Reviews

Chuffed to bits — Watch Dogs Legion Review

Oi! Listen ‘ere bruv. Right cheeky bastard goes by the name of Zero-Day done us in right? Blew up half ‘a London and all! We ain’t havin’ it. It’s about time to rise up, mate. Maybe join them DedSec lads we’ve ‘eard about, eh? Maybe throw a spanner in his works and introduce him to her Majesty’s Pleasure? So what about it? Fancy doing some damage?

Watch Dogs: Legion opens with a DedSec agent named Dalton Wolfe infiltrating the Houses of Parliament on a tip that it might be a bombing target. Assisted by his smart-assed AI companion, Bagley, and a few fellow DedSec members at home base, Dalton discovers that not only does this group want to blow up the Houses of Parliament, they intend to frame DedSec in the process. Narrowly thwarting their efforts only reveals that the group is named Zero Day, and that this is just one target of several. Unable to stop them, explosives rock London, setting in motion the precise catalyst needed to transform the city into a police state. As personal liberty is curtailed, monitoring becomes as invasive as it is pervasive. The somnambulistic populace happily trade liberty for perceived safety as the British government contracts a private military company named Albion to keep the peace at all costs. Can DedSec rise from the ashes to break the stranglehold of Albion and free London from this shiny dystopia?

A good story starts with the protagonist, followed by the setting, and layered with the plot. Here, we find ourselves in London, England — a fresh locale to explore, complete with all the landmarks us tourists can recognize. The plot is something we’ll explore at length (but with as few spoilers as possible) as this review continues. What’s interesting about Legion, however, is how Ubisoft’s chosen to tackle that protagonist piece. Watch Dogs had Aiden Pierce as its brooding protagonist. Watch Dogs 2 switched things up with Marcus Halloway — a more upbeat and relatable character. Watch Dogs: Legion hooks a hard left and makes everyone the protagonist. And when I say everyone, I mean nearly anyone you see in the game. That construction dude? Recruitable. The security guard inside the bank? She can join the team. Need a homeless vagrant on your crew? Hold your nose and convince him to work for you. Each person you see has a set of skills that can be used to tackle a scenario a different way, so building a diverse team makes things a whole lot easier. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you need to break into a Albion stronghold and steal some code. The chap slinging drinks at the nearby pub has good pugilistic skills if you’d prefer to go in and simply beat down everyone with your fists like it’s an action sequence in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. If you like the quieter approach, maybe the guy intently on his phone outside could be a better choice. Turns out he’s got hacking skills and can either use his own spider drone or commandeer one from nearby to accomplish the task. That suave guy in the suit? Maybe he’s the spy type that can sneak in and out without being noticed. Me? I recruited an Albion security guard. Walking in and walking out without anyone the wiser is the smartest play in my book. It opens up a world of possibilities when you can shift your approach to match your play style or the needs of a mission.

Recruiting a team is actually one of the primary ways you’ll spend your time in Watch Dogs: Legion. Each of the eight boroughs have unique personalities that hang out there, and how they dress, act, and what sort of unique abilities they possess are all wildly different. As you explore, you’ll encounter a wide variety of people, all with different wants and needs, just like the real world. If you want suit-wearing crypto specialists and suave CEOs, you aren’t gonna find them in the same place you find weapon dealers, drug slingers, and prostitutes…well, maybe the last two. Either way, you’ve gotta head to the right part of town to find the right people for the job. But what happens when you run into somebody who isn’t amenable to your cause? That’s where a bit of tech can save the day.

As you unlock the Deep Profiler you’ll be able to get a better look at the person in front of you. Occasionally you’ll run into somebody who won’t join your cause no matter what. Worse, if you tangle with them or somebody they care about, it may cause some backlash for you and your team. I’ll leave that to you to discover, but it’s the real-world equivalent of kicking chickens repeatedly in a Zelda game, only the chickens are armed with guns.

With your team assembled, it’s time to put them to work. You wouldn’t send them out on a job without the proper tools though, would you? That’s where tech comes in. Progression in Watch Dogs: Legion is tied to two things — abilities, and Tech Points. Each character has a very particular set of skills that makes them useful. For some people, it’s a full set of crazy martial arts skills, for others it’s the ability to drink just about anyone under the table. You might find a spy with additional stealth skills, or the ability to hack things more quickly, but it’s the perk that lets you turn yourself (and anyone you’ve knocked out) invisible for a period of time that you’ll really want. Unless of course you want to go loud, then it’s the lady with the marksman skills. The point is, there’s no right or wrong way, and there’s no good or bad skills — it’s all about approach. What can help with your approach, however, is tech.

Tech Points can be found all over the city. These show up as a teal-colored triangle on the map, giving you an indicator that one of these points are found nearby. Typically you’ll have to solve some sort of navigation puzzle to get to them, but other times it’s simply sitting out in the open. These tech points unlock weapons, upgraded hacking skills, better (and more) gadgets, and even new drones. You’ll also gain tech points by completing missions, both side and main, and exploring the world. As you slowly free the eight boroughs of their oppressors you’ll also find additional tech points, as well as earn a boatload of cash.

