I've played a lot of Watch Dogs: Legion the past few weeks (my final playtime clocked in at around 63 hours), and I'd like to share some of my final thoughts on the game while the thoughts are still fresh. Would love to hear yours as well.
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Here are some of my thoughts (Spoiler Warning):
• The tutorial does a great job walking you through a lot of the core gameplay mechanics and gives you a nice opportunity to mess around with your controls and graphic settings. It's a really well-designed tutorial. Not to mention the phenomenal benchmark on the menu screen which I hope becomes a common practice in all triple-A games moving forward (recently bought AC Valhalla and it's in there, too, so it looks like Ubisoft is all-in with that feature, which is terrific).
• I read in an interview with one of the lead developers where he said that they had specific intention to give the players a slew of non-lethal options, and I really do appreciate that. Because in a game where the idea is to essentially fight for the people, it would feel really weird to be gunning around the streets of London with an AK and a grenade launcher (though you can totally do that if that's how you want to play). I mean, I understand the lines are a little blurred when you have your spiderbot climbing up someone's leg, up their torso, then swaddling their face with all 8 of its metal legs and shocking every nerve in their body, but hey, the game says its non-lethal so at least I can sustain my disbelief for that reason. The only issue is that the non-lethal guns in the tech tree all feel WAY too weak. In fact, I was worried whenever I was about to do a main-story mission that the game was going to throw too many enemies at me to be able to handle effectively with the electric weapons, so I steered toward using characters with real guns only so I had some sort of self-defense, which I think hinders the game's design because that cuts out a large chunk of potential characters.
• The fact you cannot walk and listen to audio logs or podcasts is not only terrible for the player, but a terrible disservice to the creative team who put a lot of work and effort into that material. I wanted to listen to them but could not justify sitting in the menu screen for minutes upon minutes on end — even in real life I'm doing something while I listen to podcasts. The material I did listen to, though, was pretty well done. It's a real shame there wasn't better implementation for audio logs.
• I strongly believe how much you liked the people on your team heavily influenced how much you like the game overall. I made it a point to not recruit anybody I did not like and to even remove people who I didn't want on my team anymore, which included Mark, the guy I started with. The cast of characters I put together were people I cared about. People I would hate to see die. Playing on iron man mode, there was no more emotional moment in the game for me, including at the end of the game with Bagley, than when my recruit, Edmond, died in a super unexpected, unanticipated fashion. I played almost exclusively as Edmund the first 10 hours of the game since I got bonus ETO for every person he recruited, and I went HARD with recruiting at the start. So when he died in that super anti-cinematic, super unexpected, super sudden way… and I realized he was just gone — the guy who I pretty much considered to be the main protagonist of my game… I don't know there's something about the fact that nobody knew the connection I had to that character more than me. Not the game not the developers not anyone. He was just some random NPC I grew to feel connected with and like that he was gone. That's a type of moment is unique to Watch Dogs: Legion and the way it's designed (though I have heard strategy games, like XCOM, have a lot of similarities in this regard).
• One big knock against the "play-as-anyone-you-meet" system in Watch Dogs Legion is that as your team grows, you realize that all the ops are pretty interchangeable. There are the few ops that standout like the spy, the drone expert, the beekeeper, the protest rallier… but they're too few and still too homogenous for my liking. In the midst of all of that you're going to have ops that feel pretty samey. Maybe one has shorter hack cooldowns. Maybe one has a car. Maybe one has a g36 or a really good shock rifle like the MPX. But there's still not enough differentiation at that point, especially considering how much voice acting gets reused in the game. The background bios are cool but almost assuredly procedurally generated, so there's no personal touch to those either. I just wish they had more distinct ops like the beekeeper or the anarchist. More distinct ops with standout unique abilities would've given each op on your team a more dissimilar, specific personality, even with everything else staying the way it is. Also would've added more gameplay variety, though I am pretty happy with the gameplay in its current state.
• The fact you can recruit anyone and everyone in the world is a neat thing to say in a marketing ad, but when you actually play the game and realize at what cost that scale comes with — that being the loss of sense of touch to the characters you play as apart from your own "head cannon" you create for the character, like I had with Edmond, and not to mention the procedurally generated missions the game decides to put you through because the game wants you to do some sort of work to earn the reward of getting that member to join your team… then that's when you might start to skip the conversations, fast travel to the other side of the map where the character's recruitment mission is, and not feel any sense of impact or meaning behind the actions you're performing to help the potential recruit out. And that sucks. But the first 10 to 15 hours where each of those recruitment missions feel unique and tailored before you really realize what's going on under the hood — those 10 to 15 hours are incredible. And to be fair, this game doesn't serve itself to be played for 60-plus hours. You can, and I did, but the best experience for this game to me without a doubt is a 15 to 35 hour experience. In that time span you get out just when you start to see the make-up fade but while the make-ups on, I think Watch Dogs: Legion is a great experience.
