Gut Check: Watch Dogs Legion

When I think about my time with 2016’s Watch Dogs 2, I’m reminded of its many ups and downs both in terms of gameplay and story, but at the end of the day it’s a game that had a lot of heart and charm that managed to make it a memorable and satisfying experience. Watch Dogs Legion however, lacks any of the joy and fun that its predecessor had, contains repetitive and frustrating missions, and also runs like hot garbage.

Watch Dogs Legion is a game that focuses more on the hacker organization DedSec instead of any single character by allowing you to effectively recruit and control any person you find on the street. The goal is to rebuild the organization with these recruits, each of which have randomly assigned traits to them that make them more or less viable candidates to add to your ranks. You might find a guy with a cool car, or a drone expert who knows how to hack more effectively, or even a lawyer who can bail your team out of jail faster if they happen to get arrested. It’s an interesting concept that rarely feels worth engaging in and unfortunately presents its own suite of complications to providing a cohesive gameplay experience.

The lack of any primary character to really focus on in the game wouldn’t be such an issue if Watch Dogs Legion wasn’t also trying to make you care about the narrative. The quick version of the story is that DedSec was framed for a terrorist attack on London that prompted a private military company (PMC) called Albion to turn London into an oppressive police state. While the story itself doesn’t do a great job of handling or presenting any of these topics with the care they require, the whole narrative falls flat because every character you play as just spouts the same bland responses to everything no matter what the context is.

For instance, there’s an early mission where you find what effectively is a prison camp set up by Albion that just exists in the middle of the city. You literally just stroll on in there to see the many, justifiably distraught people just kinda hanging out. Interestingly enough, they all have their cellphones on them which is a weird thing to let political prisoners have, but whatever. Yet after completing the mission in the camp and casually waltzing out the front door, the voice of your boss chimes in and remarks about how terrible the situation is. My character, a bland and procedurally generated ding-dong, proceeded to simply respond with, “I could get used to this DedSec thing,” or something to that effect. That kind of thing happens almost every single time you complete a mission, and it really robs Watch Dogs Legion of any real chance at telling a compelling story by having your blank slate of a character just spit out random one-liners in the hope that it makes any sense contextually.

On the topic of procedural generation and characters, Watch Dogs Legion tries to inflate the “uniqueness” of the citizens of London by pitch-shifting their voices to artificially expand the diversity of people you might encounter. As you might imagine, this leads to a lot of people with the same voice, just one happens to be unnaturally deeper, talking at each other as if you were listening to two robocalls try to scam each other.

Even the missions are bland and uninspired, regardless of whether they were procedurally generated for a recruitment mission or if they’re part of the main story line. These procedurally generated missions will often make you return to places you’ve already infiltrated for either story or region unlocking purposes, and the region specific missions are wildly dull and carry the stupidest implications with them. The main conceit of these region unlocking missions is that you do enough to inspire the people of a certain part of the city to enter a state of “defiance” and rise up against Albion. Even wilder is how Watch Dogs Legion considers putting up a cool DedSec banner over an Albion one to be just as important as uncovering an organ-harvesting operation. The level of cognitive dissonance that’s on display at any moment in Watch Dogs Legion, combined with the lack of any charm or character, really overshadow the few existing high points in the game.

Cognitive dissonance aside, the core gameplay loop of Watch Dogs Legion is still extremely solid despite the overall game feeling like a shell of its predecessor. Being able to take down outposts without ever stepping foot inside of them by utilizing cameras, drones, and traps littered throughout any given locale is still really satisfying. I’ve been able to play most of Watch Dogs Legion without ever firing a gun, with the exceptions being the missions where you’re thrust into combat scenarios against your will. There’s just something infinitely enjoyable about terrorizing a bunch of PMC dipshits without ever laying a finger on them.

But the same could have been said about Watch Dogs 2, hell, even the original Watch Dogs was good at making you feel like a hacking god. Whereas Watch Dogs 2 made its digital version of San Fransisco feel alive and packed with things to do, Watch Dogs Legion feels oddly empty. You can go buy a bunch of clothes, do package delivery missions, get drunk and play kick-up with a soccer ball, but that’s kind of it. For as big and dense Watch Dogs Legion‘s version of London is, it still feels surprisingly empty. It’s even more upsetting when you remember that Watch Dogs 2 gave you reasons to explore the city and hunt down famous landmarks in San Fransisco. Watch Dogs Legion could have really benefited from having something like this present, encouraging people to get to know London and its iconic locations.

But I could get past all of those issues if it weren’t for the miserable state of the PC version of this game. My computer isn’t new and I recognize that, but there is no reason that I should have to play Watch Dogs Legion on its lowest settings, and still be unable to have it run at a steady 30 frames per second. The game is so heinously optimized that moving around the world, getting into combat, or even turning your camera too fast turns the game into a slideshow. It’s all the more upsetting when you look at the console versions that look much better and run more stably despite being on hardware that was released in 2013.

Despite all of this however I kept playing Watch Dogs Legion because that core gameplay loop is still satisfying. The problem is, Watch Dogs Legion has a few missions that strip you of your ability to get creative, opting for a more linear experience. These crop up from time to time, but they were rarely anything that I couldn’t overcome with enough bashing my head against a wall.

However, after ~13 hours of playing I finally ran up against a quest that was so bad and so infuriating that I finally decided that my time with the game was over. Without spoiling anything specific, the mission in question is a forced stealth section where you are basically stripped of any tools you have and have to just kinda of worm your way around the threats. During this time, you’re forced to listen to a plot dump about the leader of Albion via what essentially boils down to an audio log, and then you can progress further. However, if you are spotted, the mission restarts and you have to do it all over again. I must have heard this stupid info-dump about 6 times before I decided that Watch Dogs Legion isn’t worth anymore of my precious time on this earth.

Watch Dogs Legion is a pale reflection of its predecessor, lacking any aspect of charm while failing to actually do anything interesting or insightful with its setting. Bad characters, bad missions, and terrible performance, all combined with Ubisoft’s pathetic attempts to tell an apolitical story about a post-Brexit, police state version of London results in a game that fails to deliver on any of the good will that Watch Dogs 2 built up. In short, Watch Dogs Legion is a colossal disappointment and I don’t think it’s worth your time.

2 thoughts on “Gut Check: Watch Dogs Legion

  1. Pingback: Blog: A Big Bloated Blog – 11/25/20 – The Bonus World

  2. Pingback: Game of the Year 2020: Bottom 5 – The Bonus World

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