Cash in Watch Dogs: Legion comes in the form of (predictably) cryptocurrency. Cash serves but one purpose — allowing you to buy clothes. Using your phone to hack banks, accomplishing missions, and generally just playing the game in general earns you money. Since money is only used for customization, let’s talk about that.

Looking the part is important for infiltration, but it’s all about style when you aren’t on a mission. In point of fact, Legion has more than five times the amount of customization than its predecessors, and these styles range from posh to absolutely nuts. Heading to a strip mall area, there are often half a dozen places where you can purchase different clothes including shirts, jackets, hats, gloves, shoes, pants, masks, and more. Heading to the various boroughs will yield fashions you’ve seen in that area, so you’ll have to shop around if you want to mix and match. You can also apply customization to your weapons, giving them goofy skins, but I have to admit that over the course of 30 hours I had forgotten it was an option.

With as wide a variety of NPCs to recruit as Watch Dogs: Legion presents, it’s interesting to me that there is a permadeath option offered from the start. This means, instead of taking an extended stay at the hospital when you botch a mission, you could find that character pushing daisies instead of in recovery. It’s an interesting concept, especially when there are so many different types of recruitable characters in the game. It makes their death that much more painful when you worked hard to find them to bring them aboard, and it feels like this is the way the developers intended you to play — act accordingly.

Recruitable NPCs have a non-specified rarity based on the number of and usefulness of their skills. For example, a friendly old codger may have lower mobility (not exactly useful), but they may also be an impressive hacker that has a shorter cooldown than others. Similarly, you might find that the barkeep you’ve been pouring back pints with is also a skilled assassin with Gun Kata skills from the movie Equilibrium and a car that can turn invisible. Nearly everyone you encounter can be recruited and all of them have at least one skill, so assembling the right team for the job is always a moving target.

There is one large differentiator between your various would-be DedSec members and that’s uniforms. When a pistol, a tazer, a bot, or any other approach won’t serve the mission best, you’ll need to look like you belong. That’s where having the right clothes matters. Construction workers obviously blend in while at construction sites, and cops belong in police stations. Government types look right walking around government buildings, and doctors can do their best doctor impression while dressed as a doctor in a hospital — it doesn’t take a scientist to figure that out, but if it did, you bet I’d have recruited one to look the part. These uniforms aren’t foolproof, however, and they won’t hold up to scrutiny close up, so you’ll have to be mindful how long you linger. Using distraction hacks and setting traps is your path to victory.

Hacking and traps are integral to Watch Dogs: Legion, as you might imagine. Taking control of phones, bollards, traps, servers, tablets, and pretty much anything else with a circuit has always been a part of the series, though now it seems like we can add a lot more drones to the list.

Spiderbots and flying drones come in a variety of functions. You can summon a cargo drone to carry large objects (including you!) from place to place, in addition combat, riot, and counter terrorism drones bring with them a whole arsenal of firepower. There are even drones that can prop themselves up as a turret to casually mow down enemies. More mundane drones carry packages, and these can be hijacked to drop their precious loot. You can then grab that box and pocket the proceeds for yourself. You can even drop a box to attract guards to a specific location to investigate or just crush them outright. Drones are fun.

Spider drones are exactly what you might imagine: able to navigate all sorts of places you can’t reach on your own. Upgraded with double jump they can reach all manner of places to unlock doors, steal data, and pick up tech points and masks hidden in the environment. They also represent a real opportunity to complete an entire mission without ever setting foot on the premises. It’s a very cool way to tackle objectives that feels more complete than it did in Watch Dogs 2.

I have run into a few bugs at launch that I have to mention. During one sequence I had a guard get stuck on something while pursuing me, locked into a loop of a single constant repeating voice line insisting that I stop hiding and that she’d find me. You’ll frequently hear guards saying “nothing here, moving on” over and over, ad nauseum. Pre-launch we reported more than a few odd animations (sliding, air swimming, etc.) but the first patch and driver update seems to have ironed all of this out, thankfully.  We did hold our review as there were some performance wobbles where the game would run like it’s on fire and then suddenly slow to a crawl.  This has mostly been resolved on high-end PCs, but there remains some significant work to do on mid-range platforms.  The game does push hardware pretty hard with the introduction of RTX (and you WANT to play this game with RTX, believe me, it looks phenomenal), but you shouldn’t need a bleeding edge card to eek out a decent framerate.

