When I wrote my review of the early access version of Baldur’s Gate 3, I started out by listing some of the games that I was most looking forward to playing this year. I left Watch Dogs Legion off that list, but not on purpose. I had been following the development of Legion pretty closely, but the game looked so impressive and advanced that in my mind I didn’t think that it could possibly come out this year. And then it did. And not to give any spoilers, but I need to be up front and say right away that this is one game that completely lived up to it’s hype. It’s almost ridiculously incredible in so many ways.
Watch Dogs Legion was originally released for both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One console. However, as we are on the cusp of the next generation of consoles, Ubisoft added the ability to upgrade the game (for free!) to either the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5 when it’s available, and whenever you can either afford or simply find one of the new consoles. This review was conducted with a PlayStation 4 because we wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible. And while I’m sure that the next generation machines will blow us away, Legion looks great on the PS4. There is no reason to hold off on getting Watch Dogs Legion if you don’t have a next generation console. Other than perhaps a little bit of long load times, it plays and looks great. Grab it, and then upgrade the game whenever you get your shiny new console.
Unlike any other game I can think of, you don’t actually have a main character or even a closed set of main characters to pick from in Watch Dogs Legion. The entire city of London and all its residents are open to you and ready to become playable characters. You are free to put together any team that you want from this living city. Yes, your personal team will become very familiar to you, and you will have favorites for sure, but your team will almost certainly be different from everyone else playing the game.
Do you want to go for balance and try to recruit someone from every profession? Make a team of elderly pensioners? Only recruit ex-cops, or bankers, or lawyers? Perhaps you want an all-female freedom-fighting brigade? It’s totally up to you, and that is pretty amazing. You can even decide to go fully non-lethal if you want, with advantages and negatives to that strategy.
The plot of Watch Dogs Legion is much like Watch Dogs 2 or even the original, where a collection of megacorporations have taken over a city, in this case London, trampling civil rights and eliminating personal freedoms, to say nothing of privacy rights. There is a major terrorist attack at the onset of the game which gives the corporations the green light for the city takeover, with people trading freedom for security. To make matters worse, DedSec is blamed for the attack, so not only are you fighting for the freedom of the people, but also to rebuild your shattered reputation and clear your name.
The coolest thing is that London is a living city. It’s residents aren’t random. They go about their routines as you might expect, with doctors and nurses hanging out around hospitals, lawyers scurrying along past municipal buildings, transients and sex workers populating the more seedy areas of the city, and everyone in places where it makes sense. And everyone goes places too, like to the pub to unwind, or a church to visit a grave, or simply heads to work in the morning or home at the end of the day. They even have relationships like friends and family members, which you can discover in their deep profiles once you acquire that skill. And they have good memories.
If you hurt them, or even a friend of theirs, say by accidentally sending them to the hospital by driving off the road during a wayward police chase, they will be much less likely to work with you and DedSec in the future. On the flip side, save them from something like a bogus arrest or a police beat down, and they and their friends will be clamoring to join up.
As realistic as people are, their value to players resides with their skillsets. People on the street can have between one and five special skills or notable attributes. Some can actually be negative too, like old injuries preventing them from running fast or taking cover. But most skills are helpful, like faster hacking, the ability to call in a drone, dealing more melee damage or stealing credits every time you take someone down. A few potential DedSec agents also come with uniforms that can help them more easily navigate off-limits areas, like a nurse being able to walk around a hospital more freely than someone in street clothes.
A few skills benefit your entire team, like a doctor speeding up healing or a police officer helping to get your arrested team members bailed out quickly. Those with team skills are normally, but not always, pretty weak as field agents. But even so it’s good to recruit them to passively assist everyone else from the sidelines. So you probably want a team doctor, someone with police connections or a lawyer and an investment banker to boost your income, even if they don’t take the field. Even a beggar might be helpful to DedSec at times.
You can have up to 45 people on your team, which includes both fully recruited members and your list of prospects. That is a lot, but eventually you may need to cut some people loose to make room for more-skilled agents, or those who can specifically help you complete difficult missions later in the game.
You have two main goals in Watch Dogs Legion. The first is to “liberate” different areas of the city, which makes them more defiant to the ruling private police force. The second is to investigate the terrorist attacks from the start of the game to uncover and expose the real attackers, and clear DedSec’s name. You do this in a series of missions that involve everything from hacking bulletin boards, gathering hidden or well-protected evidence to destroying assets that your adversaries need, like armored car factories or armories. There are a good variety of mission types, and how you tackle each one and which operative to use is a major part of what makes Watch Dogs Legion so fun.
There is no traditional leveling up process in Legion. You get better by recruiting more skilled team members and also by unlocking tech points (found in glowing green devices hidden around the city) which can let you equip better and more powerful gadgets. There seems to be more than enough opportunity to fully upgrade almost everything. I spent a whole day with my construction worker flying around on top of her heavy drone looking for upgrade boxes, dropping in and snatching them from balconies and rooftops, often avoiding patrols in those areas all together. But even if you don’t specifically hunt for them, tech point boxes are placed in almost every main mission area, so you can still upgrade as you play, just a lot slower and probably more strategically than I did. I just bought tons of upgrades and then sent my construction girl out to find more tech points for the team. There are also a ton of cosmetic options that can be bought for credits, which are much easier to find.
Combat in the game is fast and fluid whether on foot or in cars. Cars are responsive too, much more like Grand Theft Auto V and not at all like the (apparently) icy roads of the original Watch Dogs.
On foot, you don’t have to play Legion like a straight shooter. You can be stealthy and even get a form of invisibility later on by hacking into your enemies augmented reality implants. You can also hack cameras and arm electrical or explosive traps to soften up your opponents, or hack a vehicle and run them down. If you get skilled enough with a remote spider bot, you might not even have to enter too many hot zones at all. Or you can go in guns blazing, and there are people you can recruit who are good at that. For me, I found that melee combat was particularly satisfying (and extremely violent) in Legion, and equipping something like a shock fist gadget onto a bare knuckles boxer was almost over-powering. I think I single handedly knocked out a battalion cops in one of the districts during a running battle. And I was winning until they called in the drones.
There are games that supposedly give players the choice to be loud or stealthy on missions, though its normally just a matter of degrees. Watch Dogs Legion gives players true freedom to approach missions however they want. There are almost no limits on what you can do. If you think of a crazy plan, give it a try and it might just work. For example, I infiltrated a police station with an officer I recruited and carefully knocked out the guards I came across, hiding their bodies with an augmented reality screen. I was gone with no alarms raised. Then I did it again by rushing the station using a drunk, crowbar-wielding soccer hooligan and his band of crazy friends. I can’t tell you which was more fun. Play however you want. Legion will accommodate you.
From almost any way you look at it, Watch Dogs Legion is an amazing game. It’s so fun to play. It looks fantastic (even on a “last generation” console). And it’s technologically miles ahead of almost any other game out there, with a true living city of real people to liberate, recruit, abuse or just play darts and drink with. At this point, I can’t really see anything else getting close to earning the Game of the Year crown. It’s that good. Put this review away and go play it! You won’t be disappointed.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X