At best, I’ve always had a tepid relationship with Watch Dogs. I appreciate the aesthetics of it, but I've always felt the series' core mechanics weren't that fun. I feel bad saying it, but I’ve always felt the series was... well, destined for the discount bin.
I’m happy to say that I’m starting to feel differently about Watch Dogs: Legion.
Not because the series has grown and improved to the point where it finally rivals Grand Theft Auto, but because it finally feels like it’s embraced its weirdness.
Case in point: I spent my first four hours in the game as a mechanic named Ed Rodrigo riding on top of a drone moving at a glacial pace just so I didn’t have to deal with the ultra-sensitive driving controls and generic combat. Instead, I sneaked onto rooftops undetected and used an oversized wrench to beat up whole squads of security guards and relaxed with several games of darts at the pub.
It sounds dumb, but it was the best time I’ve ever had with a Watch Dogs game.
Flying in the face of disparate circumstances
Watch Dog Legion’s central plot point is a serious one: a terrorist organization planted bombs all around London and, as a member of DedSec, you’re tasked with stopping them.
Except, spoilers, you don’t.
The explosions kill hundreds, potentially thousands, of virtual Londoners and the government goes from a capitalist constitutional monarchy to a fascist regime overnight.
And while you can get swept away in the plot line to uncover who orchestrated the attacks and their ulterior motives, you can also spend your time playing darts at the pub and recruiting beekeepers and Roman Bellic wannabes to your cause.
That’s exactly what I did for four hours during a recent demo.
Game of Drones
If you want to blame someone for my four-hour endeavor to ride London’s skyline at roughly 20 miles per hour instead of, say, stealing a sports car like everyone else, blame the person who was guiding me during my demo.
While struggling with the game’s frustrating level design in which everything needs to be hacked endlessly to move between rooms of generic peacekeepers, they had suggested that I walk outside, switch to my construction worker Ed Rodrigo and use his Cargo Drone ability to call in a transportation drone to fly me to the top of the building.
I should mention that you can access each character’s special skills by calling up a radial menu that will have various tools and weapons that vary based on your class. Because Rodrigo is a construction worker, he had weapons like a lead wrench and nail gun, but also the ability to summon an over-sized cargo drone that can carry you at your beck and call.
Upon getting atop the drone, my fellow Londoners jeered loudly “Hey, how’s the view from up there?” as I rode without a care to the top of a highly secure base, skipping corridors and corridors of armed guards and what surely would’ve been minutes of prolonged firefights.
It was liberating. I was freed from the constraints of the game that so far frustrated me. Instead I took the easy route to the roof and it was there that I had the thought, What if I never walked or drove anywhere ever again? What if I spent the whole game just flying around on this drone? My fate was sealed.
Building an army of normies
Watch Dogs Legion, like other open-world Ubisoft games, has an overwhelming amount of both side missions and mainline quests. And while I knew at some point I’d have to play the main missions to progress through the demo, I told my demoer that, for now, I’d rather just try recruiting more people. That led me to my two favorite allies: Flavius Nicoara, a self-described Anarchist who sounds remarkably similar to Roman Bellic from GTA4 and a random beekeeper who I thought might like to help me uncover the whereabouts and motives of a terrorist organization.
I’ll admit, recruiting Flavius was harder than I expected. In order to get him, I had to steal an ambulance full of organs that had been illegally harvested and put onto the black market. It was from a well-guarded outpost with roof-mounted foot soldiers.
Before I could drive the ambulance out I had to take out the guards, my demoer told me, and thus began the painstaking process of clearing out guards. If you’ve read our hands on Watch Dogs Legion preview, you’ll know that combat in the game really isn’t much fun. It’s not awful… it’s just kind of bland.
Once the guards were eliminated, you had to then drive the ambulance to a drop off spot so the organs could be sent back to the hospital where they belonged.
The whole process of talking to Flavius, going on his mission, getting the ambulance and bringing it back took over a half-hour – which is a double-edged sword, honestly. On one hand, my demo guide reminded me, this presents a lot of side content. Like, hundreds of hours if you take the time to recruit as many people as you can. But the other side of the coin is that these side missions feel exhausting as you spend a half-hour of your time just to get a rando to help you on your main mission.
Is it fun or am I making a bad situation more bearable?
It’s been a week now since I played my Watch Dogs Legion demo and in that time I’ve wondered if it really was a fun experience or if I simply made a bad situation better by exploiting a silly feature by making it a stupid gimmick.
In that week’s time I still don’t have an answer.
Look, I think the amount of content Ubisoft is putting into Watch Dogs is great. It should keep fans of the open world genre engrossed for dozens of hours. And yet, I wouldn’t say Watch Dogs Legion is shaping up to be a Game of the Year contender. The main mechanics like driving, combat and stealth aren’t exceptionally executed here, and the world, while nicely detailed and chaotic, doesn’t bring anything novel that we haven’t seen before.
Maybe four hours isn’t enough time to really get Watch Dogs Legion. Maybe it takes a team full of recruited NPCs and a dozen story missions to make the game really shine. Previews are a brief window into a game that sometimes just don’t give us the full picture.
For now I'm reserving judgment on the game and the only thing I know for sure at this point is that the cargo drone definitely makes a less-interesting game more fun... er, well, for me at least.
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