• Watch Dogs: Legion is one of the best looking games I have ever played. Is this in large part because of its technical capabilities compared to other games and because it's the first game I've played since I upgraded my PC? Yes. But nevertheless, playing this game with raytracing on is just eye candy. I'm not an expert on all the GPU technicalities, but if Watch Dogs: Legion is any indication of the next geneartion of gaming, I think this next generation of games are going to be a significant step visually. I never knew how much reflections mattered until I played this game. Thankfully, it's pretty rainy in London so the puddles were plenty, and boy did those puddles do a good job showing off just how much the new GPUs are capable of. I know better looking puddles is a meme, and I was in the same camp… until I actually played a game with great looking puddles lol. I also remember flying a cargo drone around one of the big towers in the game, just completely in awe. If you get a new card or one of the new consoles and you want to see what your hardware is capable of — Watch Dogs: Legion will not disappoint you. I used to think high framerate trumped all, and I still think that's the case in competitive multiplayer games, but for immersive single player experiences I'm not so sure anymore. Was it unpleasant to have the frames drop when turning on a busy street intersection? Yes, it was. But holy sh*t those reflections though.
• Aside from the grahpics, the art and style of how Ubisoft designed near future London is very impressive. My jaw dropped the first time I walked through Piccadilly Circus. And I was in awe when I came upon ChinaTown and saw that AR dragon. The ferris wheel… Big Ben, the bridges, the riverviews. I loved flying above the city on top of a cargo drone, gawking at how beautiful nighttime London was. I loved walking down random London streets watching the cars zip to and from, and watching the parcel drones above my head fly towards their destinations to deliver the packages they were holding. Playing with a soccer ball at the local park while the radio played next to me — all while I enjoyed the beautiful outdoors of the city. Of course, not everything is bright in jovial since London is in a surveillance state, so you see the protest rallies and the overly aggressive officers and the homeless people. It's an interesting clash of tones. But rarely is real life either always happy or always depressing — though I guess that depends on your own personal views of life. To me, both exist in the real world, and both can exist in the game — so from that aspect I'm not shooting down the clashing tones the game has incorporated in it. Apparently people from London have said that the game does a great job representing London and its burroughs, and that doesn't surprise me. Say what you will about Ubisoft, but they do a phenomenal job recreating real-life places with their own fictitious twists for you to immerse yourself in. I loved setting my car to autodrive and watching the city breathe.
• Let's talk about the gameplay. So let me start off by saying that I think Ubisoft gets some unfair slack. Generally, I think the minute-to-minute action in Ubisoft games is at the very least enjoyable. The issue is that the mission design and other design elements take that enjoyable gameplay loop and copy-paste it over and over with little divergent characteristics from one gameplay sequence to another. I had an absolute blast with the main gameplay loop in Watch Dogs: Legion. It may not come off in its presentation but, depending on how you play the game, Watch Dogs: Legion's gameplay is an outstanding stealth game. It really rewards your creativity and intelligence as a player. Before infiltrating an area, you're often given an objective and it's up to you to piece together how you're going to accomplish it. This isn't anything new in Ubisoft games. In Assassin's Creed, it's the objective of assassinating a target. In Far Cry, it's killing all the enemies in an outpost. And in Watch Dogs: Legion, it's hacking some piece of software, destroying a vehicle, downloading some secure data, etc. But playing Watch Dogs: Legion made me realize why I enjoy Ubisoft games so much, despite the obvious reptition. It's because it rewards you for your ingenuity. It gives you an objective an constraints and says "figure it out." Watch Dogs: Legion in particular, however, fosters emergent gameplay better than the other two, where each element of the gameplay is relatively simple on its own, but can come together in really cool, complex ways that you yourself are head engineering as the hacker. I don't want to oversell it — you do press Q and the enemy immediately looks at their phone for 10 seconds, but let me walk you through some of what I'm talking about.
