WatchDogs Legion: Lundun init mate cor blimey!

Watchdogs legion the third iteration in the game series the open world hacking simulator which has always been a bit hit and miss with it's protagonist decided this time to just get rid of the protagonist entirely and go with procedurally generated characters you can pick from recruit and assemble into a team.

It was always a bold move for a game with a narrative to just dispose of the main character and rely on rando's and it is a weakness the lack of a focal point for the games story.

Although even in the past they've not exactly nailed that with Watchdogs 1's scowly sociopath Aiden Pierce pissing about in chicago trying to avenge his ... niece I think. Then the more fun road trip movie esq add on dlc Bad Bone with the main character hacker hippy Tbone and his paranoid hacker buddy who kept getting locked in the trunk of cars. Watchdogs 2 with it's weird and wonderful hacker bro's cast and protagonist Marcus set in the bay area with various personal information themes but not taking itself quite as seriously as WD1 so being a more enjoyable experience.

With WD:L london has fallen to the dystopian jack boots of PMC Albion after the hacker outfit DedSec are framed for a series of bombings by some group called Zero Day. In the aftermath things go a full on police state martial law with Albion kicking the teeth out of anyone who looks at them funny and or is of various minorities and they patrol the city with a fleet of armed death drones controlled by series antagonist Blume's CTOS which has taken over the BT/Telecom tower and the city wide surveillance network. The majority of the hacktivist organization have been hunted down and killed and everyone in london has had an AR interface forcibly drilled into their skulls while a shadowy AI outfit Broca tech deployed a variety of AI's to control various things including Bagley a sort of cockney alexa that act as personal assistant but also snitch to the authorities. All communications are monitored by an ex military outfit the signals intelligence response service and a crime syndicate Clan Kelly which helped setup the coup operates as a second nastier paramilitary organization specializing in human trafficking weapons and drugs.

It's a fun look at the future of london :D

Anyway so into this near future hellscape comes ... well some rando recruited to DedSec to fix things and it is just some random person. The game starts you off selecting your first operative from a list of 20 randomly generated people with a basic back story profession appearance and traits all generated procedurally. I selected a tattoo artist who also had a crowbar for some reason and from there I was off saving london from the assembled fascist nutters.

Most of the gameplay is basically similar to the previous games you roam a open world based on a city in this case London and use the various magical hacking tools to solve various problems. You can access cameras and control things like forklifts and drones (and there are drones everywhere) and a series of special tools the most useful of which is the spiderbot. The spiderbot comes in two flavours infiltrator and combat each is upgradable. Combat has a turret that deploys and can "non lethally" electro shoot enemies. I had trouble working out how to use this until I upgraded it to manual control but to be honest I usually used the infiltrator spider bot it's just better in almost all respects. Infiltrator bot gets a run mode and a double jump and eventually a cloaking field. It can move faster get into places easier and also crawl up peoples bodies and then face hug them while electrocuting them. It's my go to tool for most situations. Most missions now I toss the spider bot in from the outside and then just slowly work my way around electrocuting everyone you can also set traps to take out guards or triggered distractions but spiderbot gets the job done most of the time.

You can also now control massive construction drones which you can ride on which makes it a lot easier to get to out of the way places just grab one of these fly over to the thing and hit what ever it is. You can also use them to pick up cargo and drop it on people.

Various agents have different special skills all generated at random certain professions have access to unique skills or traits that make them useful. So construction workers automatically get a heavy melee attack from a pipe wrench they carry and sometimes a special weapon in the form of a nail gun. They also can wander into a construction site without alerting enemies so long as you stay out of range of guards and don't do anything suspicious you can wander at will in territory that would normally be shoot on sight. This also applies to police or albion agents or clan kelly gang members in their respective territories recruit one of them and then they can be used as a way to get into places without setting off the guards.

Recruiting works by first selecting and scanning anyone in the game it then gives you a brief bio and a list of traits good and bad the character has (for example a character might have an espcially powerful melee because they were an underground brawler or can get other agents out of jail faster since they are a lawyer or not be able to run because of their age or have a terrible flatulence problem meaning stealth is a no go) some of these have very special skills and weird abilities like the spy has access to a cloaking spy car that shoots missiles and a spy watch that disables enemy weapons, hobo's have pan handling skills to earn money and so on.

