Let’s get one thing clear before I begin my review: as a Scot, I’m pretty disenfranchised with the world’s London-centric view of Britain and as such, have never been particularly excited about visiting the capital. It goes without saying, then, that playing a game that takes place in a pretty realistic version of London wasn’t very alluring to me, despite being able to send all my recruits to Westminster to give the finger at the fictional but probably Tory incumbent Prime Minister in-game.
Watch Dogs: Legion captures the gargantuan scope of London, with its sprawling Boroughs, the well-connected transport system - which is your Fast Travel method throughout - and how intimidating it can feel stepping off a train into an area you’ve only ever seen on TV.
Much like real life, though, you become familiarised with the different Boroughs and what they hold quite quickly. The puddles and crappy roads all start to look the same, you accidentally look at a person for too long and get called a cockwomble and before you know it, you’re a Londoner. The main thread of connection that runs through the entirety of Watch Dogs: Legion is that we are all Londoners and as such, we should all band together to throw off our various tech-obsessed, narcissistic and violent overlords.
Watch Dogs: Legion begins with a terrorist group known only as Zero-Day blowing up various locations around London as a means to show the world that destroying one another and lessening our reliance on technology is the only way to save humanity. As it turns out, everyone from the baddies from Clan Kelley to the government’s own military police was in on it, so it reads a little like a QAnon expo. Pretty grim, right?
Playing as a newly-obtained DedSec recruit, you’re tasked by its leader, Sabine, to rebuild the resistance against the likes of Albion, London’s militaristic new police force, Mary Kelley and her crime syndicate and Skye Larsen, Broca Tech’s mysterious CEO. It’s worth noting that the majority of Leaders in Watch Dogs: Legion are women, which feels a little forced at points. While it’s good to see effective female leadership with the likes of Nowt and her 404 hacker group and Inspector Kaitlin Lau’s valiant efforts to uphold the good hand of the law, the women in charge of enemy groups are downright horrifying.
There’s poignant negativity in the air as you pass anti-government protests, food banks and pro-refugee groups, all of which are relevant in a time where our own politicians are voting to not feed children and treat refugees and immigrants as criminals. There are also a few indirect references to the ongoing pandemic and political crisis in Britain that are uncomfortably close to home, which I daresay made this review all the more difficult. You can buy face masks at several shops and there are a few NPC quips near the beginning like “At least the restrictions have been lifted!” that prompts a dark laugh.
While it’s in reference to a sort of martial law being lifted, it’s still a very solemn nod to current events. The government is useless, a military police force runs around unchecked, the rich are getting richer and exploiting the poor and sick - all of the events in Watch Dogs: Legion don’t seem that far removed from our own reality and the various conspiracy theories being touted on Facebook. It’s difficult not to feel complete despair as you journey through this violent, dystopian nightmare that plays on a lot of existing conspiracy theories. I’m grateful that at least for now, nobody seems to be trying to implant a control chip into my brain in real life. But then again, what about the connection between the 5G towers and Coronavirus? Sorry, I forgot you wanted to keep politics out of your games.
Technology is supposedly at the forefront of Watch Dogs: Legion, but its range is rather limited. There are a few bots and drones you can control - the Spiderbot will be your best friend after an hour or two of playing - a few cloaking devices and weapons upgrades, and that’s kind of it. Each piece of Tech has three upgrade levels, letting you create a silenced weapon or have the ability to shield yourself for a few moments longer, but the scope is nowhere near what I imagined.
The same goes for recruiting folk - you can’t actually recruit everyone as there’s a limit on how many recruitment missions you can hold at a time and for the most part, the majority of people wandering about London are pretty boring. The best candidates are those with better hacking capabilities, as you’ll spend 90% of your time trying to figuring out how to open doors.
While it’s quite fun to hack cameras, set traps and use the Spiderbot to complete missions via vents and hiding under desks, it all gets a bit samey. The best way to shake things up is to take in a recruit with no other redeemable qualities except “skills” like Flatulence and Hiccups that make them easier to detect and see what happens.
The storylines for each Faction start off well - a quick but fairly thorough introduction to each leader, their Faction’s function and current status and why DedSec is staunchly against them. Skye’s storyline, in particular, is scary and unnerving but, like all good things in Watch Dogs: Legion, comes to a very abrupt end after only a few missions. You’re constantly left wanting more, and not in a good way.
Each mission type is incredibly formulaic: help someone’s friend from being extorted by the Kelleys, break into a restricted area and rescue someone, use the Spiderbot and cameras to complete a convoluted electrical circuit puzzle to turn a machine on - you get the idea.
Missions are endlessly repetitive, even if you switch it up and go against DedSec’s non-violent approach with guns blazing. The Uniformed Access mechanic doesn’t work nearly as well as it should and made missions even more laborious than usual. Apparently, no one who works in a place as big as London has clicked that you might see different employees every other day - it would seem that redeployment doesn’t exist in this particular dystopian London.
Simply put, Watch Dogs: Legion is pretty empty. While it’s claimed that voice modulation is used to make each recruit sound unique, there are maybe just over a half dozen different accents I’ve discovered at most. Unsurprisingly, the two Scottish characters I encountered were affiliated with enemy groups, proving that even in the end times, we are miserable bastards.
The difficulty suddenly ramps up after the 404 and Skye Larson storylines and you’re suddenly expected to take part in numerous gunfights and complete Spiderbot and Drone challenges. Despite this uptick, the same new mission style is repeated over and over and it follows a bit of a strange pattern. Expect to go into a quiet area, fart around with a computer and enjoy a cheeky bit of banter from your AI pal Bagley before loads of enemies spawn from the corners. You’ll need to clear the area of enemies who’ve decided to fight you - even though you’ve already completed the task, so it's more like a combat section that's been chucked in for the sake of it - before returning to the previous area and making a dash for all those aforementioned opened doors.
Paradoxically, by being all show with no substance, Watch Dogs: Legion encapsulates exactly what I feel about London: there’s lots of jostling for power, everyone wants to be in it to experience something and feel important but instead you feel lonely, disconnected and everything is a bit overdone and pointless. To complete my tourist’s experience, I decked out one of my characters in a full Union Jack outfit, because there’s nothing young British people love more than wearing flags, right down to the gloves.
For all of these reasons, Watch Dogs: Legion gets a 3 out of 5. Watch Dogs fans and more die-hard anarchists among you might enjoy it more, but between the short storylines, underwhelming tech and mission types and the general “everything is on fire” vibe, it just doesn’t rate highly for me.
Watch Dogs: Legion comes to PC, Xbox One and PS4 on October 29, to PS5 digitally on November 12 and physically on November 24, and to Xbox Series X/S on November 10.
Version tested: Xbox One S.