The way you are hopping through the different cameras to survey the area… then hacking a shock drone to get within download range of the key you might need later. Then using that shock drone to zap one of the red control panels to unlock a door. Then using the AR cloak to get by a really busy part of the restricted area. Setting traps and blowing gas tanks to not only take out an enemy, but draw attention away from where you're heading. Coming up behind an enemy and choking them to sleep, drop kicking them and even Stone Cold Stunning them. Or even just going the traditional route of putting a silencer on your pistol and taking enemies out silentily, one by one, then cloaking their body afterwards. Each time there's a mission to accomplish and you have to piece together a permutation of events using the weapos and electronics at your disposable to get the job done (and in a non-lethal way, if you're playing like that). I'll say it again because it's probably the main reason I enjoyed Watch Dogs: Legion as much as I did: I love how much Watch Dogs: Legion rewards you as the player for your creativity and your intelligence. Is the open mission design structure present in Watch Dogs: Legion anything new or anything we haven't seen before in other games? Absolutely not. In fact, it's probably a core design philosophy in Ubisoft games. But I don't think it works as good in those Ubisoft games as it works here in Watch Dogs: Legion. The way its executed in this near future setting where intelligence and information are crucial in your attack as you hop onto the cams and hack into the drones to scout ahead, planning your next move in real time. It's pretty tactical and can get very tense and exciting, especially if you're playing as a character you like and permadeath is on. One slip up and it's over. In a lot of ways and particularly in that respect, Watch Dogs: Legion reminds me most of Ubisoft's multiplayer shooter, Rainbow: Six Siege — which is kind of weird to say.
The issue is that the gameplay doesn't hold up that ingenuity once you hit around the 20 hour mark. You start going to the same areas and seeing the same paths to completion. The challenge is lost and the novelity is worn. And that sucks. That's why when I recommend this game to other people I'm going to tell them — hey, Watch Dogs: Legion is a really fun game but don't overstay your welcome with it. Because the game gets less and less pretty the longer you play it… but boy are those first 15 hours beautiful.
• The borough missions are a nice change of pace. It's a pretty gamey system — accomplish three tasks in a borough and then you unlock a final mission that, once you beat, liberates that mission's respective sector of the map — but the fact it's a gamey system is okay with me. I like the variety that the different borough missions bring. From scaling Big Ben with a spiderbot, to racing through the streets with a car in Tower Hamlets and with a high-speed modified drone in Islington & Hackney, to navigating a parcel drone through a 3D maze in Southwark. But fuck that mission where you have to defend the Millennium Wheel with that CT drone, oh my gosh.
• Melee combat was simple-but-crisp. The punching sound effect had a nice pop, and the slow motion dodges added a cool cinematic effect. It's not Batman, but that's okay. Melee combat is the core of that game and it's a complementary gameplay system here. The fighting arena missions where the hand-to-hand combat is the central focus are a bit too long and not all that fun… but damn did they do a good job with the presentation in those missions. The gunplay isn't DOOM or Battlefield, but Watch Dogs: Legion also isn't a first-person shooter and I think gunplay is a lot harder to accomplish in a third-person shooter. So for a third-person shooter I found the gunplay serviceable, except for the horrendous bullet damage dropoff on some guns and the bit-too-weak electric guns. I found all six of the gadgets to be very enjoyable to use. The electro-fist is frickin sick, the missile drone is badass, especially if you're playing as a drone expert and time the cooldowns in tandem with your drone dive bomb. And the electro-shock trap is a good general grenade option. You get to choose what I consider one of the two strongest gadgets from the outset in either the spiderbot or the AR cloak.
• With everything else there is to unlock in the tech store I'm sure a lot of players were content with using only the spiderbot or the AR cloak and ignoring the rest of the gadgets, which is another game design flaw. I didn't have too much of a problem with the weapons, the upgrades, and the hack unlocks in the tech store, but I also wasn't particuarly excited to go out and grind for tech points. If I really enjoy the core gameplay in a game — and I really enjoyed the core gameplay in Watch Dogs: Legion — then usually I'll enjoy putting the time in to grind for unlockables. I spent an hour here or there riding a cargo drone around town and picking up tech points just to take a break from the action, but I truly had no desire to grind for any of those tech abilities. Sure the tech abilities helped but it's not like I needed any of them to progress through the game or had a burning desire to unlock any of them. They made the game easier, in some cases a lot easier — which is arguably a good thing to a lot of players — but for a system that's supposed to be a main source of the player's grind, I did not find the system captivating and I would have been all for grinding for those tech points if I found the unlocks to be more exciting. In Far Cry 2, a game designed by the same exact lead game designer as Watch Dogs: Legion, Clint Hocking, I grinded for those gems because I wanted the badass one-hit-kill sniper or the silenced MP5 or the stealth suit. Here, the grind is running around the city spamming your hack button to profile each invidual and see if they have any abililties worth recruiting over. And that's not fun at all.