One of my agents is a living statue and can freeze in place to hide in plain sight from pursuit and also earn a few credits from passersby (this one was especially hilarious when used in missions I was supposed to be doing stealthy spy meetings and yet was painted gold and wearing a jordi style eye visor) another has a shopping addiction which means they randomly buy clothes and one of them had a death wish ... he didn't last long. My favourite so far is the Beekeeper who wanders about in a futuristic bee safe jumpsuit with a holographic bee hood and their unique skill involves sending swarms of bees at enemies that they can then make explode with a special gun.

Once you've selected you desired recruit you can add them to a list of people you want and if they like you you can start a simple procedural recruitment mission. For people that don't like you like police or albion members you need the deep profile upgrade, this exposes their schedule and people connected to them help those people in some way (rescue them from thugs help them get some thing etc) and then their associate will be more inclined to help. It can also go the other way kill or wound or injure someone they then hate you and the same goes if you do that to their associates. So run over someone's wife in the street they are not going to want to work for you.

The system reminds me a lot of the Nemesis system from the Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War games but maybe simplified a little it has this small web of connections each of these characters has a schedule and simplified life generated for them and you can use that to get them on your team or your actions can turn them against you. It also generates enemies so you might beat an albion agent over the head with a pipe wrench and then be on your way but that agent will hate you and in turn might then decide to kidnap one of your operatives triggering a mission to recover them.

It's slightly janky and sometimes the simplistic nature of it shows through but it offers a fair amount of chance for emergent gameplay. The random agent generation with special skills adds a layer on top of the normal skill tree to explore you can find those unique options to add to your squad initially the additions are in the form of minor buffs to skills better at melee etc but then you get things like special seeker grenades or combat rolls or the bees. It also changes things like their fighting style for the games melee system someone with a weapon or a special skill will act differently to a normal run of the mill character with different moves and style of fighting (although the melee system itself is fairly shallow with just an attack, a guard block, and a dodge)

I wouldn't say the systems make WD:L feel like a real place it's too dumbed down and simplistic to that but it does give a nice framework there.

It also sometimes fucks up like generating a pediatrician who was fired for an inappropriate relationship with her patients ... they didn't think that one through.

Of course to generate all these random agents they can make random faces easy enough but voices not so much they have a limited stock of somewhat authentic if a little exaggerated voice acting. The first time you have an agent talking to an npc who both have the same voice somewhat destroys the illusion. They also seem to not always match the accents for npc's that become agents so one of the quest I did was from a woman with a welsh accent at the end of the mission she got added to my team and promptly became indian for some reason which was a little jarring. They also seem to have made almost all black men jamaican.

A lot of that is just the perils of procedural generation and some of it could be fixed and or avoided with better testing.

So you build up a stable of agents with different skills and such and if you fail or injure one you just swap to another while the current one is in hospital or prison eventually returning to you pool of agents. Having skills like doctor or lawyer in your team accelerate that process. The game even has a permadeath mode where if agents take significant damage they are gone for good (and some agents even in normal mode have traits like doomed or deathwish where they permanently die). It does become a little bit collect em up as you find interesting new agents for you crack team. Or you can just assemble a team based on a trait like a whole team of murder hobo's or spy grannies etc.

Graphics wise it looks alright it's not going to blow your socks off it's got some of the nice new stuff like raytracing and so on but it's a slight graphical upgrade to the previous games.

Bombing about london in the future cars is fun you can hijack pretty much everything and the drive it around or use the wonky autodrive function to go from a to b while listening to the radio. The voice station on the in game radio has a lot of well put together radio 4 esq segments on politics and technology often from real world political or technological commentators but through this in world lens. There is also a satirical comedy podcast based on the The Bugle voiced by bugle co host Andy Zaltzman and Alice Fraser which was quite funny although they only have five episodes so it does tend to repeat.

Story wise it ticks the boxes Dystopian techno drama take down the establishment etc etc it's a bit cookie cutter and so far not really surprised me although the AI storyline with the Broca tech thread of the story takes a very dark turn.

