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When Watch Dogs was first announced, many of us went “Wow” with a silent “o” on our faces. “Ubisoft’s finally working on a new IP!” was the rallying call of the gaming community. The E3 reveal trailer turned out to be even better – something most of us cherished. The graphics looked like something from next-generation, and the mechanics it came with were something totally out of the water. Fast forward a few months, and the internet was full of controversies about how the game was downgraded, how the mechanics weren’t as good as they were advertised, etc. Despite that, it proved to be a decent first game for the franchise – something that Ubisoft could bank on for later.

Watch Dogs: Legion takes the legacy forward and comes with a change of scene that is really important for the series. But how well does it fit into the unified open-world philosophy Ubisoft has been pushing since Assassin’s Creed II? Let’s find out.

Watch Dogs: Legion is the third entry in the franchise. The game will be released on 29th October 2020 for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The game will also be available with the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X at launch and will come with several quality-of-life upgrades to make the game truly for next-gen.

Open world with a change of scenery

The biggest change to the series brought forward is that  Watch Dogs: Legion takes the game to a new continent entirely. Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2 both took place in North America, and it is a common fact that ctOS has become a worldwide phenomenon by now – helping develop smart cities around the world. Now it’s up to one of the oldest cities in Europe to take up the digitization challenge. London is a digital hub, and all citizens have access to cheap AR technology as well as smartphones. Technology has made the impossible possible – it has blurred the lines between the digital and the physical world. However, that comes with its own set of challenges, especially when people are too eager to exploit the system for their own benefit. That’s where DedSec comes in – a hacktivist group spread throughout the globe, and who aim to warn the citizens about the problems posed by ctOS. However, if you think they are the only ones trying to take control of the system – you’re wrong (and maybe the game’s intro should be enough to explain why, or how).

DedSec is back?

The game’s story re-introduces DedSec as the most powerful hacktivist group on the globe – the visceral representations of Anonymous if you wish. These people have now evolved from an America-based entity to Europe and then all over the world. The game starts the intro off with a loud bang (yeah, I mean that both literally as well as figuratively) as London falls prey to a terrorist attack that targets several renowned locations around the city. You start off by choosing your first operator from a pile of nine random characters – as if a bartender had put up a bunch of drunkards for a show at the local pub – and then take your first few steps into the city. Of course, your framerate tanks to half of what you got in the intro when you do that, and it makes you tweak a lot of settings before you get the balance between framerate and visual fidelity right (more about this in the performance section).

As soon as the intro ends, the game’s main antagonist – the Albion Corporation – moves into the city and takes complete control of it. DedSec decides they will fight back, and goes into an all-out war against them. Well, that’s about it – if that seems flat, it actually feels worse when you play it. The story becomes progressively more and more boring as you progress. People gave Watch Dogs a chance because it was a new franchise and Watch Dogs 2 because it had a few twists and turns in its story and setting. It’ll be really difficult to come up with an excuse for Legion’s story – and I wonder how much player feedback will be necessary to tell Ubisoft that their open-world formula isn’t working.

There are many story elements that seem to be borrowed from previous games. There’s the presence of a criminal syndicate in London, and one of their ways of making money is by selling human slaves at auctions. Well, Dermot Quinn might not be alive anymore, but it seems that he had influenced Ubisoft’s writers a lot more than we could have hoped for. Hell, he might even be Mary Kelley’s sugar daddy (ouch! language).

London – the center of chaos

London is made from the ground up keeping the principles of Watch Dogs in mind. The map might not be as large, but it is denser than before. It’s a metropolitan city filled to the brim with life – so chances of catching a breath from the bustle is impossible. Also, you’ll find a lot less stuff to hack into this time around. There are fewer checkpoints on the road that can be hacked, no folding bridges (ironically) and even no traffic lights. The absence of a way to modify traffic lights or blow up gas pipes at an intersection is truly felt at numerous stages in the game. Also, you don’t have the option of getting away by causing a massive blackout in the city anymore – you have to dodge Albion’s police cars, trucks, choppers, and whatever else they throw at you with your limited hacking skills. The game retains the ability to hack individual cars though, and you can use that to your advantage at times. Maybe Blume realized the flaw in their system that Aiden Pearce used to his advantage, and finally patched them in – who knows?

