When I saw Watch Dogs Legion’s reveal at E3 2019, to say I was excited would be an understatement. The promise of being able to play as any NPC was so wild and new, that my mind raced with possibilities. Having now finished the campaign I can say that while you can technically play as any NPC, you’re most likely not going to want to. And in this regard, Watch Dogs Legion is a bit of a disappointment. Read on for our full Watch Dogs Legion review.
London Dedsec Calling
Set in a dystopian London, Watch Dogs Legion once again finds Dedsec using technology to battle oppressive tech villains in a battle for the people of a city. Whereas in the first two Watch Dogs, Dedsec enlisted the help of a single main protagonist, in Legion they need you to enlist everyone you can to battle London’s oppressors and take back London for the people. In all honesty, the story does have some fun twists and turns, it doesn’t really do anything all that fresh with the concept or the story. It tread well worn tropes of techno-terrorist plots from other areas of fiction so for me, there wasn’t much to get invested in as far as the story goes. Which doesn’t really bother me much because with rare exception, I find most stories in games to be weak regardless. As long as a game is fun to play, then I’m happy. It also doesn’t help that the game tells you London is under an oppressive regime but when I can hack anyone, steal any car, get on a massive hovering drone and fly over the city, I didn’t really feel all that oppressed.
Fortunately for most of my playthrough, Watch Dogs Legion is genuinely fun to play. Hacking around an enemy facility to set traps, hack terminals, take out high valued targets, its as fun as its ever been in the series. Doing so without ever getting spotted is even better. The game offers quite a bit of variety in this area so if you like the Watch Dogs gameplay loop, you’ll be plenty entertained.
The main objective is to make each area of London “defiant” (think liberated) by doing all of the side activities in the area. Once you’ve cleared the area you’ll be rewarded with a Special Operative who will have a special set of perks and weapons for you to use when playing as that NPC. Such as spies having a watch that jams the weapon of every enemy in range, a pistol with a sound suppressor, and a James Bond-like car that shoots missiles and can cloak. I also had a beekeeper that could attack enemies with a swarm of bees.
When not looking dead in the face of the characters, Watch Dogs Legion is a gorgeous game, even on a slim PS4. It’s vibrant, full of life, and feels like a real world place. I actually feel like I know parts of London now having spent so much time in the game.
Not the NPC You’re Looking For
Making matters easier or harder for you is the ability to play as any NPC, the main selling point of Watch Dogs Legion. And again, this is true. If you want to play as the street musician you find at the subway, you can play as them, with a few caveats. First you need to do a side mission for them to make them join Dedsec. These are generally pretty varied insofar as I saw in my playthrough (more on that in a bit). It could be as simple as hacking a terminal to have your record expunged from the authority’s server, or stealing a drugs shipment and delivering it safely to a disclosed location. One of these missions had me getting swarmed by Albion (the authoritative “police” presence of Watch Dogs Legion) and drones while you download something from the van you just stole. It can get pretty crazy (I lost one of my agents due to playing on Permadeath) and you won’t really know what you’re going to deal with so it keeps you on your toes at all times. Once you’ve completed their mission they are added to your roster for you to use.
The other, and most important caveat, is that outside of Special Operatives, most of the NPCs are useless. They might have one or two perks, some active for that NPC, others passive that carry over to whomever you’re playing as such as having an NPC in your operatives pool will get you a currency (ETO) bonus for every hacked ETO cache/ATM, etc. Some will get you shorter jail time. Cool, except not once was I ever arrested. Others have an immunity to gas grenades (running away from the gas is just as effective). And for giggles, some have a death wish and will die randomly. Sure that’s amusing, but hardly useful. You can occasionally find Special Operatives in the world (usually at one or two spots where their kind frequent) which I used many times after losing four spies to Permadeath.
A missed opportunity was making the NPCs customizable beyond their clothing (which is oddly the only thing you can spend ETO on) to really make you care about them. They became fodder. If any of the useful Operatives died I would just find another one in the world, do their mission, and continue on. However, after a while I just stopped trying. I had three or four I used for any given mission type and that was about it. If they would have made it so you can truly change their look and equip them with special weapons it would have gone a long way to making things like Permadeath matter.
It’s also worth noting that the game crashed on my new PS4 (my launch PS4 died so I bought a slim to tied me over till PS5 arrives) a whopping nine times. I also experienced vanishing NPCs and enemies (and no they weren’t cloaked), times where I was able to hack any cameras, and other wonky bugs. It’s clear this game needed either more polish or should have just been a next-gen title.
Next-Gen Ambition, Current-Gen Shackles
I know I sound hard on Watch Dogs Legion but I do want to be clear that actually playing the game and not worrying about the recruitment aspect or the story, I had a lot of fun. And I’m really looking forward to diving back in on PS5 to finish the collectables, side missions and get the platinum. If anything, I feel that Watch Dogs Legion was a generation too early. Maybe with a sequel (if it gets one) Ubisoft can use the power of the SSD to really make the NPCs and your attachment to them meaningful. As for right now, the promise was only partially kept.
- Hacking Watch Dogs style is still as fun as ever
- Shooting and combat feel good
- London is beautifully realized
- Special Operatives offer fun, unique perks and weapons to use
- You can actually play as any NPCs
- Most NPCs turn out to be pretty useless
- Lack of customization for your Operatives outside of clothing leaves little to get attached to
- The story is rote and full of techo-terrorist story tropes
Watch Dogs Legion review code not provided by the publisher. Game tested on the PS4 with all images captures via PS Share feature. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.