Cover image for the game Watch Dogs: Legion

Ubisoft Forward: Watch Dogs: Legion Hands-On

This needs to be addressed because my article goes live the day after several key figures at Ubisoft resigned or were let go. Serge Hascoët, Chief Creative Officer, Yannis Mallat, president of Ubisoft Canada, and Cécile Cornet, head of global HR.

Ubisoft Logo

After hundreds of employees spoke out about the allegations against key figures within the organization, the world watched as the truth unravelled. As today is Ubisoft Forward, the decision to oust the people who enabled toxic behaviour is a step in the right direction for the company but we as fans of their games must stay vigilant and hold them accountable for change.

CEO Yves Guillemot released a statement yesterday, condemning the actions of the accused. “Ubisoft has fallen short in its obligation to guarantee a safe and inclusive workplace environment for its employees. This is unacceptable, as toxic behaviours are in direct contrast to values on which I have never compromised — and never will,” Guillemot said in the statement. “I am committed to implementing profound changes across the Company to improve and strengthen our workplace culture.”

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Similar to the Assassin’s Creed series, the sequel to 2014’s Watch Dogs elevated the series to exciting highs. While the original felt incomplete and lacklustre, the sequel was fleshed out with gameplay that let the player decide how to do things. And the humour and characters felt less artificial, creating a tone that matched the city of San Francisco. With the third entry, Watch Dogs: Legion Ubisoft is looking to continue that upward climb with a sprawling, energetic, and futuristic take on London.

I was invited to preview Watch Dogs: Legion earlier this week and after spending just over three hours in the post-Brexit version of London, I wanted to dive back in. A lot of the things return in the third game: hacking is still a pillar of the series with nearly everything made available to hijack, sabotage, or tamper with. Doors can be unlocked remotely via your character’s handheld device, cars on the road can be hacked to get out of the way during a chase, and drones offer a new level of verticality that the Assassin’s Creed series can never have.

Just touched down in London Town

The tone within this universe feels inspired by stories we’ve come to see in Black Mirror, our dependence on technology has been escalating over the years and while the first two games explored what the dark side of technology may look like, it’s Legion that truly shows what evil men will do when they control all our technology.

After a brief prologue that sets the stakes of Watch Dogs: Legion, I was told I had three hours to explore London. Things are bleak through the city after a series of explosions devastate London. After blaming the bombings on DedSec, Nigel Cass, the CEO of Albion, a private military company, begins to hunt out those responsible. Albion begins using technology to hunt DedSec, including drones and artificial intelligence. Not only that, but you can’t get around the city without going through checkpoints that scan and ID everyone. This is the darkest timeline and things are only getting worse.

You’re able to kind of go into the world, see who you like, see who you want to play as who’s sparked your interest. And then you can make them the hero of your story, right. and you can do this with as many different people as you want – you don’t have to select one person to fulfill this role.

“So this kind of does create a really interesting challenge, right? says Kaitlin Tremblay, “Because we’re still a very story-driven game and it’s a really compelling experience writing characters in this way. But for me, it’s really fun and there are so many different angles you can kind of take into this because there are so many different people and reasons for joining a resistance movement that you really get to tap into with it.”

Totally agree, Kaitlin! I started out with a paid Mercenary named Gus Potter, who had joined DedSec and is actively partaking in recruitment. In my demo, I had two story missions available to me to complete but I found myself more invested in searching for new recruits to join the cause. Within minutes, Bagley, a supportive AI working with DedSec suggested I go out and find new recruits.

Watch Dogs Legion ConstructionWorkerwithout

Minutes later and I find a character near Westminster. Just like the older games, you pull the profile up of the character in question and learn all about them. Each person you recruit comes with their set of strengths and weaknesses. If you find someone on the streets you want to recruit, you can hold R1 to note their skills and revisit them later. If not, you can begin right away get them involved with DedSec.

Watch Dogs: Legion is about anyone

“The game isn’t about any one thing that’s kind of happening at the moment. It’s kind of more about the consequence of situations that kind of lead to these things, right?” says Kaitlin Tremblay, Narrative Designer on Watch Dogs: Legion. “The team [at Ubisoft Toronto] draws inspiration from what’s going on in our current lives, but it is a work of speculative fiction.

Watch Dogs Legion Mary KelleyA

Next, our new potential recruit needs some assistance and I need to hack into a database and erase evidence of their involvement. Arriving at the location, the familiar notion of hijacking security camera and bouncing around each one to set traps, sabotage generators and generally cause havoc before waltzing in is still there. Once I learn that the server is located deep inside the building, I’m left to assess the best way to approach the situation.

Thanks to the ability to swap characters, your recruits come with their gadgets and gear to come through in a pinch. I decided to swap from a mercenary to construction work because of the cargo drone they have access to. See, instead of moving through security, I summoned my drone and hitched a ride up and over everything. I landed just feet away from my destination, knocked a guard unconscious and wiped the database with ease. I didn’t set any alarms off and I was stealthy the entire mission, leaving me with the option to fly out of the restricted area easily.

Cars no longer need to be hacked to drive them, at least not during my playthrough. If there was a car I wanted, my phone had already done the work and I had my character sit down and drive away seamlessly. A lot of the cars look great and Ubisoft’s done a good job at designing what future cars may look like. Some even are eerily similar to the ones found in episodes of Black Mirror which are autonomous and fully electric.

