The Power of the Legion

2020-11-16 - Reading time: 11 minutes

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As a long time fan of Watch Dogs 2, I observed the initial concept and trailer for Watch Dogs: Legion roll out with a feeling of trepidation.

They'd dropped the number '3' from the title, first off. Perhaps a trivial change, but for the paranoid, this was an ominous sign that things were changing.

And indeed they were.

Gone was a specific lead character. There was a big push towards the idea that you could "take control of anyone". And it seemed like there was an overall less 'realistic' feel: digital-cyber-anarchists in pig masks, skull masks. Lots of masks. And it looked like it took place in a less relatable, less contemporary world, instead set further into the dystopian future.

While I welcomed the change of venue to the UK, everything else I was seeing just wasn't clicking with me.

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I felt like this would likely be where me and the Watch_Dogs™ franchise would part ways... I was all about WD2's wonderful alternate-yet-familiar world of late 2010s San Francisco, with it's terrific energy thanks to the rebel/ASCII pop art designs, and surprisingly compelling personalities. Not to mention it felt very relatable to today's world. Slightly more advanced than today, but not unrecognizably so. Just twenty minutes into the future, you could say. 😏

And it strongly looked as if Legion was poised to throw away most of what appealed to me. So I stopped following the news about it, and decided all the indicators suggested this wasn't going to be for me.

Then it launched...

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Between the gameplay footage coming out, the absolutely brutal 2020 US election, and the frustrating additional delay of the much awaited Cyberpunk 2077 until mid-December, I found myself weak and incapable of holding onto the money in my virtual wallet.

So... how'd it go? Well, I just finished it last night. The "Ubisoft Connect" launcher informs me I've put in 49 hours so far. (For comparison, I've put a mere 60 hours into Watch Dogs 2. Or so it says. Feels like more.)

But did I like it?

Well, if the nearly 50 hours didn't suggest it, I'll spell it out: YES. Watch Dogs: Legion was definitely worth it.

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The procedural/every-man rallied citizen gimmick that I was so skeptical about was actually a rather bold creative decision with a wonderful message about the power of the people. I don't really want to see it return in future entries, but it worked here way better than I'd have ever expected. I didn't notice similar voices. I'm sure the dupes were there but it was varied enough where it didn't stand out. The variation and people, backstories, and relationships (!) it generates is rather impressive. (Though sometimes procedural generation can get you into trouble. 😏)

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But it also held it back the narrative back in some ways: everyone calls you "DedSec" -- a weak, but workable solution to recording lines without the near impossible task of referring to your procedurally generated name personally. Most of the time it sounded like it was referring to you as a representative of the group, but once or twice it just felt awkward. Not a game breaker, though. Not by a long shot. 

The cinematics felt like a bit of a downgrade from Watch Dogs 2. Possibly this was due to the procedural nature of your current player character. The nuance of performance previously infused into Marcus and his San Fran DedSec friends is reduced a bit here. Again, forgivable considering the technological circumstances. They're still generally quite good.

Even if the cinematics don't always measure up, don't even get me started on the absolute beauty and insane level of detail of London captured here. This might be the biggest advancement over WD2, and even that game still looks fantastic.

Quite often, especially with raytracing enabled, Watch Dogs: Legion is capable of looking almost photorealistic.

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Another... well... I'm hesitant to call it a down side, as it's merely the side effect of the gimmick.

But I'm kind of bummed that MY Legion experience isn't everyone elses. It was just for me. Everyone playing this game is (with some exceptions) going to have a different vision of which DedSec member was there in the final act.

For instance, my main DedSec crew was composed of:

  • Wanda Baker: a 60+ assassin who's looking for one last great thrill before hanging up her guns,
  • Theresa Green: a tough as nails, mid-40s punk rock MILF hacker with mohawk,
  • and Saeed Rahmanzai: a dreadlocked AR-glasses clad young drone expert (who got less play as the team got better with drone control)

There were a dozen others on the team, but once things really got rolling, they were pretty much just not much more than background noise...

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For me, Wanda, Theresa, and Saeed ARE the saviors of London.

Yet... they're not. They're just folks I recruited along the way, and I got attached to them. My imagination filled in the blanks and made them more interesting.

The game is structured in such a way that I can do that, and the story won't step on my imagination's toes.

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One other major difference from Watch Dogs 2: there's a lot of streamlining of the gameplay present.

Many hacks from prior entries are gone. The character skill upgrades are greatly reduced. But you also get certain skills out of the box (like remote controlling vehicles, for example).

Where Watch Dogs 2 had a wealth of various, interesting upgrades, Legion's options are much more... shall we say, focused... to a handful of weapon, accessory, and drone hack upgrades. Many of the more interesting skills are locked behind specific recruit classes with unique abilities. This is likely why the skill tree was minimized. It gives more value to recruiting the individuals. All the really cool tricks went to them. The "beekeeper" comes to mind, with a cloud of robotic attack bees... the "living statue" guy... the hypnotic "magician"... and so on.

I never got around to checking them out, unfortunately. I locked in my core team pretty fast.

This will likely be something I'll be willing to explore on subsequent playthroughs. (There's a perma-death mode, too!)

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As for the core skills shared by the team, once you realize the spider-bot lets you take down unaware people from a distance, safely, and with ease, it's really the only accessory you'll care about. It kind of makes the game too easy. Nobody is forcing you to use it, of course: most missions have multiple open ended ways to accomplish tasks.

But blimey, it feels silly to NOT use it.

Also important: the drone/turret hijack and betrayal hack skills. Get a drone specialist early on to get access to these quickly, but with enough points in your skills and everyone can do them. (Sorry, Saeed. Thanks for your service.)

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Overall, Watch Dogs: Legion is a pretty damned cool experiment. Despite all odds, it largely succeeds in pulling off the trick of it's central gimmick while still delivering an engrossing (yet ultimately predictable -- spoiler!) story.

While it hasn't dethroned Watch Dogs 2 as my favorite in the series (it's going to take a LOT to do that, admittedly) it certainly holds it's own as a solid, enjoyable entry in the series.

4/5

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