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GameByte Review – Watch Dogs: Legion (PC)

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Watch Dogs: Legion is one of the most highly-anticipated games of the year and – finally – the wait is nearly over. With such big shoes to fill (and with a lot of next-gen promise ahead), is Ubisoft’s latest release worthy of your games library? Here’s our review of Watch Dogs: Legion.


Narrative

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Watch Dogs: Legion’s overarching narrative is one of its strongest points. It’s set in a future London after three bombs (allegedly detonated by mysterious group Zero-Day) have turned London into a surveillance state ruled by private military company Albion. It’s a commentary on the near future with Nineteen-Eighty-Four vibes; what can happen when surveillance gets out of control and how easily whole cities can be manipulated by both those in power and those who seek to change it.

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Watch Dogs: Legion is also not afraid to touch on the darker aspects of society as technology advances. Without spoiling anything, there are some pretty messed up things that characters do in this game which raises massive moral questions and asks: “Just because we can do these things now, should we?”

But just how does this all come together when you can play as almost anyone? Legion tries to compensate with its extended cast – you’ve got Sabine in DedSec who acts as the leader pulling everything together – and as you progress through the story, you meet permanent allies and enemies that act as the game’s constants. The permadeath system means you can’t get too attached to your favourites without being overly cautious, but for those that prefer, you can turn this off.

Graphics and Polish

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Watch Dogs: Legion is graphically impressive. I run the game on PC with a Ryzen 3950X and a GTX 1070, and even though that means I can’t take advantage of raytracing, the game still looks beautiful without it. There’s never been a point in the game that I’ve thought anything graphically looked off – with one exception: lip-sync. Whether it’s a result of the vast amount of characters or not, it seems dialogue is always just a little out of sync, which can be quite distracting at times.

There’s a flip side to this beautiful game though and that’s bugs. Lots of bugs. My review of Watch Dogs: Legion has seen me incapacitate someone who’s fallen to the ground and who has then proceeded to glitch up a wall by their arm until they reached the top. Oli from the GameByte team has reported a 360-degree head spin upon knocking someone out. I’ve also had an operative completely change appearance as they walked away after swapping them out, going from red hair and glowing cat ears to almost bald with a mohawk and face paint. It was, well, distracting.

Though the previous bugs have never been game-breaking, I have had my game crash twice whilst playing (once when tripping an alarm which was amusing) and it’s also frozen a couple of times when trying to exit out to the main menu. Autosave stops major progress from being lost, but it’s still jarring to be suddenly pulled out of the world you find yourself lost in.

Switching between characters to play as is smooth, and you’re often greeted with a mini cutscene as one operative passes over to the other (at the very least you see the old one walk away which helps you forget that this is just a video game mechanic).

However, you have to be careful with your timing. The game has a 10 second or so period where it visually processes the completion of a quest before it starts the next one. I’ve found that, after viewing a story cutscene at the end of the main mission, if you switch your character before the game goes through this process, you have to replay that cutscene (though you can skip). It’s natural to want to switch out at the end of a mission, especially when in DedSec’s HQ, so I feel like this is an oversight from a game design perspective.

Gameplay and Entertainment Value

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Watch Dogs: Legion is a lot of fun to play. As a Brit, I’m slightly biased (it’s great to have a game set in a city I know fairly well) but the game’s version of London is genuinely a lot of fun to explore. Aside from the main story quests, there are other things to do, not unlike other games of similar genres. There are eight boroughs to London and each has a different feel, both through set dressing and the types of people you find there.

Each borough has Tech Points scattered around in hard to get to places, and collecting these allows you to upgrade your skills and equipment. There’s also Borough Uprising activities that help the borough become resilient to Albion, and make recruitment there easier. These always climax in a landmark and are a lot of fun. It’s very easy to get lost in things outside the main questline.

The game is also very good with logic. With such an overwhelming number of NPCs, each with their own schedules and connections, it could be hard to find the type of person you want. But you’ll find workers at construction sites, doctors at hospitals, even spies near government buildings. Everything is as you’d expect.

The ability to recruit anyone is a great concept. There are people who dislike DedSec and who won’t join without a deep profile (and these can permanently become enemies if you upset them further). I do feel, however, that the concept falls short and feels hollow at times. Everyone breaks down into a predictable cycle of: “You should join DedSec!” “Do this one thing for me first” “Okay, thanks, I’ll join now no questions asked!”

It kind of kills it for me. Your recruits hang around your HQ afterward and the game tries to rectify those shortfalls with the ability to have brief conversations with them about their doubts. But even these all break down to them explaining a doubt, your current character giving a motivational speech, and them being fine afterward, and when you do that with three people in a row it just falls flat.

