There’s a temptation when it comes to Ubisoft’s open-world games to caveat my opinions with the fact that I haven’t particularly enjoyed one for years. I’m confident it’s not fully needed, but it’s some context that might be welcome.
Watch Dogs: Legion does absolutely nothing to dispel that lack of interest, its callow and unthinking invocation of London and its character serving only to underline how even minor technical innovation cannot save a formula this tired.
Hacker enclave DedSec is under threat in the British capital this time, after a government-orchestrated paramilitary coup triggered by massive bombing – a framing narrative so thoughtlessly deployed that it makes you wonder whether a largely American audience even slightly realises the tastelessness of it all.
Rather than taking on the role of a boring white male protagonist, this time players can choose any NPC on the street to join their crew, each with skills and traits picked from a roster. This is Legion’s core mechanic, a “play as anyone” system that feels potentially interesting for about an hour, then simply mutates into a more tiresome than usual respawn after death.
These NPCs are, almost without fail, janky and unconvincing, with randomly gathered outfits and wrongly-assigned voices breaking any illusion of personality. That’s before their bizarre rubbery faces do the same in cutscenes.
Having no protagonist is the sort of idea that designers think is great, but which would drive any competent writer to surely quit the project – how can you craft a meaningful narrative without fixed characters? Your only hope is a supporting cast, and Legion’s is as staid as they come.
Meanwhile it falls to you to repeatedly pick some random new insurgents, earning their trust with cookie-cutter chores. All of these come fully able to inexplicably shoot firearms with great accuracy (we don’t really have those here), choke out guards and do advanced parkour – the required suspension of disbelief is beyond absurdity.
Then it’s on with the tired old business of clearing up sectors of a map that at least isn’t overwhelmingly large, through mission and open-world chores that seemingly never end. It’s busywork, plain and simple, embedded into a picture-book version of London that is occasionally photorealistic but largely shallow and downright incorrect.
Terrible accents and bizarre AI behaviours seem to follow you around like ghosts, driving is like riding a broken zamboni at the best of times, and the game’s moral lessons are almost entirely muddled and insipid. Don’t trust the state, Legion croons, trust… technology?? It’s the nasty users that are bad, not the systems themselves – okay! At least the message that fascists are bad is here writ large, although its delivery is far too often confused and capitalist.
If you’re in a bit of a funk, do not turn to Watch Dogs: Legion to scratch that content itch. It might eat up a few dozen hours but you will be none the better for it. After all, you could instead give your money to the far worthier target of Ubisoft, and play Assassin’s Creed: Valha– wait…