Watch Dogs: Legion Preview - E3 2019
We go hands-on with the new open world title where every NPC can join the fray
Depending on who you ask, the hacker-centric open world action franchise Watch Dogs either enjoyed a stronger debut, or a better sequel. Fans were somewhat divided between the traditional, moody protagonist Aidan, and the whacky, carefree DedSec operative Marcus from the sequel. So perhaps it follows that with the next newly announced entry in the series, Watch Dogs: Legion, the fans themselves will get to decide who they want to play as. Thanks to a new multi-character system, the upcoming game will let you tailor the experience to your personal taste.
Before going hands-on with the game at E3 2019, Ubisoft gave us a brief overview of what to expect in Legion. The game is set in a near-future version of London, a city that has been plunged into chaos following a series of social and economic events. It's a sort of worst-case scenario that the developers at Ubisoft Toronto have dreamt up based on today's ongoing Brexit tensions.
On these streets, there is a surveillance state, a corrupt private military corporation that controls the civilians, and a powerful crime syndicate handling all of the black market. The people are desperate and feel cornered at every turn, so it's up to DedSec to create a network of revolutionaries, and fight back against all those trying to exploit and profit from the situation. In a way, the developers see this as a natural progression; in WD1, we were a hacker, in WD2, we played as "hacktivists", so in Legion, we are a full-on resistance force.
The main draw of the game is the ability to recruit any NPC to your cause, and make them into a playable character. We got to see the process for ourselves during the demo; just like in the past games, you simply walk up to individuals and you can bring up their information – but now instead of amusing but ultimately meaningless quips about their lives, we get to see their potential usefulness. Characters have varying stats, like improved strength, better weapon handling, and so on. So we can observe and pick out who would make for a good addition to the roster – you can have up to 20 characters at a time. To make this process believable, the developers tells us that every NPC has been made a true individual with a routine, so they will be found at the same spots at certain times of day, depending on their job and leisure preferences.
We select a man that looks like he'd be useful, thanks to his great stealth bonuses. We hack his phone and add him to our roster, to learn more about his problems. We see that the government has some dirt on him, so we approach the man and offer him a way out. These so-called origin missions are how we recruit characters, by solving their problems and building their trust for DedSec. Players can see each individual's level of trust towards the hacking organization – some are neutral, others are favorable, and many disapprove due to the propaganda they have heard. Characters will remember the actions of others, which are visible on their profile – they will have a good relationship with the operative who helped recruit them, and they will hate DedSec if you accidentally injure them during a firefight or car chase. We convince the man we'll make the incriminating documents disappear, and set off towards the police station.
In Watch Dogs: Legion, you can fast travel using the metro stations, or by swapping to another character in your roster. One such DedSec operative was nearby the police station, and featured useful stealth-focused skills, so we swapped to them. Narratively, the game handles this as AI assistant Bagley sending out a message and letting the agent know it's time for action. It's a little strange, given the nature of the game and what we're supposedly fighting against. As all other NPCs, our agents go about their lives, so we find this particular hacker just enjoying some drinks at a bar, during evening hours.
With the newly controlled character, we head across the street to the police station. Here, the more traditional Watch Dogs options present themselves – we could shoot our way in, remotely hack everything, or stealthily infiltrate. We hack a nearby drone and can fly it around (within a certain range), to mark the guards, and also jump from camera to camera in order to peek inside the building. We locate our target server, which is conveniently positioned near the back of the building. We climb the fence and take out an unsuspecting guard while using the cloak ability to make us temporarily invisible. We also have the ability to cloak his unconscious body, another unlocked perk that saves us having to drag him somewhere. The door to server room is locked however, and we don’t have the aptitude to hack it directly. So instead, we hack the cameras again and jump around until we find a guard who has the digital key. We could overload an electrical panel to knock him out, but instead we distract him with a radio, long enough so he's within range for us to hack and steal the key. We return to the operative, open the door, delete the blackmail, and escape without raising a fuss.
We now return to the potential recruit, and tell him that it's all clear, so he agrees to join DedSec. We can now play as this character, who is a hacker. Hacker is one of the three classes in the game, and they feature unique skills revolving around using spiderbots, hacking drones, and specializing in remote means of achieving objectives. The other two classes are Infiltrators – focused on stealth, with abilities like cloaking and lunges; and Enforcers – brutes that go for strength and firefights. The melee combat is said to have been redesigned, to make it a viable tactic; we're told it's possible to beat the game without firing a round.
We initiate one of the over 60 main missions in the game, and a cutscene plays with our newest recruit. The characters you play as will appear in the videos and have their own dialog, animations, and attitude towards the situation. We are tasked with eliminating three enemy agents in a hostile gang compound. Because our new character is a hacker, he decides to avoid entering an area entirely. We hack a nearby drone and fly it in; the compound also has some upgraded defensive drones that can shoot, so we jump into one of those, and take out two of the targets, but the drone is shot down. Enemies are alert, but unsure of who did this. We hack another drone, and this time use a special call-in ability to deploy a powerful assault drone, which we use to wreck havoc and eliminate the last target. We leave the area without a trace.
Next, we're told to collect a dead drop in a nearby park, so we head there, but it turns out to be a trap by the military. We have to fight our way out, and the gunfights seem pretty satisfying. We deploy our spiderbot to do some additional harassment on the incoming reinforcements. It's not a battle we can win, so the objective is to escape. We hijack a nearby car and try to escape our pursuers. Players will want to avoid clearly marked digital checkpoints on the roads, as that will reveal their location to the police and restart the chase. After a short while, we lose our pursuers. It is pointed out that if we become wanted again for any reason, our heat level will start off high. This is a mechanic that encourages players to switch between characters, and let them lose their heat level. A similar mechanic applies to your character's health, which can only be restored up to a certain point after a while.
At the outset, the multi-character mechanics of Watch Dogs: Legion seemed to be similar to something like State of Decay. However, after learning more and playing through the game, it's obvious that the recruitment process is much more involved and presents a great amount of depth. With permadeath, players will likely grow to care a lot about their resistance fighters, and utilize each one differently depending on the situation. Look for Watch Dogs: Legion in March 2020 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.