The moment to moment gameplay and flexibility of approach works pretty well sneak in with a spiderbot, fly in on a cargo drone, break out the grenade launcher and go ham with a crowbar. It's good fun and the additions of the various interesting systems of collecting unique agents. It doesn't feel like a very hard game the nature of the team being basically interchangeable means you can just keep going with the next guy if your current agent gets shot and the hacker tools are pretty powerful I think the spider bot makes thing pretty easy. In the previous games it had the various drones and rovers that could accomplish most missions but they couldn't take out guards themselves (you could use them to lure guards into traps) you can mostly just park your agent just outside the gates chuck in the spider bot and just methodically take out everyone with no risk to the agent and even if you want to go loud you can always swap out to another agent if they fail. It does remove some of the feeling of challenge although enemies do gradually get more skills too and things like cloaking or resistance to traps.

It's by no means a perfect game and it currently has some annoying but not game breaking bugs I hope they fix (main one is it taking forever to quit and if you alt f4 it you can lose a load of progress). I'm enjoying it and feel it's probably 7/10 sort of game a fun diversion lowered a bit by a weak story with no protagonist to drive it but then elevated by the fun systems and procedural elements. If you enjoyed the previous games in the series there is more of the same with a few new tricks and some interesting procedural additions.


Not played either of the previous ones but am tempted! Especially as its London. Thanks for the ace review.

brainwipe's picture

yeah I'd definitely skip over wd1, wd2 was pretty fun no masterpiece but it was a good time bombing around a truncated version of the Bay area with fantasy versions of the big tech like nuddle invite and so on. That's popped up for free a few times in the past on epic and so on so worth keeping an eye out.

WD:L does suffer a bit from not having a protagonist and also they've made things like the spiderbot a bit too powerful removing a lot of the challenge. Still a fun diversion in these dystopian times to see a fake dystopia and revel the fantasy that it can be fixed

Evilmatt's picture

I finished the main story of this game earlier it's definitely a weaker experience than watchdogs 2 and a lot of it's unique features becasue of the way they are implemented don't hold up.

So some of the agents have unique abilities which are often fun but since the basic tech skills and specifically the stealth spiderbot are just far and away more powerful and useful so a basic agent with the basic skills are just as good.

The negative traits like hiccups and flatulence (which cancel stealth) old (which means you can't run) and gambler Deathwish and compulsive shopping are all silly and unbalanced why would you take them they are just negatives no balancing positive. They feel more like jokes from the developer rather than useful game mechanics

The lack of a protagonist makes the story feel even weaker than it is.

All in all it is a noble attempt but it feels like it falls short. It had some nice set pieces and some fun mechanics but a lot of it feels less developed and weaker than the previous versions. If they'd pushed further with the traits and unique skills and made then more useful ie sometimes you need a policeman or a gang member or a person with some special trait and if they'd balanced the negative traits with some more powerful positives. There isn't really a reason to use a specific agent as beyond a few bad agents with terrible traits every agent is just as capable. The only time it worked in my favour was in the bare knuckle fighting tournament when I knew the final boss threw out a load of tear gas and so I got an agent with tear gas immunity to negate that. If that was the case for more of the missions it would have made for a more interesting game.

As it is I just stuck with what ever agent I picked up last and then equipped all the same kit on everyone of the agents.

It was probably still a 6-7 out of 10 a fun game but nothing special and it never really uses the unique features to its advantage.

Evilmatt's picture

Is it procedural generation too far?

brainwipe's picture

I think the procedural parts of it work about as well as they can it's the elements they've chosen and the overall system where it falls down. Their agents are all procedural but they've not thought through how to make that perks system actually work in the game world. It's all one off fun or annoyances you wouldn't bother with. You don't really need any of the specialized perks and so a basic run of the mill agent is equally as powerful or even sometimes more powerful as they have no negative perks.

The various agents with uniforms that can access certain areas without getting spotted are an interesting idea but stealth is pretty forgiving and you can just run the spider bot in from the outside with no risk and just systematically take out all the enemies. Compare that to better implemented stealth action games like the superb Hitman 1&2 reboot where having the right disguise is powerful and open up other opportunities. Hitman is a different sort of game but it has some parallels for instance a bartender pouring something into someone's drink isn't suspicious similarly a cook preparing food so with the right disguise you can calmly add a little deadly neurotoxin to a targets drink without alerting anyone. Do that normally or in another outfit and if someone sees you it's suspicious.

It feels like they've made this clever intricate agent generation system then basically negated the need for it with the rest of the game design

Evilmatt's picture