Watch Dogs: Legion

Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S, PS4/PS5, PC action/adventure

According to latest reports, there are over 770 million surveillance cameras installed around the world – over half of which are apparently in China alone. And that number isn’t even taking into consideration those cameras that we all carry around on our mobile phones, or those weird doorbells that can watch and talk back. The world is most certainly watching.

Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs franchise first switched on with its first entry in 2014, and although tapping into the Big Brother psyche, it was more of an insular story revolving around revenge, set in Chicago.

This third entry however, takes on a bigger concern, dealing with the control of an entire city – London.

boom reviews Watch Dogs: Legion
Don't get me wrong, flying on a drone is dope and that, but it really could do with a radio.

The future, and England’s famous capital has had a rough time of it of late, with a number of bombings that have taken place. They were instigated by a group known as Zero Day, but they were savvy enough to shift the blame onto another rogue hacker group known as DedSec, making them enemy number one.

There are a number of organisations that are focused on making the most of a vulnerable city, with the main one being Albion. They’re a private security firm that have been hired by the government to help keep the peace, which Albion are more than happy to do, as it helps with their agenda for taking over the city completely.

But they won’t have it all their own way, as there’s also an underground criminal element known as Clan Kelley, who get up to no good on the dark web, as well onto the streets of London itself.

It’s down to London’s DedSec team then, to recruit more members to the cause, if they’re to have any success with changing the current regime, and returning the capital to its former glory.

Our experience with Ubisoft’s latest entry in the series has been a curious one, as it has ended up spanning two generations of consoles. We started our adventure on the Xbox One S, as the streets of London opened up for us.

One of the biggest changes in the series is regarding the character you play. Unlike the previous titles, Watch Dogs: Legion doesn’t have one main protagonist you play through as; instead, what you have is a collection of characters, most of whom you recruit throughout the game, to help you with your missions. It’s quite a big step on from previous entries, but considering the storyline, works remarkably well.

The key, as it is in any line of recruitment, is finding the right fit. There are various types you will need to help your fight, who you will need to approach about joining the cause. Often they will want something in return first, such a side mission that will need dealing with. If you succeed with that, you may well have recruited a new member of your team.

The two most important types, initially at least, will be someone in the medical profession – who will help with operatives who have been injured in the field, and the legal profession, such as a lawyer who can help bail you out if you get caught. More valuable ones can be recruited after a borough of London is liberated; this is usually achieved in succeeding in a number of missions with it, followed by a sort of boss mission. As well as getting a new recruit, it supposedly makes the borough easier to recruit new members, but in practice, we never had any issues with recruiting whatsoever.

boom reviews - Watch Dogs: Legion
Hmm, he's not as zingy in real life as he is on his profile.

The recruits also have specific skills in the field, like a builder wielding a heavy duty weapon, or a hacker having the skills to access a computer terminal. This means that you are frequently chopping and changing your main character, which is actually quite a freeing experience.

Although you will be changing them out throughout, you will no doubt have your favourites, as we did; we're not sure how this addition made it in, but we enjoyed using the beekeeper and her bees on various missions.

And then you have the open world of London, or at least an iffy futuristic –looking simile. Having been born and raised in the capital, the version of London in this game is not the A-Z in video game form. I was keen to visit one of the flats I used to live in, just off of the Pentonville Road, so took a short walk from Angel to check it out. It seems the future looks bleak for that particular property, with neither the building nor the road it’s on being there. The Pentonville Road itself, which links Angel with Kings Cross, has also somehow flattened out and has been made shorter. This is something that is quite noticeable throughout with London being flattened all over the place. It seems that no gen of console is quite ready for urban slopes of any kind.

There are of course the standard attractions and sites that many will recognise, which is probably enough to make its setting London-ish.

There are a number of little details however, that are just a little niggly. One of the most annoying is the number 42 bus. Now it’s great that you can actually get on a bus, unlike the tubes (which are used as fast travel points), but the only bus on the streets in London is the number 42. What about the delights of the no 1? Or the 381? Or the 18? With the game managing to impress on a number of levels, it seems odd that the ability to change a number of a bus appears to be so challenging.

Another element of London life that also seems challenging are the people that live there – or their accents at least.

Again, having spent a great deal of time in the capital, in various parts, we’ve never come across the accents that appear in this game. It’s as if the majority of the accents have been delivered by out of work extras (AKA supporting artists these days), who were quite rightly dismissed from EastEnders auditions for sounding over the top, and getting lucky in the Ubisoft Montreal studio. There also appears to be an Irish woman who seemingly voices about a half of all the characters; now there is a large Irish population in parts of London, but not every other person you come across is from that neck of the woods. It’s also unusual that there are no Welsh or Scottish accents, who are suspiciously missing from the streets of London.

On a more serious note, it does feel that more attention should have been given where voices and characters were concerned. One NPC character we came across was a trendy young black woman, who incredibly had the unmistakable spoken voice of an elderly white lady. Considering the current climate, certainly more though and consideration should have been given to this area.