Obviously with this game being the first release pushing the RTX envelope, it’s going to receive a lot of attention. At launch the game will support ray traced reflection and DLSS. Ray traced reflections, as you might recall from our in-depth review of the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080, is what enables those amazing reflective surfaces, realistic lighting, and gorgeous artifact-free shadows. DLSS, or Deep Learning Super Sampling, is the technology that uses the dedicated Tensor Cores in RTX cards to upsample the game using AI. We ran the benchmarks for Watch Dogs Legion on a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 3070, and RTX 3080, with all settings at Ultra, DLSS set to performance, and extra detail set to 100. You can see those results in our review for the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 right here, but suffice to say, you’ll want a powerful card to run this game if you demand 4K. At 1440p, you can get a really respectable framerate with all the bells and whistles enabled. You can see those benchmarks below:

In practice, the RTX-powered lighting looks phenomenal in this game, and the shadows add a lot of depth to the visuals. Glass reflects and distorts, but so do rain puddles and glossy sides of cars. Neon bathes an area and bounces off the metal surfaces to then reflect on other objects. Mirrors…well, unlike most games, they actually function. The Ubisoft team has really pulled out all the stops to make the lighting as eye-poppingly amazing as possible, and the way they’ve done it matches the aesthetics of the world they’ve created. Don’t take my word for it, here’s the more of the game running on an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Founder’s Edition at 4K with every bell and whistle cranked to maximum:

Unfortunately, I can’t say that the framerate is as stable as it should be. The game will run at 90+ fps for hours at a time and then inexplicably the game will grind into the teens for anywhere between 5 to 30 seconds, recovering as inexplicably as it started. It’s very likely due to pre-release drivers and pre-release code, but this is an issue at the time of review.  We are told that this will be addressed by a patch on the 9th

Let’s talk about multiple monitors, because Watch Dogs Legion supports them in a big way. Playing the game at 5120×1400 is a completely awesome experience, and with no real hit to framerate (beyond the aforementioned weirdness). As they have for many games prior to this, they also support moving HUD elements to the secondary monitor, adjusting the field of view, and a myriad of other settings. It also supports the Tobii Eye Tracker, but that’s a review for another day.

In terms of overall aesthetics, Watch Dogs: Legion embodies what I see as the issue with the next-generation launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The additional power present in those consoles is somewhat held back by the need to also launch on the PS4 and Xbox One X. As such, you’ll find real high points in Legion’s environments, followed by some faces that look a little bit janky. One of my team members has eyes that seem to bulge WAY out of her skull in a very unnatural way — likely a result of the randomizer for character faces. I can’t help but feel like Legion would have received a lot more attention and fidelity for character faces if they only had to focus on the next-generation platforms. What’s here works most of the time, but when it doesn’t, it’s a stark reminder that this thing is launching on Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, PlayStation 5, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and every flavor of PC you can imagine — 9 platforms in all, and some of those being seven years old.

There are two areas in Watch Dogs: Legion that clearly received a lot of attention — driving and gunplay. Sure, you can go non-lethal with shock pistols and the like, but if you want to go lethal, you’ve got AK-47s, an M9 shotgun, a grenade launcher, and a suppressed pistol to name a few. Taking cover and plinking away at enemies feels very effective, with headshots being lethal on all but the most armored targets. Unleashing a recruit with the “Professional hitman” trait makes you into a John Wick-esque murder machine, dancing through your targets with bloody precision. When your characters can die permanently, this was pretty important, so it’s great to see that it works well. Similarly, the driving feels tight in Legion. Once you get the hang of the e-brake you’ll be whipping around corners and power sliding to evade the police. It’s no surprise from a company that also publishes The Crew, but I actually enjoy the driving in Legion.

On the other hand, let’s talk about hand-to-hand combat. There is an underground sparring league that really puts a harsh spotlight on just how clunky the hand-to-hand combat really is. More a paper-rock-scissors game than pugilistic combat, the hand-to-hand doesn’t feel impactful. In the few times where I ended up squaring off against someone with fisticuffs I just pulled out my pistol or tazer and zapped them in the head. Sure, it escalates enemy response, but so does the belabored hand-to-hand, so you might as well just get right to it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one specific mission thread. I don’t want to reveal the antagonist, but you end up embroiled in some family drama that had my jaw on the floor. The horror of how AI made such massive leaps in their intelligence culminates in a fever dream-esque mission that I have no doubt will be stuck in my memory for some time to come. This level could have come straight from Ubisoft’s own VR game Transcendence, and I absolutely loved it.

Moving from a single protagonist to everyone in London being a possible story leader has had some genericization as any of the four story segments can be tackled as you see fit, mixing and matching at will. Still, it’s on par with what we’ve seen in other Ubisoft open world games, with each “thread” feeling like a cohesive unit, almost regardless of who you brought to the party. I was worried about not having a single strong voice to guide the story, but it turned out alright.

Watch Dogs: Legion does support cooperative play, but it won’t at launch. We’ll see this feature roll out on December 3rd, so expect that we’ll bring you all the information on that feature at that time. Stay tuned!

80

Great

Watch Dogs: Legion

Review Guidelines

At the end of the day, Watch Dogs: Legion feels like it executed on most of its ideas, with some standouts rising above the rest. While the loss of a primary protagonist may have felt like an odd step, it worked in the “we are all Spartacus” sort of way. Fresh takes on drones and the addition of a few new toys liven up the world's interactivity. I’m just hoping that the Ubisoft team can squash some of the real-world bugs soon.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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