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Hands on: Watch Dogs Legion review

Watch Dogs Legion is all bark, no bite

What is a hands on review?
Hands on review Watch Dogs Legion
(Image: © Ubisoft)

Early Verdict

An ambitious premise that is far more simplistic than it seems, Watch Dogs Legion is a repetitive game with scant surprises.

For

  • A convincing near-future London
  • Lots of (potential) ways to tackle situations
  • Ray-traced reflections

Against

  • None of the people you recruit feel unique
  • Clunky driving mechanics
  • Everyone constantly swears for no reason
WHAT IS A HANDS-ON REVIEW?

Hands-on game reviews are a journalist's first impressions of a game based on spending some time with it ahead of our full review. In this case, we played three hours of Watch Dogs Legion. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves, and we can give you some sense of what it's like, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee

Watch Dogs Legion piqued our interest when Ubisoft announced its ‘play as anyone’ gameplay mechanic. But after spending a considerable amount of time with the game – from playing the opening prologue to completing a variety of missions – it might actually be its biggest failing.

While Watch Dogs 2 took a more lighthearted approach to its previously super-serious and largely underwhelming predecessor, Watch Dogs Legion seems to awkwardly straddle between the two. It’s serious, yet silly at the same time and much like the characters it asks you to recruit, seemingly can’t figure out what it wants to be. 

 Key information 

  • What is it? The third installment in the Watch Dogs franchise
  • Release Date? October 29, 2020
  • What can I play it on? PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Stadia and PC
  • Price? Standard edition is roughly $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$69

London’s burning 

Watch Dogs Legion

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Set in a near-future London, which is brought to life expertly in the game, society is on the brink of collapse. The city is torn apart by a devastating bombing campaign, and the ensuing chaos is capitalized upon by opportunists. 

No more so than the private security company Albion, who manage to convince the government that they should essentially become judge, jury and executioner. Pinning the bombings on Deadsec, the resistance movement made up of hackers and like-minded individuals who you represent, was also an easy win for Albion’s martial law agenda. It’s up to you, then, or the countless NPCs you can recruit to the cause, to take back the capital and discover who was responsible for the bombings. 

Recruitment drive 

Watch Dogs Legion graffiti

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

After completing the prologue, which involved discovering and failing to stop the aforementioned mass bombing plot, Watch Dogs Legion’s main problem quickly becomes apparent. You can recruit literally anyone, and each NPC comes with their own abilities that you will need to use to overcome certain obstacles, missions and challenges. 

"Each recruit feels half-baked, and more as a means to just repaste the same abilities in a different skin, rather than create distinct individual characters."

Some recruits will receive perks depending on what actions you undertake. A football hooligan will take less damage when drunk, while a spy can call in a high-tech vehicle that fires rockets.

Not everyone will be available to you, though. You’ll have to seek out the right recruit for the job by completing their recruitment mission that involves various fetch quests or tasks. Once that’s done, they’ll gladly join your crew. From there, you can switch between your team of recruits, customize them, and amass a collection of skill sets to help you complete the game’s many missions.

On the face of it, then, the premise is undoubtedly intriguing. Having the freedom to play as anyone sounds liberating, and it should make for some truly unique moments. However, the choice to ditch a main central character, other than the presence of a few recurring story-based ones, doesn’t pay off. Each recruit feels half-baked, and more as a means to just repaste the same abilities in a different skin, rather than create distinct individual characters. It’s like wrestling with your create-a-character jobber instead of The Rock.

This leads to a definite disconnect with the game’s story that you wouldn’t experience with a fully-fleshed out main central character. You’re simply recruiting random people as a means to an end, rather than because you actually want to, or because they serve a truly important purpose.

This sense of disassociation becomes abundantly clear the more you play, especially when you control characters that are uniformed. A construction worker can sneak into a building site undetected, a police officer can enter a police station and… well, you get the idea. You could use other recruits to complete a mission, but why would you when the easiest option will always be available? It kind of defeats the purpose of experimenting.

Hacked off 

Watch Dogs Legion hackers

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Hacking a huge part of Watch Dogs, as you’d probably expect. You can activate bollards, set traps to lure unsuspecting enemies, and take control of security cameras to survey the area. All of this is fine, but none of it is exactly new. More so, hacking feels like a compilation of context-sensitive actions: click on that breaker unit to make it go boom, click that to sneak past this guard. For all the potential for experimental gameplay that Watch Dog Legions holds, you’ll quickly end up doing the same thing over and over again.

And that was our biggest gripe with the game in general. It just felt horribly repetitive and unrewarding. The missions we played were extremely similar: choose the most suitable recruit; use one of their unique abilities or perks to make the mission easier; complete the mission using the various standard hacks. Rinse and repeat. 

Of course there are several side quests and activities you can partake in, but when the main mechanics of the game already fail to inspire much joy, you’d be begrudged to do so. Combat was at least functional, but you won’t find anything you haven’t already seen before here: it’s all standard stuff. 

Ol' blighty

Watch Dogs Legion

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Where praise is warranted, however, is the convincing representation of London that Watch Dog Legions lets you play around in. Everything has been recreated in a convincing fashion, including iconic landmarks like the Houses of Parliament. It’s not too hard to believe that – societal downturn aside – that a future London could look a lot like what’s seen here. 

Unfortunately, though, the same can’t be said about the Londoners who walk the streets. This might seem like a rather insignificant point, but the amount of cursing each NPC does is honestly ridiculous. A simple drive down the street is met with a cacophony of swearing and expletives, which only served to draw us out of the experience. Not every person in the UK swears after every second word, even during a crisis. 

Early verdict

Watch Dogs Legion’s delay may allow the developers to fine-tune certain egregious aspects of the game, but after spending a chunk of time with Ubisoft’s open-world hack-a-thon, we honestly can’t see how this dog will have its day. 

Watch Dogs Legion releases on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Stadia and PC on October 29, 2020.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.