• Not only does the story have serious flaws, but so does the storytelling. Pressing Q and watching an AR reconstruction as Bagley and my character babble on for two minutes does not connect with me in any way. It's boring. It's void of life. The DedSec agent you track down, Angel — you never see him apart from the AR reconstruction where he might as well be a Superhot NPC at that point. The only time you see him is when he's dead. Sure it sucks this former DedSec op is dead, but I don't know him and I don't have any connection to him, so that's going to limit how much I care. Why not have done something with Dalton — a character you play as at the very start and have some connection with instead of killing him off and focusing on some random DedSec op named Angel? What a lost opportunity.
• I have to mention the final borough mission for Nine Elms where you go explore a dark, underground Power Plant. Personally, I loved how dark and atmospheric that mission was, and I will not forget that sick feeling I had when I walked into the hidden prison and found humans being caged in pitch black by Albion. It was easily one of the most stunning moments in all of the game and definitely a very emotional one. Fantastic stuff. But you can't interact with them. You can't talk to them. They might as well be chickens in chicken coop. All you can do is kill the Albion security guard watching over them and then hack into his computer. Then fireworks start flying above the city and people are jumping and celebrating? Then you magically spawn outside again. What the fuck? Where are the people I just saved? Let me talk with one of them. Let them tell me "Thank you for saving my life" and let me say to them "Don't worry about it DedSec's job. Helping the people of London." But no. Instead, I teleport to the quest giver and we both trade smiles and laughs. If that doesn't highlight the tonality issue in this game, then I don't know what will.
• From the get-go, Skye Larsen fascinated me. A being only present through a hologram, creator of my friend AI in the game, Bagley, and CEO of a neural mapping tech company with potential to change the world — seemingly for the better.
You hack into her house and meet her house AI, then power on the elevator that takes you to the basement which for some reason turns out to be The Hunter's Dream from Bloodborne but many, many years later? I just went with it. Proceeded into the house. And the events in the house were pretty much the only times I was fully engaged with the AR reconstruction and highly anticipating what was going to happen next in the mission. Both Skye and Sinead, her mother, were voiced incredibly well and the fact you're in their house, or what appears to be their house, standing between the same four walls those two were standing in… watching the AR reconstruction play out what had happened on her mother's deathbed as the sheets of blood still lay there wrinkled on the floor and while Skye's workbenches are still there set up adjacent to the bedstead. Realizing that spiderbots and descendents of Skye's dog… Then you enter her secret lab in the basement where you find that amazing table with the holographic map of London on it. Next to that, you see chambers holding people in them and you're left to guess what sick, twisted acts she's been up to. Then finally, you end Sinead's misery. It's a very well done segment of the game and I felt a tremendous amount of emotion playing through it. Some of Ubisoft's best storytelling to date.
Unfortunately, a lot of this quest is ruined for me because of its ending. Whether you kill Skye or not, the same thing happens. Nowt shows up at the safe house and proceeds to give you access to 404 side missions, even if you don't side with her. And either way Skye eventually dies, either by you killing her or Broca Tech shutting down her AI. So why is this decision in the game!? To make it feel like we, the player's, action's matter — even though in reality they don't? I'm tempted to call it deceptive. Are you guys cool with this? This is something I'm really curious about your guys' take on.
I also think there's too little gray area in that decision to make it a tough choice. Which is fine — there doesn't need to be gray area. It could be a Mass Effect thing where you're playing as a good guy or bad guy… except for the fact that no matter how you want to play, DedSec will always be referred to as the good guys in the game and so playing as the bad guy creates narrative dissonance. Does anyone really think siding with Skye is a reasonably humane choice? Sure, the technology could be used for the good of humanity, but with Skye as the CEO it's obvious from going through her house that that's not the case and humanity is almost assuredly better off without Project Daybreak, if Skye's history is any indication of the future. The decision to kill or side with Skye is just a weird inclusion by Ubisoft, to me.
• Let's discuss the epilogue with Bagley and Bradley. It was so messed up to see what Skye did to her own brother. It obviously made me hate Skye Larsen even more. It was awful what she did to her mom and her dog, but I knew who the third person was. He wasn't just another house member of Skye used to push the narrative forward. He was a friend I made over the course of the last 60-plus hours.
It did feel a bit rushed. It was a quick 3 or 4 minutes in and out of the hospital, and then things go back to normal. But it was the epilogue so I can't fault it for that too much. The photograph mission leading up to it wasn't bad, per se, but I think it should've given more of a hint for each picture. Part of me respects Ubisoft for not putting in objective markers and forcing you to really know the landscape of the world for the bonus material, but not all of the pictures were pictures of noticeable landmarks like the ferris wheel, and that made it really difficult.
