E3 2019: Watch Dogs Has DedSec Saying We Are Legion

Unlike the first two entries with a fully-developed protagonist, Watch Dogs Legion shakes things up by not having a main character. Players will not be controlling a super hacker like Aiden Pearce or Marcus Holloway but instead the focus will be on DedSec as a collective anyone can join to fight the oppressive police state in a dystopian take on post-Brexit London in another Ubisoft game that appears to have strong political overtones despite claims of not trying to make contemporary political statements. The setting for the upcoming sequel is an interesting choice but it’s not the thing that stand out the most in our time with Watch Dogs Legion. That particular honor goes to the ambitious premise of being able to recruit anyone to join DedSec’s legion. This play as anyone approach gives this title a different feel from its predecessors. It sounds like a cool idea in theory while raising questions about how well it actually works in execution.

In Watch Dogs Legion each person has an augmented reality device implanted in their face, doubling as a vehicle for gameplay mechanics while also providing some Black Mirror flavoring. This allows for more detailed scanning of information and data mining of every NPC found in London. On one hand this brings up severe concerns about privacy and likely caused stocks to skyrocket for tech companies that develop software for anonymous browsing but plays a critical role in recruiting people to join DedSec’s cause. Hacking into the entire history of someone will grant the player knowledge about this individual’s general attitude toward DedSec and what some of their pressing problems are. Do they have a friend locked up in jail or do they have any blackmail material floating around on them? If so, the player can help make these problems for the NPCs go away which in turn can make them want to team out with the elite hacking organization.

Personal feelings about this approach to gameplay are about as mixed as the idea of a totalitarian government using technology to spy on their citizens being bad while a borderline anarchist organization of hackers accessing personal data of strangers to aid them is a good thing. Ubisoft when to great lengths to give each person in this version of London their own personality and back story, making it so no two people’s experience will be exactly the same. Cutscenes will have different conversations, as each person has different goals, attitudes and motivations for joining DedSec. The different characters are divided into three different classes with different abilities. The most interesting of these abilities is invisibility, where the player can use their implant to make them undetectable for a short time or mess with the implant of neutralized enemies so their allies don’t notice the still body. Going beyond the changes in narrative and controlling multiple people the core gameplay is similar to the previous Watch Dogs titles. The Grand Theft Auto inspired open world gameplay remains intact, where players combine stealth and action based approaches to mission with help from using drones and using their hacking skills to disable cameras or jam enemy weapons. In this regard, fans of the previous entries will feel right at home, which based on our opinions of the first two Watch Dogs is exactly what we were hoping for.

From a narrative perspective, this recruiting anyone approach seems like it could potentially be a good fit. Revolutions against oppressive governments only work when the downtrodden band together where their collective strength is greater than any individual. The idea of building up DedSec and making it accessible to anyone who wishes the join cause could make for a good dystopian tale of unrest and upheaval. That being said, there are a couple concerns that come with this approach. The first is will players care about the story or random NPC they happen to be controlling at the time as much as they did with Aiden or Marcus? The storytelling and interesting characters were a large party of the charm of Legion’s predecessors, and without a fully-developed main character to play the level of connection and immersion within the story may not be as strong.

The second, more important concern is based on gameplay. During our hands on time a few NPCs were recruited, which was done by scanning them, learning what they needed and completed the tasks to bring them around, such as deleting some computer files with blackmail information or releasing someone from jail. These missions were quick and relatively painless but permadeath is a thing, and even if the player chooses to sidestep by surrendering instead of going out in a blaze of glory, that character will still be out of commission during their time in jail or the hospital. The concern here is that a good portion of time may have to be spent completing menial sidequests in order to keep the numbers of one’s legion healthy. One of the highlights of the announcement trailer was watching an elderly woman show off her retired assassin skills to help sell the point of being able to recruit anyone. During the demo my impressionable self recruited an elderly person in their 70s, but once I took control of person to my dismay his walking speed was about half that of the younger and more able-bodied NPCs.

Watch Dogs Legion
retains the core gameplay that made its predecessors enjoyable while shifting the focus from a well-defined protagonist to literally anyone who wants to join DedSec along with cranking their subversion factor up to eleven. The attempt to create a living world where everyone is playable with a unique backstory and personality is ambitious and could potentially lead to an incredible game, depending on how these ideas end up in their final execution. Watch Dogs Legion is scheduled for a March 6, 2020 release for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.