My first moments with Watch Dogs: Legion were spent like any other trip I’ve ever taken to London. A ride on the Tube, a brief stop to admire Big Ben, and a beeline for the nearest pub to sink pint after pint after pint. But that’s where the virtual tourism stopped and the cyber terrorism began. In the four hours of hands-on time that followed, I got a good feel for the depth of Watch Dogs: Legion’s recruitment-based espionage as I roamed around a dystopian vision of the English capital rich with detail and able to be explored smoothly without any noticeable hiccups. Okay so there were some hiccups. It turns out that last beer was one too many.
Exploring Watch Dogs: Legion’s near-future London is the closest I’ve come to experiencing an episode of Black Mirror in videogame form. Well, aside perhaps from the Black Mirror episode that sort of was in videogame form. Drones whirr in the air above Camden Markets, holographic displays loom large around iconic installations such as the British Museum, the neon-trimmed double-decker buses look like they’ve been redesigned by Jony Ive, and citizens are being violently oppressed by Albion soldiers on every street corner. Seemingly the only thing more miserable than the English population of tomorrow, is the English weather of tomorrow. Which, somewhat comfortingly, is every bit as miserable as the English weather of today.
But as much as this bleak, bitcoin-based Britainnia begged to be pored over, I wasn’t in this new version of Old Blighty just to sightsee, and so for the first half of my hands-on I decided to knock over a few of the main story missions that take place early on in Watch Dogs: Legion. These particular missions involved hacking into Scotland Yard, hacking into a processing centre for immigrant deportation, and hacking into a rival gang’s hideout, and to be honest it all left me feeling a bit hacked off. Granted it’s still enjoyable enough to puzzle your way through off-limits areas by pinballing between drones and CCTV cameras, and rigging explosive traps for guards to haplessly amble into, but as a veteran of the previous two Watch Dogs games I must admit that it felt like I was slicing through the same systems I’d encountered previously in Chicago and San Francisco.
To be fair, there is enough new gadgetry on offer to make James Bond blush. I made good use of the AR cloak to slip past sentries unnoticed, and called in a small but stupidly powerful missile drone that went unnoticed by absolutely nobody in the central London area. I also enjoyed hijacking cargo-carrying drones, which put a skull-crushing spin on Amazon’s one-click delivery. Yet at least in these early game missions there doesn’t really seem to be enough incentive to experiment with these technological toys, and I’m hoping that as the story progresses there’ll be more unique ways to employ them beyond the stock standard hack attacks.
Fortunately my time with Watch Dogs: Legion eventually became significantly more interesting. After a brief bit of bare knuckle brawling, some cryptocurrency-paying courier jobs, and a climb up the Tower of London, I decided to devote the remainder of my hands-on time to pursuing a new recruit for DeadSec.
I ultimately succeeded in gaining a new recruit, just not the one I had originally intended. Initially my plan was to hack into the National Health Service computer system in order to get some information on a certain military analyst I was hoping would join the cause. However, since by this point I’d grown a little tired of infiltrating facilities by hopping between security cameras, I made a snap decision to try and recruit a nearby paramedic in order to switch control to him and walk right into a hospital administration office in disguise, Hitman-style.
However, in the course of profiling my potential paramedic recruit, Keegan O’Farrell, I learned of his gambling addiction, which led me to track down one of his close friends who informed me that Keegan had racked up a substantial debt, and before I knew it Keegan had been abducted by gangsters, and my well-intentioned recruitment drive had suddenly – and surprisingly – spiralled into a violent rescue mission, as I busted into the enemy compound with all guns blazing.Subsequently I began stalking along the north bank of the Thames profiling every passerby and wondering exactly where things would lead should I attempt to sign them up. While some will certainly be far more elaborate than others, it’s the thought of delving into a potential population’s worth of side stories that has me most excited for Ubisoft’s latest cyber-hacking sequel. For more examples of just how complex things can get once you start digging, be sure to read Jon Ryan’s in-depth piece on Watch Dogs: Legion’s impressive Census System.
Watch Dogs: Legion has no shortage of powerful technology at your disposal, but it seems like its most valuable tools will be its people, and the process of making connections with them could well be the most compelling aspect of the game. It might not just be the Tube that takes you deep into the London underground, but the potentially staggering amount of rabbit holes to tumble down as you take a very hands-on approach to recruiting new comrades for the uprising.
Tristan is the video producer at IGN AU. He always drinks responsibly… Except for when he’s visiting London. You can find him lurking quietly here.