After a strong showing from Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft is going back to its hacker-centric open-world formula with Watch Dogs: Legion. We got a pretty close look at the third game in the series at E3 2019, and it looks to expand on the ideas of the games of the past pretty significantly. You’ll still use your amped-up smartphone to hack the planet in every mission, turning security cameras, alarms, weapons, traffic lights, and lots of other connected devices to your whim. But with Legion, Ubisoft is adding a lot of systems that make the world of DedSec feel deeper and more customizable. You’re not just a part of a hacker revolution–you’re building it from the ground up.
Though there haven’t been many more details about Watch Dogs: Legion since E3, we did spend some time going hands-on with the new game, getting a sense of how it handles and how its new NPC-centric character system works. Here’s everything we’ve learned about the game, from its announcement at E3 2019 to now, including when we might expect it to be released. We’ll continue to update this as more information is revealed prior to its release.
What Is Watch Dogs: Legion?
Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series puts you in the role of a hacker trying to bring down a corrupt government surveillance state. In the first game, set in Chicago, you played Aiden Pearce, a hacker outlaw with the ability to tap into and manipulate ctOS, a city-spanning computer system that surveilled and collected data on just about everybody. The bones of Ubisoft’s open-world game were similar to what the developer has turned out in other franchises–it was a third-person cover shooter that mixed in stealth elements, and in which you also could hop into just about any car to reach various destinations and evade the pursuit of police cars. What Watch Dogs added was the hacking element, which let you change traffic lights to cause collisions and stop pursuers, jack into surveillance cameras to see enemy patrol routes and more carefully stealth your way around them, or set off enemies’ radios or weapons to create distractions.
In Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft switched to a new character, Marcus, and his group of anarchist hackers known as DedSec. In that game, ctOS had spread to San Francisco, and the hackers were trying to overthrow the system and free the city. It also had a fairly political bent, satirizing tech culture in the city and leaning into a few charged topics of the modern world, such as police violence against minorities and people of color.
Watch Dogs: Legion continues down the path set by Watch Dogs 2. You’re again working with DedSec, but things have gone full-on dystopia. The game is set in a possible future of our current world, taking place in a post-Brexit London that has become a police state as the government has struggled to deal with the fallout from the current political climate. Instead of joining a hacker collective of various characters as in Watch Dogs 2, however, in Legion, you’re building DedSec from the start of the game. You do that by recruiting various non-player characters into the fold. The biggest change in Legion is the fact that every character in the game could potentially become a player character if you do what’s necessary to recruit them, which includes exercising your hacker abilities to learn about their backstories, changing their opinions about DedSec, and completing loyalty missions to turn them to your cause. Any NPC in the city is a potential recruit, and they all have randomized abilities and foibles that can make them assets to your team under the right circumstances.
While most of the hacking gameplay systems from the past two games persist into Legion, it’s the NPC system that really sets it apart.
How Legion’s NPC System Works
In past Watch Dogs games, your hacking repertoire included the Profiler, a system that let you instantly dig up a little bit of information on passing NPCs and characters you might interact with. That info sometimes gave you gameplay options, like siphoning some funds from a person’s bank account, but mostly was just window dressing to make various folks wandering Chicago or San Francisco seem a little more real.
The Profiler is an essential tool in Legion, however. Every time you use it to scan an NPC in the game, you learn key information about that person. You’ll see their occupation and what they’re currently up to–all the NPCs have jobs and schedules in Legion–as well as their intrinsic traits. A given person might deal significantly more melee damage than other characters, or be adept at hacking. They might also have physical ailments; one elderly character we played at E3 was a great hacker but physically weak, and moved more slowly than our other recruits because of her advanced age. (In the same way you learn about potential recruits, you can also use the Profiler on enemies to learn their strengths and weaknesses ahead of a battle.)
You’ll also receive a little backstory about each NPC you scan and get a look at their opinion on DedSec. The authorities in London consider DedSec a terrorist organization and rail against it in the media, so some people have a critical view of the hackers, while others are more sympathetic to their cause.
In order to recruit an NPC, you first need to raise their opinion of DedSec, which you can do by helping them with their problems you learn about from the Profiler or doing deeds they appreciate in a Robin Hood-like way. Characters also remember negative things about DedSec’s actions, so you’ll need to be careful about what you do and how people see you. As you raise those opinions, you’ll eventually get a chance to complete a specific mission for that character tied to their backstory. One character we recruited at E3 was being blackmailed by corrupt cops, requiring us to infiltrate New Scotland Yard and erase the dirt they had on our would-be DedSec addition. After completing the mission, the guy joined up, which added him to the roster of up to 20 DedSec characters we could have at any given time.
Character Classes, Perks, And Switching
Once you have characters, you open up a host of other systems related to them. Legion includes three character classes, and when you get a new recruit, you assign them one of your choice:
- Enforcer, a combat-heavy class for characters who are good at shooting.
- Infiltrator, a class better suited for stealth and melee fighting, with the ability to briefly become invisible.
- Hacker, a class that can control London’s police drones and gets a spider bot to help with sneaking around, manipulating computers.
You generally want to choose classes for your characters that align with their intrinsic traits; melee fighters are better as Infiltrators, while characters who can soak up a lot of damage make good Enforcers, and so on. Playing as your character can also level them up to unlock additional abilities and perks over time, so it’s worth investing time in your recruits.
As you recruit characters, you’ll be able to switch to them on the fly whenever you want. Since everybody still has a job and a schedule, characters you’re not playing as will go about their lives in the meantime; when you swap to them, you’ll find them wherever they are in the city. When you’re not using characters, they’re still an active part of the group, however. They’ll chime in on the radio to comment on your missions and actions, and some have passive perks that can affect your gameplay even when they’re not around. In our E3 demo, we found ourselves fleeing police, and got a notification that another character’s passive trait would increase police response times to make it a bit easier to get away. Abilities like that effectively make it feel as if the rest of DedSec is working with you and helping you out, even when they’re not around.