Navigating to the building on the map, I forget that the roads in London are the opposite of what I’m accustomed to here in Canada, and some poor, unfortunate souls never stood a chance against the hood of my car as I hit them. Driving in Watch Dogs has always felt a bit floaty and I feel like this trend continues into Legion, but I was playing on a remote machine, so I want to believe it was a latency thing. Or maybe it was the character I was using didn’t excel at driving, which is a highly sought skill for DedSec recruits (and something you can do when scouting for new recruits).

Out of the car and into the fire; my character needs to get into this building, but he isn’t equipped to get inside without being seen. My handler for the day recommends that I swap characters, a new mechanic for the Watch Dogs: Legion that allows anyone in the game to be recruited. You pick your character from the Team menu and a quick scene shows your characters swapping places, but the only caveat is that you can only do this in unrestricted areas.

Watch Dogs: LegionDuring one particular engaging encounter against a team of Albion Security, my mercenary Gus, who excels at hand to hand combat and weaponry, went down for the count. Ubisoft mentioned that Watch Dog’s Legion features permadeath but in my demo, I was arrested and the character in question was locked behind a timer. After that timer was up, I could switch to them when I needed to use their skillsets.

It’s easy to get sidetracked because there is just so much to do and to see. After fast travelling to DedSec’s headquarters (which is hidden underneath a pub), I went upstairs and chugged a pint of beer before leaving to explore the town. Immediately my vision was blurred, I also noticed you can play darts at certain locations and there’s a ton of collectibles spread throughout the city. It feels a lot better than older Ubisoft games in the sense that collectibles became overbearing and literally covered the map.

Another recruit is protesting Albion and we meet Bill. He is part of a construction crew that was fired weeks ago and replaced by drones and AI. He wants our help out who replaced him and how it’s possible his entire crew was replaced – off to investigate. Upon arrival, I need to infiltrate BrocaTech, the company that replaced the construction crew, and download the company’s records, which I do. The revelation is that there is a rogue AI that was built to replace them and now, I need to figure out where it is and destroy it. So, as John Omondi, the hacker of my team, I head to the Battersea and find the AI tucked into the basement.Watch Dogs: Legion

Using non-lethal electric weapons: the LTL 68P and the LTL SG, I make my way to the basement before being spotted. Immediately, Albion is bombarding me with guards and I’m doing my best to make sure I don’t kill anyone, which is proving to be a difficult task. I eventually find what I’m looking for and destroy the system. I get to safety by going out to the marina and onto a yacht, ready to have Bill join DedSec and help stop Albion.

Let me see your ID

I only have a little bit of time left so I decide to start the Main Mission, “Gap in the Armour,” which investigates Mary Kelley’s slave and organ trafficking business. She has ties to Albion’s CEO Nigel Cass, and together, were a part of the Zero-Day bombing that put London into the Authoritarian state it is in now. After a quick mission briefing, I’m told to investigate a man called Hamish, which leads to his flat that is boobytrapped and rig to blow if anyone enters.

If you’ve played the previous games, the Network Bypass puzzles might be familiar to you. You unlock a sequence of nodes, each connecting to one another, and others are locked until power can be restored to them. In some cases, you need to complete the puzzle within a certain time limit or risk failure. In this scenario, there was no limit but Bill (who I recruited earlier) came through in a pinch and entered the flat to grab what DedSec needs, and it is here we meet Hamish, who blows the flat because of Albion showing up soon after.

Watch Dogs Legion spy car8

After getting all that I need, the team decides we need a man on the inside of Albion and they are currently guarding the Tower of London. Upon returning to the mission area, my task is to infiltrate the Tower and get listen in on a meeting. Since I’m dressed up and a mole for DedSec, it should be easy, right?

Well, you’re now faced with having to stay at a distance from your former colleagues because they may catch on and blow your cover. As I make my way up the various levels, I get to a point where I need to create an ID badge so I can go to the top levels and get to the meeting. I move back down a flight, grab the necessary piece and wait for the badge to finish printing before smoothly moving past security.

I’m finally where the mission is telling me to go and I learn that Albion plans on using technology to spy on everyone, the local police are against this and try to stop the entire thing from happening. Things don’t go as planned but after learning the details I make my way back down. Bagley, the AI helping DedSec, recommends that instead of going out the front I make my way to catacomb underneath the historic castle, which I quickly proceed to do before my demo ends.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I enjoyed my time exploring the new futuristic London. I enjoyed the recruitment missions, which even though feel like they are fluff, come across as interesting sidequests that almost never go to plan but somehow end up completed. Ostensibly, because of the “anyone can be a playable character” mechanic, I was wary of how the logistics worked but it works in the scenario Ubisoft has built as a fight against an authoritarian regime and I’m eager to find out what else I missed out on.

For what’s worth, Watch Dogs: Legion builds on the previous two games and delivers a worthy third entry. I’m ready to explore London again because I only saw a tiny fraction of the city. Even with the delay, the game still needs some work but what I played really made me excited to see what Ubisoft does with Watch Dogs: Legion. There’s also a ton of plot points that bring the narrative into political territory and whether or not they can nail the landing.

Watch Dogs: Legion will be available on October 29, 2020.