But there’s more to do in this game than listen to questionable accents, there’s a whole city to explore. There is a nice balance in the types of missions you have to do, as well as a number of side missions and various items to be collected. Not only that, you can choose to tackle them in a number of ways.

boom reviews - Watch Dogs: Legion
I'm a sophisticated bit of kit, and they've got me picking up this kind of stuff.

You can just rock up and simply cause a nuisance of yourself, throwing punches, shooting bodies and taking names later. Or, you can have a more stealth-like approach; many of the missions we enjoyed by hovering in various areas on a cargo drone, and manipulating the enemy area remotely using tech. This is where the game is in its element, when you have the ability to hack into the surveillance system and jump from camera to camera, scoping your area out. Not only that, but you can interacting with various items, such as opening doors from the inside, or setting traps for guards to walk into. One of the best methods however was using the Spiderbot; this device could either be assigned as one of your tech items, or often found behind enemy lines itself, where it could be remotely activated. The Spiderbot can access the air vents in the building and travel around undetected. It can also access computer equipment and download valuable Intel. Not only that, but it can also sneak up on the enemy and take them down, making them one of the most efficient means of completing missions. All without even stepping inside of the building. It’s using this type of equipment on missions where the game truly shines.

There are other elements that are less impressive. There is a crypto currency system in place, which you are awarded for completing missions. Unfortunately, the only items you can purchase with them are clothes. This would probably serve a greater purpose if you played as one character throughout, but as you play through as various characters, each with their own very different costumes and uniforms anyway, there’s no real reason to buy use the currency whatsoever. We didn’t.

The real currency in game are the tech points. These can be discovered throughout the city, some easy, some with a more puzzling element to them, that can then be exchanged for tech to be used in the game.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great balance as far as the tech available is concerned, particularly as you can get by throughout the whole game with just a small handful of the tech. For example, we completed the majority of the game simply using the Spiderbot, as well as a few drone loadouts, which included hijacking them and disabling them. These were about 25% of the tech available, with no need for any others, which even included slightly more powerful hand weapons. But as we got by with a more stealthy approach, we simply didn’t need them. Certainly the game would have benefitted from more missions needing a bit more variety of tech to complete them.

As mentioned earlier, this is the first game that we started off on one generation, and continued on another. Both experiences were united by one key factor: bugs. We can safely say that we haven’t come across a launch title so severely hampered by technical issues. So much so that Ant and Dec needn’t have set up camp in Wales, they could have just taken their show into this game as it’s absolutely littered with bugs.

It may be one of the first cross-gen titles, but there were times when the Xbox One S seriously struggled with the game. It is evident from the visuals with slight screen tearing moving the camera around the world, to it struggling with draw distances, particularly if you’re in the air on a drone. It was still perfectly playable, for a while at least; the deeper we got into it however, the more issues we encountered, with the most unwanted one being crashing out of the game completely, on a far too regular basis.

It was a welcome relief then to upgrade to our Xbox Series X, as well as christen it as the first game we played on it. It certainly played better, certainly in terms with handling the visuals, but it was by no means a noticeable jump in generations. Of course the reflections are a thing of beauty, but we do hope that this gen has more up its sleeves than just ray tracing.

It should be pointed out that that upgrade was a painless transition, that thankfully allowed us to play on from where we had saved on the Xbox One S. It feels an odd thing to be grateful for, but as we still can’t play our PS4 copy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on our PS5, as it refuses to acknowledge the upgrade nearly three weeks after its launch.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t had issues playing the upgrade version, far from it. The most frustrating one is its inability to save the game at any point manually. We have never had to replay so many missions in a game before due to it not saving progress. Looking online suggested that fast travelling was a way of definitely auto-saving progress – it isn’t – as was returning to your safe house – again, it wasn’t. In fact nothing we attempted to do guaranteed saving the game at any point. This made playing Watch Dogs: Legion the gaming equivalent of Russian roulette. Often we found ourselves fleetingly looking at the time, palms increasingly sweaty the longer a particularly tricky mission came up, thinking we had played beyond the point of it saving itself. And often, we were right. Our only advice would be, until the situation is fixed – if it ever is – is to return to your safe house whenever you can after a mission, then come out of the game, and then go back in to see if you got lucky.

It’s understandable that both studios and developers are suffering from increasing pressure to make sure their titles hit the release date they give them, especially when they tie in with the launch of a new generation of consoles, but there has to be stringent quality control in place before it hits the shelves. Especially when you consider that gamers are now confronted with price increases, where AAA title can now RRP from 50 upwards from release.

It’s all the more frustrating when you can see the potential of the game you’re playing. Watch Dogs: Legion is clearly an impressive step forward for the franchise, giving it a greater USP in regards to recruiting help and the array of tech at your disposal. It’s a game that despite all the hellish issues we had with it, we still went back to, simply because we enjoyed the experience – when it worked. It’s doubtful that there are many titles we would have put up with all this nonsense with, and most certainly wouldn’t have done the same missions multiple times for, if it wasn’t a game worth playing.

When there’s a stable version of this game, it will be a far more pleasurable experience than it currently is. But if you like added peril to your game-playing, then good luck to you on the streets of London, you’re going to need it.

we give this three out of five