Watch Dogs Legion Preview: 45 minutes with Ubisoft’s ambitious Brexit hacking adventure

Watch Dogs Legion is the latest entry in Ubisoft’s open-world hacking adventure series, and takes us to a controversial, near-future vision of London that sits in the dystopian aftermath of Brexit. Revealed at E3 2019, it allows you to take control of any character in the city and recruit them to the DedSec cause.

Having had a chance to go hands-on with Legion at this year’s biggest gaming show, we came away incredibly impressed by its ambitious world, innovative mechanics and sheer amout of fun to be had across London as an elderly woman tasing fascists. However, we’re still a bit mixed on the politics of it all.

Read on to find out my thoughts on Watch Dogs Legion alongside all the latest new, release date, gameplay preview and all the latest trailers.

Watch Dogs Legion release date – when is it coming out?

Ubisoft confirmed during its E3 2019 press conference that Watch Dogs Legion will be launching for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Stadia on March 6 2020, coming out ahead of Cyberpunk 2077 and right after Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

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Watch Dogs Legion

The eldery in Watch Dogs Legion love a bit of national service, Coronation Street and tazing fools in the street

Watch Dogs Legion Gameplay Preview – We play 45 minutes at E3 2019

Before I walked into the hands-on demo for Watch Dogs Legion, I caught up with the narrative director on all things Brexit. I touched on the fragile state of the country right now, and how hatred and division has grown since the referendum essentially tore the nation apart. The decision that was made in 2016 has made Legion possible, an open-world experience set in a dystopian vision of London where the UK left the EU, seemingly leaving its status as a functioning society along with it.

Despite using Brexit as its foundation, I was told that Legion doesn’t want to explicitly explore the politics that sit inside the Brexit result, instead piggybacking on it to tell its own stories of emerging extremists, corrupt cryptocurrency and the rising power of a resistance movement. They’re all fighting back against the establishment, but any identity that pertains to the reasons why Brexit happened in reality are washed aside. It feels like a cop-out in some ways, which is a shame since Watch Dogs Legion is absurdly fun to play.

You play as DedSec. Not an individual member of the guerrilla group, but as a collective, switching between operatives at the press of a button, stepping into the shoes of different members to enact your ideology. In Legion, you can play as every single character who roams the open-world. But first, you’ll need to recruit them. My demo began in a stereotypical English pub, where I took control of an elderly woman who was unusually skilled with a smartphone and a dab hand with tazers.

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Watch Dogs Legion

Taking down tyranny with friends will be an option in Watch Dogs Legion 

Helped along by one of the game developers, I began scanning the watering hole’s patrons and staff, settling on a clueless barista to recruit for the cause. After scanning him, he’s added to my contacts. From here I can procure more information about his allegiances, thoughts on DedSec and the steps I must take to recruit him. To take control of him, I had to complete a quest that saw me breaking into a heavily guarded building to erase sensitive information.

Legion is breaking new ground with this system, weaving an endless stream of faces into the unfolding narrative. Each member of DedSec has bespoke animations and dialogue, so depending on your character at the time, cutscenes may unfold completely differently. I’m worried this will make certain situations fall flat, since it’ll be hard to find emotional investment in a constantly changing protagonist, especially if politics are already being placed on the backburner.

Nothing lasts forever, though. Permadeath is a prominent feature in Legion, and if you lose in battle or find yourself in a nasty traffic collision – that operative is gone forever. I was told you’ll be able to upgrade individual skills, gain perks and trick out the aesthetic of each DedSec member, so losing one could be a major loss. You can store a maximum of 20 operatives, and they go about their daily routines when not controlled, making Legion’s vision of London feel like a living-breathing world.

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Watch Dogs Legion

The visual aesthetic is wacky and erratic with a lovely dose of charm, just like the last game

Operatives are split into three distinct classes, and I’ve compiled a little bit more of information about them below:

  • Assault – This archetype is all about rushing in with endless gunfire and explosions, taking down foes with sheer firepower
  • Infiltrator – Focused on stealth, this class is capable of infiltrating highly-guarded areas without being spotted by hiding bodies, disabling cameras and using other gadgets.
  • Hacker – Well, this one speaks for itself, and those who loved the first two games will find plentiful abilities they gelled with.

I love sneaking around and murdering guards without them knowing I’m there, so I quickly opted for the infiltrator, and I wasn’t disappointed. Beyond a story mission which unfortunately bugged out as I eliminated guards, the 45 minutes I spent with Watch Dogs Legion were wonderfully liberating. I was given free-reign to explore 20% of the open-world, travelling to locations such as Picadilly Circus, Camden Market and Buckingham Palace.

Ubisoft has genuinely nailed the London aesthetic, albeit if it was drenched in a futuristic hue amidst a dystopian hellscape. But otherwise, all of the locations I ventured past were faithfully recreated. I even heard the general populace calling me a “w****r” as I barged passed them, happy to return their manners with a roundhouse kick to the face. The melee combat in Legion is excellent, a non-lethal option for those who don’t fancy using firearms.

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Watch Dogs Legion

And we think our usual commute is a hassle

The gun economy is something I questioned the developers about, especially given how Britain doesn’t have much of a gun culture. It’s apparently the result of the growing extremist threat, with civilians taking steps to protect themselves. However, if shooting fools in London doesn’t feel right to you, Ubisoft has addressed this with ‘Combat Escalation.’ In a nutshell – don’t use guns on bad guys, and they won’t use them on you.

I put this to the test towards the end of my demo, travelling across the map to a weapons barracks packed with militia. This was a completely spontaneous move on my part, surprised by the sprawling population of baddies patrolling the place. After hopping a fence, I crouched and began taking them out one by one. After a while, I pulled out my silenced pistol, and I couldn’t believe how absurdly satisfying it was to pull off headshots.

Ubisoft has clearly taken a page from John Wick’s book in this regard, as you grab unfortunate souls from behind before pumping several rounds into their chest. It’s delightfully brutal, expressed with a weight that wasn’t present in past games. Formulating a strategy, whether you’re hacking camera, planting bombs or sending in drones before taking over without a single mistake, is a joy and I hope Legion’s vision of London is filled with such distractions.  

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You hack and take control of drones, cameras, spider bots and countless other gadgets

Given the only story mission I played bugged out, I didn’t see much of how Legion’s story will work. According to the narrative designer, it’s a work of “speculative fiction” that is shying away from blatant political statements, using an on-going political divide as means for telling its own stories. Authoritarianism is on the rise across London and we’ll see this explored in five distinct storylines. The premise being presented here is inherently political in nature, so I’m disheartened to see that, at the moment, it doesn’t have much to say. Fingers crossed the full game changes my mind.  

Multiplayer will focus on four player co-operative play as you team up to take on missions situated around combat, infiltration and working together to tackle objectives. Endgame combat is also promised, but what that ends up entailing at release is a mystery to us right now. Legion is helmed by Ubisoft Toronto and Clint Hocking – a director who cut his teeth on experimental releases like Far Cry 2 and Splinter Cell. If this proves anywhere near as ambitious, we’re in for a treat.

First Impressions

Watch Dogs Legion boasts a gorgeous, near-future setting with a mechanical hook we simply haven’t seen before, and it could breathe fresh air into the genre. Taking control of anyone and everyone is so liberating, and I can’t wait to take back London from fascist scum in 2020.

I still have misgivings about how it’s using Brexit as a backdrop for its own dystopian fiction, especially when the referendum result continues to fuel real-world examples of bigotry and fascism. For me, a story like this needs to go big or go home, and I’m hoping the full game does the former.

Watch Dogs Legion Trailer – How does it look?

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