Open-world adventure games have come a long way, baby. And the latest Watch Dogs entry, Watch Dogs: Legion, is a striking illustration of how the open-world envelope can be pushed, stretched and overpacked.
Not only is this game akin to a Grand Theft Auto title, stuffed with thieving and destructive quests in a realistic, sprawling city. It’s also rife with super-tech hacking, spy-level specialized operatives, governmental anarchy, paramilitary fascism, deadly terrorism and human organ harvesting.
The really big open-world shift in Legion, however, is the fact that the entire populace of its future London is made up of people with individual names and professions. And you can play the game as any of them! Just recruit that dancer or plumber or tax accountant to your hacker-group cause, and then play as long as you want as Marylou, Fred or Hassim. It’s your call.
The game takes place in a sprawling, incredibly detailed rendering of London of the future. It’s a beautiful and seemingly peaceful place until a series of huge bombs—planted by a terrorist group called Zero Day—rip the city apart, killing thousands. The terrorists claim their goal is to destroy everything and let society get a fresh start out of the chaos. But what happens instead is that the British government panics and hires a high-tech paramilitary group to control its streets with heavy armaments.
Then you’re recruited. You’re spotted amid the London populace and tapped by an underground hacker organization called DedSec. This group was portrayed as the terrorists behind the explosions by authorities, but they’re really just average people (with a supercomputer AI guide) who want to expose the real corruption and root out the true killers. Accordingly, they set off on various quests to uncover these hidden stories and disrupt other twisted plots.
Again, I say “they” because this isn’t a game where you play as a single hero. This is a game that emphasizes taking collective action. You head off looking for someone with a set of skills that might aid your cause … then play as that person. That crane operator can easily get to the top of the right building, for example; that nurse can slip by hospital security. Each person has his or her own strengths; some come with very specialized bonuses, such as a local judge or a weapons collector.
The recruiting process isn’t always easy. Local cops, for instance, are difficult to persuade. And people you approach will generally want you to fix something or fulfill a need (paying a gang debt, helping a loved one, etc.) before they’ll join up. But eventually you grow the ranks of DedSec with people you need. (Or you can play the whole game as that elderly grandma with a limp, if you please.)
Now if all that sounds like a very creative formula with lots of gameplay possibilities, it is. There’s also some humorous interplay in the dialogue at times, too, especially when it comes to the quippy AI computer guide who chirps his British wit in your ear. But this is far from a game of pleasant clandestine strolls as a joking London pastry chef.
Things often get pretty dark in this game world and oppressively uncomfortable as well. For one thing, the gamemakers have a deep-seated belief that people from every walk of society have a love affair with the f-word. Everyone drops that vulgarity, as well as other caustic four-letter expletives (including the c-word) and a variety of longer crudities and misuses of God’s name in nearly every sentence. Nouns, pronouns and adjectives that don’t start with “f” or end with “k” must be in short supply in this violent future world.
Corruption and ugliness are also everywhere. The government colludes with the gangs. The gangs torture people, using them in human trafficking and black market body-part sales. Paramilitary task masters rule the streets and kill with abandon. Techy means of death are everywhere. It’s nasty.
On top of that, deadliness is also a regular part of your work, too. DedSec operatives are encouraged to hold off on gunplay so that the military doesn’t flood in with bullets a-blazin’. But there is still enough bloodletting—sharp objects to the jugular, nails to the forehead, sliced-open corpses, blunt-object beatings, and pistol and rifle use, too—to keep things goopy. You disconnect and kill people connected to life-support. Oh, and after stealing any vehicle you choose, you can mow down pedestrians on the streets and sidewalks as well.
In short, Watch Dogs: Legion is an action adventure with an interesting gameplay premise. But we can’t overlook this very M-rated game’s over-the-top world filled with frenetic death, torture and torment.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.