Watch Dogs: Legion had a lot going against it. The name and concept leaked early, it’s the third entry in a less-than-pristine franchise, and the rumored “being able to play as any NPC” gimmick sounds almost laughable at first blush.
And then we saw a good 10 minutes of gameplay.
It’s not a stretch to say that Watch Dogs: Legion might be one of Ubisoft’s most ambitious projects this side of Beyond Good and Evil 2. The concept of being able to recruit anyone you see on the street to join hacker collective Dedsec and then play as them is a brilliant one. However, for all the eye-candy and potential this game has, there are a couple of major factors that’ll make or break the finished product.
Playing the Role of an NPC
One of the keys to crafting an engaging story is creating characters players can latch onto, care about, despise, or identify with. This is immediately Watch Dogs: Legion’s biggest hurdle. The disposable nature of each character means that you might not have a chance to truly get attached to anyone. Keeping the sharp-tongued AI Bagely consistent across all recruits is a smart way to maintain some sort of continuity, but it still doesn’t negate the fact that your group of protagonists will be ever-changing.
What’s more, how much of an individual are each of these NPCs? We know that they’re all fully voiced and have a written bio full of relationships, hobbies, etc., but how much of that will come alive on-screen?
Take Ian, the man who the trailer starts off with. His bio says that he’s a laborer, makes £23,300 per year, is divorced, and has a girlfriend. Is it his past as a laborer that gives him +30% physical damage? Will his yearly salary factor into how much you have to spend on equipment and other expenses while playing as him? Might he get an occasional call from his girlfriend asking where he’s at and why he’s always away from home?
It’s these kinds of details that would make Legions feel much more immersive. Sure, it might skew players to looking for a wealthy businessman to have more funds to play around with, but recruiting a relatively poor character could also be a way to make the game more challenging.
On the topic of immersion, Creative Director Clint Hocking mentioned that NPCs will be recruitable by playing through their unique origin missions. This is a smart wrinkle that should theoretically prevent players from being tugged out of the experience by simply having to toggle between people on the street. Actually going through an opening narrative for every recruit makes the game world that much more believable.
However, this does beg the question: How many of origin missions will you play through before they start to feel samey? The full voice acting should certainly help the characters feel unique, but the thought of crafting hundreds–if not thousands–of unique origin missions for one game makes me a bit skeptical.
Gameplay as Varied as the Characters
While we still aren’t sure what the central storyline of Watch Dogs: Legion will be, we do know that each NPC will have at least somewhat unique capabilities. Each character is assigned different classes, strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. For instance, the aforementioned Ian belongs to the Infiltrator class, gets +30% melee damage, and has the trait of “Never Surrender.”
The trailer only revealed three classes in total: Infiltrator, Hacker, and Enforcer. Just going off of the names, we can assume that Infiltrators have more stealth-oriented movesets, Hackers specialize in the use of drones and other tech (like the granny in the trailer), and enforcers primarily rely on their brute strength.
It remains to be seen how many classes there’ll be in total, but hopefully, characters will play differently enough so you won’t simply stop after recruiting one of each class. Will the unique strengths and personality traits of each character really make much of a difference when it comes down to it?
Just like in previous Watch Dogs games, it looks like you’ll both be equipped with high-tech gadgets and the ability to hack technology around you to take out foes. Shock grenades are fairly standard, but quickly hacking someone’s phone so it screeches in their ear and distracts them while you attack is precisely what makes Watch Dogs stand out from the pack. Seeing Legions emphasize different combat styles (the sloppy brawling of Ian vs. the cold and fluid takedowns of Naomi when rescuing the new recruit) is promising, and has me hopeful that there will be enough play styles to suit a variety of tastes.
What we’ve seen so far is promising. Watch Dogs Legion’s version of London feels alive even in pre-Alpha. The thought of being able to use any NPC you’d like and get a half-decent story when recruiting them sounds too good to be true. Even the small taste of combat we’ve seen looks fun and visceral. Now it all comes down to if this world’s characters, missions, and combat can actually stay fresh for the full length of a playthrough. March 6th, 2020 can’t come soon enough!