Watch Dogs 2 had a single standout feature, one that propelled it beyond the franchise's mediocre roots. Beyond its hacking gameplay and nonviolent combat scenarios, a signature cast of characters really made the game what it was. Distinctive and strange heroes that left an impression in a way that most open world protagonists don't. After watching a chunk of gameplay from Watch Dogs: Legion, it's clear that players will miss the likes of Wrench while exploring Ubisoft's near-future London.
The main hook of Legion is how players can recruit any person off the street into their rebellious fighting force. It's an amazing concept, but I feel like it may fall apart in execution. Despite some suggestions in the E3 presentation, characters in Legion don't come with their own moves and abilities right off the back. After completing a procedurally generated task to recruit them, you choose one of three classes they'll fall into.
While choosing classes leads to funny scenarios like the trailer's prominently featured assassin granny, it also means that NPCs are inherently disposable. Anyone off the street can fill in any role with just a bit of grinding, so losing a character is only a minor inconvenience. You can also customize every character's looks at will. A necessary feature of an open world game at this point, but one that also betrays just how generic Legion's cast may end up being.
The NPC system's implications on gameplay are a minor inconvenience compared to the way that it could drag the game's storytelling. Ubisoft's E3 trailer had named characters like Helen and Ian calling each other by name, but none of the characters in the gameplay I saw stated any names. Instead, we get the generic filler words you expect from playing any game with a speaking custom protagonist.
The presenter kept stressing how each character in Watch Dogs: Legion would display their unique personality. At the same time, he was playing as an elderly woman, but not the trailer's star, Helen. There aren't multiple old women to recruit, so anyone who wants an army of lethal grannies will have to deal with a single voice actor talking with themselves on loop.
Outside of the NPC gimmick, Watch Dogs: Legion will be very familiar to players of past Watch Dogs games. Missions involve scouting areas via cameras and drones, infiltrating as much as possible, and stealthily taking down guards when possible. While there is some expansion to the possible drone warfare, nothing feels like a real step forward. It's a fine gameplay loop, but it may take a lot of nudging to get players to go through another full-length adventure.
It may be unfair to expect more than what Watch Dogs: Legion has on offer, but Ubisoft is presenting an ambitious idea without mechanics to back it up. While it may change before release, what I saw feels like a game in the vein of Far Cry: New Dawn, a side project built on top of what came before. Perhaps there will be a true Watch Dogs 3 on the horizon, and it may be better for players to go in with the right expectations when the game releases in March.
TechRaptor previewed Watch Dogs: Legion via a hands-off gameplay presentation at Ubisoft's E3 2019 booth.
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