Watch Dogs Legion should have just gone for Watch Dogs 3 as its title. Why? Because I’m a bloody idiot and a simple man and I like things to make sense. Unfortunately, and probably for the best, I didn’t get the chance to tell the developers off over their naming decisions, but I did get to see Watch Dogs Legion in action at E3 2019 and I ran away impressed. More on the running away later…
After waiting in line for 45 minutes (I didn’t manage to get an appointment for this one) I was finally sat in down in the makeshift theatre inside the Watch Dogs Legions E3 booth. The chairs weren’t as comfy and it reminded me of being in school assembly, albeit with far fewer people and far fewer whispered name-calling.
The demo started with a quick intro by one of the developers and a roll of the trailer that was released a couple of days beforehand. Which was good for me, as I’d only been able to watch it on my phone, so to see it on a big screen was a treat. The small things in life…
Once the trailer had finished and everybody gave it a round of applause (why?) we were getting stuck into the meat of the demo.
Watch Dogs Legion marks the first time that the series has ventured outside of America. In fact, it is a rare example of a big-budget game being set in the United Kingdom. It’s a welcome change, then, and the developers have obviously gone to great lengths to nail the feel of London, while also shaking it up to present a filthy future where the poor are punished and the rich sit high and mighty. It’s a bit of social commentary and certainly fitting with the times. It means London won’t look exactly how it does these days, but instead a little more futuristic. Well, it is set in the near future, after all.
The big change-up to Watch Dogs Legion isn’t its choice of location, but how it tells that cities stories. Instead of focusing on just one character, or a small principal cast to move the story along, Watch Dogs Legion tells the story through whoever you choose to be the vessel. You can play as anybody, kind of.
As became apparent early on in the presentation, it’s not simply a matter of seeing a granny on the street or a fat guy at the bus stop and decided to play as them. You need to recruit them to your cause.
I was shown that you start off as a member of Dedsec, which has now evolved into a full-on resistance movement against The Man and Big Data and, probably, Big Meat, Big Shampoo, and so on and so forth.
To play as others, you need to recruit them, but it’s not as easy as saying “hey, mate, fancy joining an underground resistance where there’s an almost certain chance you’ll be killed?” Instead, you need to curry favour with whoever you’re targeting. The demo had us trying to recruit some Irish fella in a bar. I can’t remember his name, but for the purpose of this preview, we’ll call him Dave. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s voiced by the same voice actor that lent his larynx to Shay in Assassin’s Creed Rogue. Maybe he just hangs around the studios waiting for work to become available. Who knows. Either way, it was nice to hear a familiar voice.
Before you talk to anybody, you can scope them out and learn a bit about them, much like in the previous games. Dedsec may not be a bunch of rowdy millennial hacktivists anymore, but hacking still plays a big part in the gameplay and world-building. You’ll still scan people’s phones to get some information about them, and that’s just what happened to Dave. We learned he had a boyfriend, worked a decent job, and had a special ability. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember the limitations of the game world becoming apparent pretty quick.
The idea is that every character in the world lives their own life. They have their own families, friends, schedules, and traits. The problem I saw – and bear in mind, this could change – was that a lot of these traits came up within a short space of time among a small group of characters in the aforementioned bar. One lady’s ability was that she gained 60% strength when she was on low health, but so did the guy across the bar. The developer giving the presentation managed to laugh this off by saying “cool, they must be friends,” but I think the reality is that we’ll see a whole population with just a few traits shared between them. In a city of millions, you’d expect there to be endless personalities, but I’m not sure that’s what we’re going to get. Still, it’s early days and, as I say, this could all change.
So, back to Irish Dave. Delving a little deeper into his personality we found that he had a family and he was also embezzling funds from his job. Top bloke. We also learned that he was Dedsec-neutral. This is a system in the game that tells us, the players, how difficult it will be to recruit a new operative. If they’re Dedsec-neutral it means they couldn’t care either way, so it’ll only take a little persuasion. Perhaps you’ll do them a little favour and, in return, they’ll join your band of merry men. Conversely, if they’re Dedsec-negative because they’ve been influenced by anti-Dedsec propaganda, you’ll have to really work to get them on board. But if they’re already fans of the uprising, it’ll be piss easy. Simple enough.
The demo had us talk to Dave who explained that he was potentially in big trouble because of the evidence against him that was being held on servers in the city. Our hero offered to get rid of the dirt. Dave seemed sceptical but as he didn’t have anything to lose at this point, he didn’t try to talk our man out of it.
Onwards we went and within a couple of minutes our London rude-boi was at the location. Here we saw the hacking really come into its own as our character got himself inside the building and past the guards with ease. Within a short time, the dirt on Dave was removed and we were back in the bar delivering him the good news. This brought Dave over to the light side of the force and he agreed to do us a few favours. That’s how recruitment goes, then, and I can see it offering almost limitless gameplay potential; there will always be a mission to do, so long as you’re looking for new people. And you will need new people because once a character dies, they’re done. Dead. Gone. Wiped from the face of London. But, they can be replaced. This is another thing that has me excited for Ubisoft. I’m a big fan of character-driven action games, so connecting with a character I like and knowing that if I don’t take care of him or her will mean losing them forever will surely push me to make smarter choices than I did in Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2. Or any other game, actually.
From here we took Dave on a more risky mission. The developers asked the room if we wanted to see some stealth, or if we wanted to see some shooting gameplay. We all wanted shooting, and that’s what we got. What followed next was very impressive indeed.
Dave went to a complex full of bad guys and proceeded to John Wick the shit out of everyone and everything, all the while wearing a ridiculous pig mask to hide his identity. Oh, and he flew into the complex, too. How? Hacking! You can hack the drones that patrol London, so Dave hacked one, got it down to ground level, climbed on top of it, and then took it for a spin, gaining that all-important high ground. The room collectively laughed out loud as Dave got a drone to pick up an explosive container and then drop it on a couple of bad guys standing underneath. Comedic death aside, this opens up new possibilities when it comes to gameplay. If you’re not the smartest player, you’ll be able to brute force your way through by using just a little bit of brain power. Good news for me, then.
Unfortunately, our demo was cut short by a power outage. The lights went off, the TV shut down and nobody could see anything. Within a few seconds, the power was back on, but I was already out the door and heading towards the closest exit. For all I know the demo continued and something awesome happened, but I’ll never know. Better safe than sorry, you know?
Watch Dogs Legion was probably one of the best games I saw at E3 2019, it’s certainly the one I’m the most excited for. The chance to drive around my own country and cause as much mayhem as I want? That’s too good an opportunity to pass up, so I’ll be there on day one.
I’m a little concerned about the limitations that could hinder Ubisoft’s impressive open-world, but I think my excitement to see what it takes to hit those limits easily outweighs my worries. The game looks great, though the cutscenes did look a little rough, especially in regards to characters’ mouth movements not totally syncing with the words being spoken. Again, it was a small slice of the pie and there’s still plenty of time to get the rest baked to perfection. Or a fuck off massive day one patch. C’mon, we know it’s coming.
Watch Dogs Legion will release on March 6th, 2020 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
[Update: Watch Dogs Legion will now release on October 29th for PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC. The game will also release on next-gen platforms, beginning November 10th with the Xbox Series X|S release]