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Outside of recruitment though, the mechanics of Watch Dogs: Legion feel fluid and satisfying. Hacks can either be fast button taps or longer two-button presses for more control. For example, you can tap to move a car out of your path or you can specifically make it veer off to the right. You’re always able to scout ahead before you infiltrate by hacking security cameras, drones, or spider bots and taking a look around. This is great for giving you an idea of what might be the best approach to a mission and who you should be using for it, and it works really well. It’s just a shame that there’s only set things you can hack (cars, drones, cameras, etc) as that can cause some repetitiveness if you always choose the hacking approach.

Combat is smooth, with a solid punch/dodge/break for melee and a range of weapons for both melee and gun combat. These can either come as default for some recruits or be purchased by other means. With a large range of both silenced and discreet all the way to loud and powerful, Legion makes sure there’s something for every playstyle.

Driving is another mechanic that feels natural and fun. How it feels varies (as expected) from vehicle to vehicle (motorbikes are my firm favourite). There’s also an in-game radio system with a wide variety of talk shows and music across a vast range of genres. There’s usually something I like to listen to while I drive, and even though you can fast travel between tube stations around London, I find myself doing so only rarely. There was also one time that “The Thieving Magpie” came on the radio right as I drove by The Tower of London and I enjoyed the accidental callback to BBC’s Sherlock. I will say, however, that there are a lot of repeats in both music and talk-shows. It’s hard to say if it’s a narrow pool or if I’ve just been unlucky.

On the subject of vehicles though, my review of Watch Dogs: Legion took me to various checkpoints around the city set up by Albion, which monitor those that pass through by car or foot. These primarily function as alarms when you’re being pursued that indicate to Albion where you are (so you want to avoid them). But I’ve been able to drive through them in both a beaten up, stolen Albion car and at insanely high speeds and not have anything happen every time (unless I was already being pursued). That’s another thing that killed the realism for me. For a city under what is basically private military rule with surveillance drones and cameras everywhere, you can get away with almost everything outside of missions. I imagine this is so you don’t get dragged down by having the feds on you every five minutes but I feel like it can be a little too lax for the setting and narrative that the game is trying to push. 

Sound

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Overall I think the sound design is good. The streets of London have all the sounds you’d expect and they’re accurate; I can remember, the first time ever playing the game, flipping out over the fact the pedestrian crossing sound was exactly as it is here in the UK (so many games set here miss out on details like that). All characters, even the ones you recruit off the street are fully voiced, even during story and mission cutscenes, which is amazing. However, the voice acting is…hit or miss? Some characters are better than others by a mile and the game does well considering just the sheer scale of variety. There are many different types of voices; old and young, posh, and cockney. There’s a big range of accents too. But there are times I can’t help but cringe a bit which is down to both the writing and sometimes the voice itself.

Accessibility

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Watch Dogs: Legion has made sure to include a lot of accessibility options which is great news if you depend on tweaking your game settings.

Subtitles for cutscenes are on by default but they can also be added for all dialogue as well as gameplay events (such as sirens and explosions) the latter of which comes with directional arrows to show where the sound came from. All subtitles are resizable with optional colours and backgrounds. There’s also a menu narration mode to help guide the player should that be needed.

Our review time with Watch Dogs: Legion showed off three colourblind modes (Protanopia, Deuteranopia, and Tritanopia) which change most of the HUD and UI as well as important in-game elements such as laser alarms. You call also customise the HUD to toggle what is and isn’t visible, depending on your preference.

There are also in-game visual assistance options such as GPS pathing, waypoint markers and hints. This goes hand-in-hand with a scalable difficulty and the ability has permadeath disabled from the start (or to turn it off later, provided you don’t go with the Ironman mode).

Summary

Image from Watch Dogs: Legion
Credit: Ubisoft

Watch Dogs: Legion is super-fun experience and although it falls short in some areas (such as bugs and character depth), the gameplay mechanics, large open world and story more than make up for it. Whether you’re a fan of the franchise or a first time entrant, Watch Dogs: Legion has a playstyle for everyone. If you’re on the fence about picking this one up, it’s definitely worth your time! The game is also set to get a free update on December 3rd, consisting of a standalone online mode, while more free content for single player mode is promised in 2021.

Watch Dogs: Legion releases on October 29th for Xbox One and PS4, and comes to PC via Uplay, Epic and Stadia. It will release for next-gen consoles at launch and will offer a free next-gen upgrade for anyone with the Ps4/Xbox One X versions.

This review of Watch Dogs: Legion was conducted on PC. A copy of Watch Dogs: Legion was provided for review by Ubisoft.

Featured Image Credit: Ubisoft

 

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