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July 2019

Watch Dogs: Legion

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 6, 2020


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Watch Dogs: Legion'

by Redmond Carolipio on June 27, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

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.

Pre-order Watch Dogs: Legion

One of my favorite qualities about the developers at Ubisoft is how they have never hesitated to touch upon geopolitics as inspiration for their projects. Whether those notes are subtle or overt, my favorite Ubisoft pieces carry a sense of global awareness and grit to them, whether it's stuff from the Tom Clancy universe (TCU? Is that a thing other than a school?) or, perhaps even more, the Watch Dogs series.

I once described Watch Dogs to a friend as action-hacker futurism with some hearty dashes of unrest and actual "rage against the machine" energy. The first one, heavy and serious, introduced us to the world of DedSec, with the main character coming across as a multiskilled hacker Jedi-slash-ninja. By contrast, Watch Dogs 2 gave us a little bit of the "Thor Ragnarok" treatment, doubling down on progressive, memorable characters and an aura of bouncy goofiness as those characters did outrageous and amazing things to right some wrongs on behalf of the people.

Now comes Watch Dogs: Legion, poised to return the series to its heavier narrative roots while also attempting a very ambitious-sounding concept that would not only make players feel like they are part of the DedSec movement, but also becoming the movement itself.

Instead of the game focusing on one character like in the past two installments, players will be in control of anyone. When Ubi says anyone, they really mean anyone you see on the screen in the game's world. Hence the name "Legion" — you're building an interactive and fully playable army of operatives.

Your would-be army is fighting against the nature of a near-future, post-Brexit London that's being covered by a blanket of authoritarianism and oppressive technology. We're told that the infrastructure of this version of London is crumbling to the point where the police have been sidelined and a monolithic private military contractor known as Albion now watches over the "safeguarding" of London. DedSec plans to break this grip and possibly revitalize London in the process.

Everyone in the Watch Dogs: Legion world has their own backstory, mannerisms, routines and skills. They even handle cinematic exchanges and dialogue differently. This was evident during our demo playtime with the game, which started us in the role of a grandmother who also happened to be a retired computer engineer. We're in the middle of a bar, and our gram is scouting for talent.

If you've played Watch Dogs before, then you'll be familiar with how you can look at someone, press a button and call up their background information. This time, for the purposes of recruitment, you'll be able to see someone's behaviors, habits, skills, whether they even like DedSec, and most importantly, what possible beef they have with the system in place. Everyone in the world has some issue — some people are being blackmailed, others need help escaping a stalker, another person might need information — that can be used as leverage or at the very least, an entry point to their recruitment. You can either choose to "save" that person and file them away to try and recruit later, or you can look up their contacts and figure out the best way to eventually try to bring them into DedSec. If they're not into the DedSec cause, then you probably have to do more to get to talk to them. Once they're ready, you can approach them for the talk. For the purposes of the demo, my grandma figure targeted an undefeated professional boxer, a total alpha-male jock who also loves soccer and carries a variety of good offensive skills. In my mind, that'd be a good person to send to missions where things might get dirty.

He tells my grandma character that he's being blackmailed with some information that's on the police station server. She offers to have DedSec eliminate it in exchange for him joining the fray. This is where we get our first origin/story mission, which is to head to the police station, infiltrate it and wipe the info from the police database.

Instead of having grandma do it, we can call up our network of already-recruited operatives and see if they can contribute. You can group your people into one of three categories: enforcer, infiltrator and hacker, each with unique abilities and tools that fit their class. I pick an infiltrator, switch to him on the fly, and head to the police station. After navigating a laser checkpoint, sneaking past the cops to get within hacking/deletion range and then escaping the vicinity of the police station, we finally get the green light to recruit our boxer. Then I put the boxer to good use in another story mission, which was basically to take out some bad guys. He paid immediate dividends, using his supreme fighting ability to combo baton-wielding thugs into infinity and also flash some John Wick-ian gun and melee skills to clear out an area. I got to observe the way he walks and interacts with everyone, including the DedSec dispatcher, and I witnessed the scope of responses he had to every situation. It was fascinating. There's also an added bit of pressure with each operative because as we've seen in the E3 2019 presentation and later in our demo, if someone gets killed, that character is gone for good.

One of the things I noticed about my demo was how the action didn't devolve into complete chaos if I failed at stealth. It can be reset if you're smart and elusive enough. We're also told that half of the weapons in the title are non-lethal, and things don't really become life-or-death in combat until someone makes it that way.

When Watch Dogs: Legion is done, it will feature five main storylines and more than 60 missions, which almost feels like a low estimate given how much content and work is being put into each playable character down to individual voice work and capture. I'm extremely curious as to how Ubisoft will pull all of this together, and we'll all have a chance to find out on March 6, 2020.

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