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Watch Dogs: Legion

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2020


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PC Review - 'Watch Dogs: Legion'

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 2, 2020 @ 8:53 a.m. PST

Watch Dogs: Legion is set in a near-future, dystopian version of London. It's a post-Brexit world in which society, politics and technology have changed and altered London's fortunes.

There are a lot of ways to approach an open-world game, but the idea of playing as nearly anyone is a novel approach. It's easily the biggest hook for Watch Dogs: Legion, even if the reality isn't quite as robust as the promise.

Set in a new future London, Watch Dogs: Legion drops players into a city that has been rocked by a terrorist attack. As a result, it has succumbed to a militarized police force that is run by private contractors and an overbearing surveillance society. Oddly enough, given all that's happened in the U.S. over the past year, the dystopian future presented here doesn't seem as distant as it might have when the game first started development.

Like many games, the first level is a tutorial. After that, Legion opens up and gives you more options in how to proceed, but it isn't quite a complete non-linear experience. Due to a bug in the Xbox One version of the game, I had to restart my review on the PC version of Legion, and replaying the first half of the game pulled back the curtain a little bit. Most striking to me was the fact that the first set of characters that you get — I'll call them the starter characters — aren't that random.

The first character that you choose is from a random selection. You can opt for whoever you like — if you see a video game designer here, you can grab them for an easy achievement — and you'll use them to start the mission chain. Your second recruit will have a random look, but they'll be a hacker with a very useful set of hacking skills. I found this initial hacker to be one of the most powerful player characters in the game, especially if you like to play stealth. Your third character is a construction worker. Later on, you also have to recruit a guard.

While the recruitment of a character class may not seem like a big deal, getting identical results (including the same abilities and loadouts) shows that some bits aren't quite as random as they might otherwise seem. Even the recruitment missions, which are generally random, were also identical for the construction worker and guard. Discovering these individual guardrails was mildly disappointing, but once you know where the limits are, you can start enjoying the sandbox that you're given.

One decision that you need to make at the start of your game is whether to play with permadeath on. Having played through Legion, it's obvious that the game was designed with this mechanic in mind. Ubisoft made it optional earlier this year, but playing without permadeath removes much of the tension in missions, not to mention the need to recruit additional DedSec members.

Each mission in Legion is essentially a puzzle. There are usually multiple paths to success, and how you proceed is up to your individual style. Being a stealth player, I was a big fan of the spiderbot and hacking my way through things. Sometimes the obvious path is not even the quickest path. More than once, I found an alternate entry with just a little poking. Getting by a locked door can mean getting the key. It can also mean using a drone to get a guard's attention, so they open the locked door and come out to investigate.

Playing through the missions in Legion felt a lot like sneaking my way through Metal Gear Solid for the first time. I had to be aware of my surroundings and use the environment to my advantage. Pulling off a solid sneak is very rewarding, while screwing up and getting noticed created plenty of tension. With that said, getting noticed doesn't just mean "go hide in a corner for a minute." While that can work (I found myself behind a filing cabinet under a desk at one point waiting for a guard to leave the room), you usually have other options. You can create a distraction, use an (unlockable) cloak ability on your spiderbot, hack enemy drones and make them attack their own side, or get into a fight to deal with the problem.

When permadeath is enabled, each of these choices is a very deliberate action. If you screw up, your character is gone, along with their skills. DedSec has to continue on without them. While no one is irreplaceable, it does take a combination of luck and time to find recruits that you like, so just throwing one away because you were reckless can hurt. With permadeath disabled, Legion becomes much easier, as there is no risk. You can take wild risks because, if you're caught, it's just a short wait before said operative becomes available for play once again.

The missions are doled out in a semi-linear fashion. There are five core mission paths, but only one or two will be open to you at a time. This allows for some flexibility in how you move forward, but there are still key points that must be fully completed before you can move the overall story onto the next chapter.

One piece that is missing (and I would love to see it added as a post-game option) is the ability to replay completed missions. Why? As I mentioned earlier, each mission is like a puzzle with multiple paths to completion. Learning and mastering each location means solving the puzzle faster. For example, during my October preview, I had to infiltrate the Nexus tower and erase a computer. That was my first time with that mission, and it took me about 16 minutes to complete. Playing again for the review, I was about to complete the same mission in less than four minutes. This is a game that is ripe for speed running.

Combat is always an option, with both hand-to-hand fighting and guns available for use. While functional, the combat systems didn't feel as well developed as the stealth systems. Fighting is straightforward, relying heavily on a dodge mechanic. Taking on more than one or two people at a time was a sure way to lose a fight. Using guns is faster than fighting, but the game doesn't seem to treat shooting people with bullets any differently than it does shocking them with a taser style gun.

As for the story that backs up the missions, it serves its purpose but never really dives deep into its premise. Everything that happens is treated at a superficial level, which is somewhat disappointing given the way the game is otherwise in your face with issues of crime, inequality and poverty. Some serious issues are hinted at but never deliver. For example, at one point, you must decide if a villain should live or die. It's a perfect spot for a branching choice, especially if you're trying to play the role of a moral hacker. But Legion flubs it. No matter which option you choose, the game still plays out in nearly identical ways. There are no major changes, no impact to the story, and no repercussions for your choice.

The lack of repercussions is easily the biggest failing of Legion. It's a great sandbox to play it, but nothing you do really matters. If a game is going to set you up for decisions like this, they should have an impact on what happens down the line. Otherwise, it's nothing more than a small bit of emotional manipulation.

Performance-wise, Legion is a different game than it was last week. My primary review PC is an Intel i7-9700k with 16GB of RAM and a GeForce 2080 Super with a 1440p display. During my review, the game was benchmarking out well, but in-game, I experienced a varied frame rate with little hope of hitting a solid 60 fps at 1440p on the default/auto settings. Moving the game from a spinning hard drive to an SSD helped eliminate microstutter, but the frame rate still dropped randomly.

After a patch on Oct 30 (which also popped up a Denuvo EULA), the benchmarks no longer hit the same high points, but I was able to run around London at much closer to 60 fps. There were still occasional drops, but I didn't see the major swings that I saw pre-patch. Post-patch, the real performance hit was turning on ray tracing. Yes, it looks good, but if you're playing with anything less than a 30x0 series card, don't expect to have ray tracing turned up very high. Just turning it on sent my frame rates down to the low 40s.

If you don't mind playing at 30 fps, that's always an option. Otherwise, turning on DLSS helps recover some of the performance lost from enabling ray tracing. Nvidia's GeForce Experience software also helped a bit here, as it has recommended settings (which differ from the game recommendations when it auto-detects your hardware) that strikes a balance between performance and quality. No, it still doesn't hit a locked 60 fps, but it's a good option for those who prefer eye candy over frame rate.

On my secondary PC, which is an Intel i7-6700k with 16GB of RAM and a GeForce 980 TI, I was able to get nearly the same performance at 1080p, albeit without ray tracing and with the default settings turned down a notch from Very High to High. Both systems were tested using the GeForce Game Ready Driver v457.09.

The takeaway here is that while the game is perfectly playable on older hardware, don't expect to be playing at 4K with all the bells and whistles enabled, unless you have the latest and greatest gadgets in your home setup. One nice feature, for those who are sensitive to fluctuations in frame rate, is the option to lock the maximum frame rate.

While it may not win any awards for the story, Watch Dogs: Legion is an enjoyable sandbox that gives you plenty of room to play around and experiment with objectives. If stealth gameplay is your thing, put this one on your pickup list.

Score: 8.0/10

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