looks amazing, especially at night time when all the lights and neon comes on. However, with all those visuals also come a number of performance hiccups.
My personal rig with an i7 7700K and RTX 2070 is definitely over the recommended baseline for RTX enabled 1080p gameplay. However, even with the suggested settings and DLSS enabled it was impossible to hit 60FPS with occasional dips to sub-30. Turning off RTX does improve performance quite a lot but the occasional dips, especially when you are driving, still occur.
This performance experience is without the Nvidia GameReady drivers (as those are unavailable as of this writing) so hopefully, those and another patch in the upcoming days might improve the performance.
Whether you pick it up now or wait for the next-generation version, Watch Dogs Legion is one of those absurdly fun titles that you owe it to yourself to check out. Gaming doesn’t always need to be serious to deliver a message and Legion makes full use of that.
Watch Dogs Legion will be serving as a great bridge between both console generations and showcase what the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S have to offer over the older ones, especially where resolution, world detail, and Raytracing is concerned.
As a fun 1-2 hour gaming session or something you grind hard over the weekend, Watch Dogs Legion is sure to offer a lot of value to every type of gamer interested in the open-world adventure genre.
The recruitment feature is a fun and cool new thing that lets you play around a bit with your mayhem capabilities but it is probably not going to keep you hooked in itself after you have mode 10-12 hours of progress in the game. Thankfully, the narrative side of things steps in with compelling storylines and characters you will want to learn more about.