The hacky-smacky members of Watch Dogs' DedSec return for a third outing in the series that sees the hacktivist gang on the run, framed for a terrorist attack they didn't commit and looking to clear their name as they strike back against shadowy figures across a truly impressive vision of a dystopian near-future London. There are plenty of positives starting out here with that superbly realised setting, a decent story and the game's much-vaunted "Play as Anyone" mechanic giving players a seemingly endless parade of kooky operatives to get to grips with. However, it's not long before tedium takes hold and the deeply repetitive, often clumsy and unrefined nature of the core gameplay begins to take its toll.
Watch Dogs: Legion gets off to a strong start with an explosive opening sequence setting the scene for a tale of redemption and revenge that sees you, now one of the very last remaining members of DedSec, strike out, rebuilding your team with operatives plucked from everyday civilians you encounter on the street and hacking and sneaking your way through a host of famous landmarks as you attempt to uncover the mystery at the heart of the narrative. It's a formulaic story for sure, but it's more than solid enough to act as a decent backdrop to what should be some super fun hack-and-smack action.
Positive early impressions are bolstered by the game's wonderfully detailed and, quite frankly, terrifying vision of a London under strict lockdown, a deeply divided and paranoid city that's under 24/7 patrolled surveillance by armed flying drones, masked security forces and an army of cameras placed on every available surface. It's an immediately arresting and all-too plausible setting that looks and sounds the absolute business, and jumping into one of the city's signature black taxi cabs, buses or any of the many impressively designed future cars you'll find dotted around the streets is initially enthralling stuff that sees you speeding past instantly recognisable landmarks, now adorned by enormous neon adverts and great big gaudy holograms espousing the virtues of a society controlled by Albion - the private military group that plays a pivotal role in the game's story.
However, as you become accustomed to your next-gen surroundings and that initial buzz of new game excitement begins to wear away, the problems quickly begin to show through. Even basic stuff like the driving mechanics feel surprisingly clunky and unengaging, especially for a title where, let's face it, hopping into a car or onto a motorbike is absolutely gonna be a core part of any player's experience. There's a heaviness, a sort of leaden unresponsiveness to the vehicles here that takes the shine off gunning through the fantastically detailed streets of London. It's an element so integral to the overall fun factor that we really can't quite figure why it should arrive feeling so clunky, and it's a clunkiness that continues to repeatedly raise its head within the game's rather ramshackle combat.
Missions in Watch Dogs: Legion initially feel as though they're providing you with a refreshing number of options to play around with; hacking into cameras to distract guards, using your stealth camo to sidle past unsuspecting foes and assuming control of your trusty spiderbot in order to clamber through vents and scurry under tables as you take down security networks or download vital enemy data. The problem is that, beyond an expanded - but still rather uninspiring - set of upgrade options and unlockable gadgets, the core of what you get up to here really hasn't changed in any meaningful way since the last two entries in the series, and it feels disappointingly clumsy and repetitive to boot. The cycle of gameplay all-too quickly descends into simply taking on a mission, driving to a location and hacking and sneaking your way past some pretty dumb enemy AI in order to download some McGuffin or other, then rinsing and repeating ad-nauseum. The story beats that pad out these missions may sometimes impress, and the cutscenes always look good, but there's no escaping the fact it's all just fancy futuristic window-dressing for some bizarrely old-fashioned gameplay.
It's not necessarily bad - we do quite enjoy the constant spiderbot and security network puzzles that greet you as you enter almost any building - it's just that it's all so hugely uninspired given the strength of the game's setting and premise. Gameplay here is also hampered further by the fact it becomes even more disagreeable once you've been rumbled and the big guns come out. Weapons feel and sound like peashooters, firing limp shots off into enemies who stand still and soak it up, they're deeply unsatisfying to use and firefights all too often descend into farce as you struggle to move around behind walls and pillars, fighting with the game's antiquated and frustratingly sticky cover system, struggling with a camera that can't keep up with the action and trying and failing to get to grips with protagonists who reveal themselves to have all the grace of a tank when put under any kind of pressure.
The "play as anyone" mechanic too, star of the pre-release show, is an initially entertaining addition to the action, a novel idea that provides for some early fun as you mosey around the streets of London scanning citizens as potential team members. Everyone in the city has a procedurally generated backstory and set of skills to bring to the party and it can undoubtedly be a good time seeking out agents that feel like they suit your own particular style of unit. However, repetition again begins to set in quite quickly here because in reality there's no real pressing reason to bother recruiting beyond ensuring you've got a handful of agents to fall back on. You might hire a construction worker because they've got access to delivery drones you can use to lift cargo or ride to the top of a building, a tech specialist who comes with a spiderbot or someone with access to a personal vehicle, but all of these things are in plentiful supply and located nearby every mission you undertake, robbing the conceit of much of its value.
Switch the game to permadeath mode and bang the difficulty up to hard and things get more interesting as there's a real threat you could lose all your operatives and face a game over screen. However, you'll still for the most part find yourself recruiting simply to stave off this eventuality, and we didn't come across any operative that we felt we absolutely needed in order to be successful, apart from a handful of missions that force you into using a uniformed guard. In the end it's an initially fun but essentially superfluous gimmick - one that doesn't do much to cover up for the fact the gameplay here feels lacklustre and dated, and one that, more importantly, robs the narrative of a proper central protagonist to ground itself in.
There's undoubtedly still some fun to be had here for fans of the series or open world games in general - London looks and sounds amazing with plenty of collectibles to hoover up and opportunities to cause mischief. Hacking into vehicles, cameras, drones and traffic bollards to cause havoc is as enjoyable now as it was back in the days of Aiden Pearce and - if you can tolerate the mostly awful voice-acting - there's plenty of enjoyably salty dialogue to listen to but, overall, Watch Dogs: Legion has to go down as a pretty big disappointment. This is a game with oodles of potential that fails to deliver on a multitude of basic elements such as fun traversal, tight and punchy combat or decent mission variety, and in doing so it grows old and frustrating rather more quickly that it ought to have.
On a more positive note, having played a fair bit of this one on One X before switching things up to the Series X version we can say that the next-gen upgrade, coming in the form of a hefty 30GB update to the game, really does help give players who've made the jump a much better experience. We had serious issues with extremely long and frequent loading times with the vanilla version of Watch Dogs: Legion as well as numerous mission bugs forcing us to restart our game as objectives failed to materialise or became unresponsive. On Series X however, loading times have been cut quite dramatically - although they're still quite frequent - bugs are less common and the whole thing just feels much smoother to play.
Graphically, the addition of ray tracing and the fact the game now runs at a 4K resolution really adds to the immersion factor, London now looks absolutely glorious in the rain and, although the game is still locked at 30FPS, everything just feels zippier. If only the core gameplay here had been that little bit more refined and missions weren't so rote, this could have been a standout launch title for the new generation of consoles. As it stands, however, it's a sometimes fun but disappointingly old-hat affair masquerading as something fresh, futuristic and new.
Watch Dogs: Legion sees DedSec return to a hugely impressive representation of near-future London that looks and sounds amazing but can't long cover for the fact the core gameplay here is repetitive, janky stuff that's barely evolved since the days of Aiden Pearce. Traversal is hampered by uninspired, tanky vehicles, combat is scruffy, enemy AI disappointing, and hacking and sneaking highly repetitive. The "play as anyone" mechanic too, much vaunted pre-release, starts out fun but soon reveals itself to be a superfluous addition whose main effect is to rob the narrative of a proper central protagonist. Fans of the series may well still find plenty to enjoy here but in the end this is an old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill open world offering dressed up as something altogether more futuristic and fascinating.