So yes, the epilogue was good. And yes, it made me hate Skye Larsen even more. But let me propose something to you. Imagine if the Bagley epilogue quest, or some similar variation of it, was placed after you went through Skye Larsen's house but before you go off to kill her. Imagine how much more connected you would have felt with Bagley through the rest of that game. Imagine how much more you would have despised Skye Larsen and how much more satisfying it would have been to kill her. Your emotional amplitude would have been even higher than it already was from seeing her mom and dog turn into AI. Killing Skye is already a great moment, but if you had seen what she did to your AI friend before you went off to kill her, then killing Skye would have been incredibly emotional, incredibly affecting, and incredibly climactic. And instead of feeling much closer to Bagley right before you're about to say goodbye to the game, you feel closer to him all throughout the rest of the game and right up until the end. Which brings me to the ending. Now continuing on with that hypothetical scenario I've laid out (first Skye's house, then epilogue mission (or a variation), then kill Skye), imagine if when you pull the plug on Bagley at the end… he actually stayed dead and didn't come back to life 30 seconds later. How much better would the story have become just from those changes? Killing Bagley at the end of the game was heartbreaking. Like I said earlier, he was my favorite NPC in the game. If I would have played the epilogue prior to killing him, I'm guessing I would have borderline cried. That would have made the scene even more impactful than it already was. But the reason I really, really dislike the ending of the game is not because of anything it does in the ending — it's because of what it does after what it does in the ending. Any emotion of sadness and loss I felt when I pressed E and finally said goodbye to Bagley completely disappeared when he popped back up on the safehouse screen moments later. It felt cheap. Extremely cheap. Let the character die. Let the game end. Put that epilogue earlier in the story. But no. This is purely reckless speculation and I hope… dear God I hope I'm being overly cynical here, but I feel like that's not possible because Ubisoft wants you to still be in the world after you finish the game to do the missions you missed so you can still have the opportunity to put money into the game's store, because your chances of putting money into the game's store if the game were to end after you pulled the plug on Bagley and returned to the title screen are close to zero. Is that why Bagley had to stay alive? I don't know. Either way, to me the ending of the game is tragic, but not in the way it was supposed to be tragic. It sucks. I feel robbed of my emotion.
• Nigel Cass falls into the issue I see way too often with antagonists in works of fiction, and something we see earlier with Mary Kelley — he's too evil. To the point of absurdity. And he didn't have to be portrayed that way. His backstory is that his father was killed by gang members which put him on the path of revenge by taking the law into his own hands. An interesting backstory that unfortunately does not get developed at all and it could've really helped his characterization if it was delved into more. As it stands, he just comes off as another one-dimensional Saturday morning cartoon villain, which is a shame because, again, he had the potential to be a really intersting antagonist like Skye. At least his boss fight was somewhat enjoyable. Though, the game does rely on the network bypass puzzles a few times too many for my liking, along with the AR reconstructions and area defense missions. Also, I was hoping Nigel was a bit more of a juggernaut. You take him down in one clip.
• And finally, let's talk about Zero Day and Sabine Brandt. So Zero Day starts off the game with a big bang. Literally. But then pretty much goes without mention until the end of the game. They're brought up in the game every now and again, but I think I forgot about them for most of the playthrough until the very end when the big reveal happens. It's a reveal that I probably should have seen coming, but didn't. You never see Sabine in person until after the reveal. She was the only one who stayed alive after the Zero Day attack. There are hints here and there in the main story. And she doesn't even show up at the team party… that's when it was clear.
Sabine's premise for why she's doing what she's doing does, at the very least, stop and make you think for a moment. Society is completely messed up right now because of harsh surveillance by Albion through the government, homelessness is widespread, and technology has become tyrannical. She wants to restart society from the ground up. Yes, she has to commit mass murder but to her the ends justify the means. And who are you to judge her for killing when you yourself have killed plenty in your playthrough? I really liked Sabine's ending. I just wish they had more Zero Day appearances throughout the game. Let me hear more of Zero Day talking about their philosophy of rebuilding London from the ground up and less of them talking with Mary Kelley about purchasing explosives just to move the story forward. Keep me interested in Zero Day instead of having me forget about them until the end. Keep me curious.
So those are my thoughts! Overall, I had a good time with the game. However, it definitely had some issues that I felt needed airing. And just to be clear, I did not try to slight the game just for the sake of criticizing it. These are my honest thoughts after reflecting on the time I spent with the game. Please do share your own thoughts!
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