Legion’s Five Stories And How They Work
Legion finds the city of London “facing her downfall.” Various hardships in the post-Brexit era have crippled the government, allowing power-hungry opportunists to take advantage. One such is Albion, a private military company hired by the government to keep the peace, but which vastly infringes on the rights and freedoms of the citizenry. Our time with Legion also suggested there’s some intrigue in the crumbling government itself, with spies and other actors trying to consolidate their power in the chaos.
According to Ubisoft, Legion doesn’t just tell one big story across its campaign; instead, it features five distinct storylines that sound like they’ll work sort of like episodes that you’ll uncover as you play.
“Each of those storylines tackles a variety of topics, from AI and automation and their effect on society to oppression from a private military controlling the city, and obviously playing a resistance with that team is caught up in that,” lead producer Sean Crooks told us at E3. “It’s crucial. It’s very important and critical to the story and the team.”
It sounds like it might be tough to tell a convincing story using a cast of random NPCs, but our time with Legion suggested Ubisoft has a pretty good handle on that idea. When you hit a story cutscene, whatever character you happen to be playing becomes its protagonist, just like when you’re playing the rest of the game. Characters have distinct animations, voice actors, and dialogue lines, so it doesn’t feel like you’re seeing a set of generic animations and lines with your character’s particular appearance added in. That works to help make it feel as though the characters you recruit are the fully fleshed-out stars of the game, even though you can pull them from literally anywhere.
There are other nice touches to go along with the cutscene system. Characters interact with each other and chime in on what’s happening over the radio when you’re not playing them, lending them a little more personality. While you’re in charge of their actions, little touches like these help to make the cast feel more real and alive. Given the fact that a big part of Watch Dogs 2’s success was its solid and well-written cast of characters, Legion’s NPC system initially sounded like it would undercut the game’s ability to tell its stories–but from our time at E3, at least, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Combat And The New Melee System
As in past Watch Dogs games, you’ll get into your fair share of gunfights in Legion. Once you recruit a character to your team, they seemingly get some special ops training, because every member of DedSec can handle themselves with a gun, a taser, or a punch to an enemy’s face. Combat is similar to previous games when it comes to guns–you’ll be able to snag both lethal and non-lethal options, taking cover behind objects and shooting around corners or over their tops to avoid taking damage yourself.
One big change to the Watch Dogs formula is a new melee combat system that gives you more options for dealing with enemies. In the past, getting into a gunfight was a pretty sure way to wreck your attempts at stealth, with enemies pouring in to take you down from all directions once you’d opened fire. The melee system solves that problem, giving you a way to dispatch baddies without necessarily tipping off every single person in a building that you’re there.
The melee system is pretty robust, as well. In addition to stealth takedowns, it also includes the ability to dodge and block, and combos you can execute against enemies. You won’t just be slamming the punch button when an enemy turns around and spots you at an inopportune moment–you’ll have to think about how to beat them hand-to-hand.
Is There Permadeath?
With a roster of characters you can recruit from anywhere, it stands to reason that if you can add characters, you can also lose them. Legion includes a system in which your characters can die for good, although it’s more of a risk-reward proposition than a looming threat throughout the game.
When a character takes too much damage, they can be captured by authorities and arrested, requiring you to free them, or they can be grievously wounded and require some time in a hospital. In both cases, the character is out of commission, and if you lose them on a mission, you’ll fail it and have to try it over again with someone new. But there’s also a system that lets you rally from a defeat, at the risk of potentially losing a character to permanent death.
As we saw at E3, if a character takes enough damage that they would be knocked out, you can choose to succumb and let the mission fail, keeping the character alive but incapacitated. Conversely, you can also choose to fight through the pain, giving the character a chance to continue. You get a second chance at completing the mission without losing your progress, but at a serious risk: If your character takes too much damage a second time, they’ll die for good. In practice, that means permadeath is possible, but something you can avoid if you’re willing to repeat missions. Should you be willing to go for broke, however, you might find members of DedSec will fall in battle, never to return.
Is There Multiplayer?
Yes, there’s multiplayer. As with Watch Dogs 2, Watch Dogs: Legion will support cooperative play online with as many as four players. You’ll also share your progression through both single-player and cooperative modes, so playing with your friends won’t be a setback to your progress when you’re alone.
As with Beyond Good and Evil 2, Ubisoft announced it has partnered with HitRecord, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s media company, to create music for Legion. HitRecord’s deal is that it works with artists to basically crowdsource content. Artists can collaborate through the community to make various works; in the case of music, one artist might write a guitar riff or piano line, while another contributes a different instrument, and so on. Ubisoft contracted with HitRecord for 10 songs that’ll play on in-game radios, with each song earning its creators $2,000, split between collaborators. Their names will also appear in the credits. Creators whose songs aren’t chosen for the game get no compensation.
Will It Be On Xbox Series X/PS5?
Yup. As Ubisoft confirmed in October, Watch Dogs: Legion will be a next-generation console game, popping up on both Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles from Microsoft. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said the game will “take full advantage” of the power of those machines, but of course, we don’t yet know what that means. Legion will also be released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, for those who aren’t keen on a console upgrade, and on Google’s Stadia streaming platform.
Ubisoft originally slated Legion’s release date for March 6, 2020. In November 2019, however, the company announced that it was delaying the game into its 2020-2021 fiscal year, without giving it a new release date. That means as of right now, we can expect Legion to release sometime after March 2020–but we don’t know exactly when.