Wednesday, June 19, 2019
A futuristic London skyline glitters with promise. Drones fly silently overhead delivering packages. Armed soldiers of the state stand expressionless in the streets. I, apparently, am the resistance. I’m also in my 80s, wearing a long skirt and, while I discover it is possible to clamber up onto a wall, I wouldn’t ever embarrass Helen with this indignity ever again. She is, quite clearly, no Assassin. What she is though, is a hacker and I shouldn’t be surprised that this tech savvy murderess - who looks like she should be settling down to a good Agatha Christie adaptation with a cup of tea - is the first playable character in my Watch Dogs Legion hands-on.
We start off in a good old British pub, Helen and I, and it makes for a perfect place to scope out Legion’s stand out, game changing new feature. With a tap of the left bumper, where previous Watch Dogs games would let you take a glimpse into the lives of NPCs before emptying their bank balance into your own, you now have an even more in-depth breakdown of the citizens of London. Sure, there’s a name and how old they are but now there’s also a full character background and a related set of attributes. Maybe they’re a big fan of zombie movies so have better headshots, or a doctor so will grant your team a dramatic reduction in healing time. Incredibly though, no matter who they are and no matter what they like, every NPC wandering the streets of this impressive dystopian London on their very own set schedules can join your crack team of 20 DedSec operatives.
This automatically turns every busy location into a veritable IKEA catalogue of potential new heroes but what’s particularly intriguing is that not everyone is automatically on your side. Every NPC has a meter showing just how against the state they are and through your actions, you’re going to need to convince them to join DedSec’s side. My demo speeds up the process but after choosing a chap having a drink with his wife in the pub (until 1am, his schedule says), I find out that the nefarious military organisation Albion is holding information and blackmailing him. Thus, Helen and I take a (slow) walk to Scotland Yard to delete his information from their servers and get him onside.
It’s here, standing outside a perfectly recreated Scotland Yard, while red double decker buses go by, and with the London Eye glinting from across the Thames, that I get to trial the Hacker class for size. Once you get an NPC on board - well, PC, once you’ve got them - you can choose between three distinct classes. The Hacker is a traditional Watch Dogs hero complete with a Spider Bot and the handy ability to take control of drones, the Enforcer is more of a gunner and can carry heavy assault weaponry, and the Infiltrator has stealth tech on their side.
Legion’s London isn’t dissimilar to Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City in that everyone has the odd chip set or two, so Infiltrators have hacked their own tech and can make themselves invisible. With a full set of operatives, each with their own skills and perks, it’s easy to see the potential opening up for tailoring your playstyle to specific missions. For now though, I equip Helen’s Spider Bot, complete with machine gun turret, and scuttle inside the building to delete the info on my wannabe new hire. This feels like a much more traditional fun Watch Dogs experience, flicking between security cameras, hacking locks and staying out of sight of guards.
For the purposes of the demo, this one quest is all I need to do to get my new hire on board but this won’t always be the case. Ubisoft has said that the recruitment missions will be entirely dependent on how pro or anti DedSec your chosen NPC is. Someone might easily be swayed by a small gesture, while others may have encountered you in other ways throughout the world. You might have spotted a set of attributes you like but your chosen NPC might have had a family member hurt in your scuffle with Albion guards on the other side of the map. This is a world that remembers your actions and, for once, you might want to consider a non-lethal approach.
Returning to my new hire and adding him to the operatives menu, I quickly switch to his significantly younger set of legs - sorry Helen, it’s not you, it’s me - to explore the city. Jumping onto a motorbike to take in the impressive scenery, it’s clear that this is a divided London. While all the big sights are here perfectly recreated, this version of Trafalgar Square has switched out pigeons for masses of tents and protest signs against the military state. Soldiers are everywhere, making a stark contrast to the London merchandise shops and glowing signs for Legion’s fast travel system, the London Underground. Stopping at a stall outside Green Park station, I purchase a remarkably unsubtle pair of Union Jack suit trousers and matching gloves. I quickly change when I realise that these are taken into every story cutscene with my chosen character. Given that I could have chosen anyone from London, the first time this happens feels like an impressive magic trick.
This is only a quick glimpse into Watch Dogs Legion’s world. It will be fascinating to see the way that your operatives will have an effect on the NPCs around them and how important these backgrounds and schedules are to the way that London looks and feels. From a studio responsible for the modern sandbox template after years of ACs and Far Crys this bold new open world offering feels full of thrilling possibilities. Throw in the permadeath aspect and things get seriously interesting. This is no longer a safe world where you’ll respawn and get to try again. Your choices matter in this city of the future and it’s only going to get more interesting as we hack deeper before release.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019 @ 09:37 PM