“Watch Dogs: Legion,” the third entry in the franchise, comes with a big change. Instead of featuring just one protagonist like its predecessors, Legion lets you recruit and play as any character within its world. Anyone you meet on the streets of near-future, post-Brexit London can be convinced to join your activist cause, and after a recruitment mission, they become playable. Like “Watch Dogs 2,” you assume control of DedSec, a secret hacker group that, as Ubisoft describes, “keeps those in power accountable.” In Legion, DedSec is framed for terrorist bombings by a group called Zero-Day, and it’s your job to hunt them down and bring the truth to light.
After four hours of play, in which I recruited several different operatives, including a bee keeper and a hitman, I had the most laughs with Ji-Woo. It wasn’t easy to find an old woman; for the full effect, with geriatric dialogue and voicing, I needed to find a woman with “low mobility” rather than just a woman that appeared elderly. The search took about 20 minutes as I roamed the streets of London.
Ubisoft impressively includes around 20 different versions of the script, a Ubisoft representative confirmed, with different characters, animations, voice work and dialogue. Procedural generation randomizes characters’ traits and aesthetics. It’s wildly ambitious — but in the demo, I saw some of its possible limitations.
On its face, “Watch Dogs: Legion” has a diverse set of characters, but the game’s mechanical ambitions could result in a lack of depth. Ji-Woo, an Asian woman, has the same voice as Helen, the elderly white character presented in Legion’s E3 reveal last year. Accents can vary for a number of reasons, including race, national background, geographic location and ethnicity. But my fear coming out of the demo is that the game will assign a default voice to characters spanning different ethnic groups, a flaw that could undercut the game’s core mechanic, and its vision of an authentic, diverse London setting. It’s something only the final product can answer, when we see the full extent of this technology.
Despite these limitations, other elements of the game shine. You could dedicate hours to playing “Watch Dogs: Legion” as a life simulator or virtual social experiment, especially when characters have actual relationships, occupations and schedules within the world. With the Deep Profiler, a menu that details these schedules, you can also pinpoint new missions or clever ways to recruit people.
There’s a lot to appreciate about the varying operatives you can bring on to your team, and they’re a lot of fun to experiment with. Outside of Ji-Woo, I also recruited a construction worker. She has a uniform that disguises her when entering construction zones, so she can remain undetected. It’s an element similar to the “Hitman” series, where while undercover, you have to be careful not to draw unwanted attention.
Outside of disguises, operatives have unique abilities. You can strategically switch to a different character whenever, as long as you’re out of combat. Some of my favorites include a beekeeper sending high-tech drone bees to swarm unsuspecting victims, and a football hooligan’s ability to call the rest of your squad to battle (he also takes less damage when drunk, a silly modifier that can be used after drinking at a bar). You also have certain perks and abilities you can purchase (with in-game currency rewarded after gameplay events) that are shared across your entire team. One of my favorites was the AR Shroud, a passive skill that automatically renders dead or unconscious bodies invisible. This proved useful during stealth encounters.
I didn’t notice many special abilities unique to Ji-Woo — instead, playing as an older woman presents challenges. Luckily these are amusing and add a layer of tension to gunplay: Because of her low mobility, for example, she can’t take cover or sprint.
“If you put her in a track suit, it’s great, because it looks like she’s speed walking,” said Matthew Friedrichs, the Ubisoft demoist guiding me through Legion.
She’s best played stealthily, and “Watch Dogs: Legion” provides many ways to infiltrate without starting a fight (this is helped by the fact that many enemies don’t engage in gunfight unless you initiate). You can hack security cameras or use your spider bot (literally a small robotic spider) to fight for you with its turrets, crawl through vents and open doors, or download information for you
If a character falls in battle, they will either be arrested (if fighting against authorities like authoritarian security force Albion), or sometimes killed (permanently if permadeath is turned on in the settings). If arrested, you may be able to help them out if another recruit works as a police officer or lawyer. Otherwise, they’ll be unavailable for a period of time. Your character can also be sent to the hospital if you die in an accident, like an explosion.
Those who want to approach battle with guns blazing have a wide range of options. I was thrilled to see a significant increase in non-lethal weaponry, like taser guns, which may keep “Watch Dogs: Legion” from having the same narrative dissonance “Watch Dogs 2” had, where ruthless killing didn’t coincide with the protagonist’s bubbly personality.
Like Marcus, Ji-Woo is outgoing. Playing as an elderly woman adds flair and amusement, especially with her quips. When handed a burner phone, for example, she’s insulted that it’s presumed she’d prefer a flip phone due to her age. She’s also quick to wag her finger at disrespectful young folks, or talk about how she’d like to go feed ducks. Some of her behavior doesn’t quite make sense; she can’t run, yet somehow she can climb structures and swim with ease. In another scene, she performs a graceful dive into the water from high up — all while you hear a distant Eagle’s cry — a fun nod to Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” series. These moments, while not believable in any fashion, lend themselves to the quirky nature of the game.
The fun is in seeing how different characters play and react to varying scenarios. As enjoyable as it was to be in Ji-Woo’s shoes, I was just as amused by the beekeeper. So far, trying on different hats and swapping protagonists brings a lot of versatility and excitement to an ambitious title.