Watch Dogs 2 was a revelation. It had a story that was curated, tightly written, performed by wonderful actors covered in little ping-pong balls. It was, in essence, a silver bullet of a narrative about freedom, race and youth, and it hid inside an open-world game so that we’d gobble it all up.
And we did.
It was a hamburger, really. Once you bit into that bun, the flavours exploded. The intent was clear.
Watch Dogs Legion Review
Watch Dogs Legion is all bun. And if you’ll allow me to suddenly pivot into another metaphor, let’s look at economics. The more of something there is, the less value that thing has. Right?
Supply and demand.
In Watch Dogs 2, our crew at the San Francisco branch of DedSec were a tiny group of people who gave a shit. Outnumbered, hemmed in, and caring desperately about the world around them. Each life in the crew was precious, and because there were so few core characters, the makers of the game got real actors into a studio to bounce off one another. The whole thing sizzled.
In Watch Dogs Legion, there are – as the name would suggest – legion. You can become anyone, recruit any number of the panoply of Londoners into your hacker cabal. Which is a cool idea, true. But it means that each person you recruit is, frankly, less special. Landing “rare” civilians feels like a Mr Robot-themed gashapon; some have cool stats, some have unique loadouts.
London, it should be pointed out, is stunning.
I miss London. I haven’t been able to visit in a while, not since I proposed to my now-wife just outside London. I know the city well, and being able to fang it around the streets of my favourite city is a balm during lockdown. And whilst the San Francisco of Watch Dogs 2 was a froth-inducing fog-swaddled replica of my second-favourite city. Things were compressed, sure, but it felt real. It felt safe.
This London, whilst utterly wonderful, is festooned with holographic displays, with the kind of hacker-themed oddities which look less like the world of Watch Dogs, and more like the world of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. And that’s the real issue here: the previous game was a story and a damned good one. Watch Dogs Legion is a playground and a damned good one.
All it took was a shift in priorities to make the open-world feel less like a world, and more like… well, a game.
The real irony here? Britain is kind of cooked right now, as the game implies. CCTV is everywhere, Brexit has cudgelled London’s former greatness, and bigotry is festering thanks to a cavalcade of utterly rampant Tory madness. Watch Dogs Legion tasks players with building a resistance against this nightmare; the notion that anyone could be recruited, that the common people on the street could rise up if only they had the balls and/ or lady parts, is supremely edifying.
But because it’s all being depicted in such a heightened way, it feels like make-believe. To me, at least. I’m sure many will really dig the look and the feel of Watch Dogs Legion’s London and will find the gameplay loop satisfying.
Me? I just miss Marcus and the gang.
There is a degree of charm to the rainbow of people you can recruit, but there are just so many things that suffer as a result. The voice acting often stumbles, with performances just not landing as hard as they could. The music selection (fantastic in Watch Dogs 2, and in just about every open-world game with cars involved) falls largely flat. And sure, I can customise my hackers.
But if I don’t care about them, why would I care what they’re wearing?
I confess that I’m a little worried. Because the first Watch Dogs was an experiment, one revolving around a grizzled white aggrieved hacker who wanted his family back. But from that springboard, we got Watch Dogs 2, a game that briefly nodded at Aiden Pierce, the protagonist of the first game, but otherwise forged its own path.
In doing so, it became one of the best open-world games ever made. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Spool up 2, and put on James Horner’s score for the ’90s film Sneakers. It’ll change your life.
But Ubisoft’s biggest Watch Dogs Legion-related news of late? The single-player campaign of Watch Dogs Legion was being reworked to allow Aiden Pierce to be inserted as the lead.
Legion isn’t bad. But it is a step backwards.
Or, if not backwards… sideways.
Watch Dogs Legion was reviewed on PC using digital code provided by Ubisoft.