The game lays an increased focus on using drones and spiderbots to do your dirty bidding at numerous locations. There are several areas where your operatives cannot enter normally, and you have to be a bit more creative in your approach. This will come up several times during missions as well as while doing the objectives necessary for “liberating” the regions from Albion’s control. Sometimes, you’ll even need operatives with a particular skill to force your way into some locations – I’ll let you discover the details for yourself. The whole city is unlocked from the start, so there are no artificial barriers preventing you from entering a region and doing whatever you want.  You’ll need all the freedom you can assert to take down the city and wrest it out of Albion’s wretched hands. Despite being more challenging than its previous games, the puzzles are merely ways to extend playtime and fill in the gap left by the story. The main gaps in Ubisoft’s formula for vast, open-worlds is clearly seen in Legion – it seems that they design a huge checklist-filled world for eye-candy, then forget to fill it with meaningful stuff that is worth exploring.

London has several districts which are under Albion’s firm control. To get them out of Albion’s hands and get the common people in charge, you need to hack your way through numerous objectives. These locations may have opportunities to photograph evidence of Albion’s wrongdoings, rescue political prisoners, or simply change the advertisement banners. Of course, these can be done in any order and at any time you want – just like in the original. It feels good doing these objectives initially, till they start feeling repetitive and boring, and all of a sudden you find that you have completed all of them, disrupted life in all districts to its maximum, and have to get back to completing side quests or the main story.

Play as anyone – and everyone

The best progress the game seems to have made is probably in the field of scalability. From merely monitoring people and their day to day lives to actually recruiting anyone and everyone who agrees with your cause – we’ve come a long way indeed. The premier marketing hype surrounding Watch Dogs: Legion was that you can recruit and play as literally any NPC in the world – and thankfully that has been carried over to the main game. Each operative has its own upsides, downsides, and special powers. For instance, a construction worker comes with a construction drone that helps him/her reach remote places. A paramedic helps revive injured operatives faster, while a lawyer helps bust arrested operatives out of prison earlier. NPCs have received a new level of detail which other developers will explore and look upon in the days to come.

Unfortunately, it does have its own demerits as well. Playing as “anyone” means you are left without a protagonist – someone you can look up to. Maybe even Ubisoft realized the gaps in this formula, which is why the Aiden Pearce DLC was a thing even before the game’s release. Aiden was someone you could look up to (though he never was a fleshed-out character like Ezio or Sam Fisher), and it’s sad that these game’s protagonists are nothing but NPCs painted with a different coat of arms for the player.

The “O” word – Optimization

Ubisoft probably fears the O word more than any other company at this point, and Watch Dogs: Legion has proved to be true in that regard. The game is one of the most horrendous ports that 2020 might have seen. Getting a stable framerate is like a pipe dream – and it seems that shouting yourself hoarse on Google Forms has no effect if Ubisoft decides to throw that away and proceed with launching an unpolished game anyways. The intro mission runs very well, as does the benchmark, but all shit goes south after that. This becomes an issue while driving and in high-stakes gunfights, as the FPS dips, even more, making it difficult to play the game. Even on a GTX 108o, getting decent framerates even while sacrificing visual fidelity is a Herculean task on the current build. It is highly likely that Ubisoft will improve performance with post-launch patches. But that remains to be seen.

Real Talk

Watch Dogs: Legion’s innovative ‘play as anyone’ mechanic is held back by the generic open world and the underwhelming narrative. If you are a hardcore Watch Dogs fanboy with an RTX card, then you might enjoy Legion (as long as you know what you’re getting into). Gamers who love Ubisoft’s trademark open world formula will undoubtedly have fun messing around with the newfound mechanics. For others, it’s best to wait for a heavy discount after Ubisoft has patched out all the kinks.

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