Though a leak forced Ubisoft to acknowledge the game early, the publisher officially took the wraps off of Watch Dogs Legion during its E3 2019 press conference. The game is set for release on March 6, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
As the leak suggested, Watch Dogs Legion is set in London in a post-Brexit version of the near future. There are multiple player characters, each with their own distinct skill sets and perks to unlock. The gameplay demo starts with a guy called Ian. After using some kind of stealth technology to flee from a drone, he hops in a black cab and is later shot and killed after tangling with the authorities–called the New Scotland Yard. Permadeath is confirmed, and upon Ian’s death the player is taken to a team menu where they switch to another character, an older lady called Helen, who has access to a spider drone that infiltrates and takes out a police station near the London Eye.
There’s a large significance placed on this team. The demo opens saying, “We’re building a resistance. One recruit at a time” and the first objective that’s shown tasks you with finding a recruit that can help Dedsec against militarized drones. After Helen access data on the recruit you’re trying to find (who’s called Jimmy), the game fluidly shifts to another character named Naomi without any sort of menu transition. She’s in Candem Market–which is now a black market–and has to rescue Jimmy. Naomi shows off some of Legion’s stealth mechanics here, climbing on top of a large drone to bypass enemy patrols. Things don’t stay quiet for long, however, and this makes way for melee combat and some brief shooting. It’s difficult to judge from this tiny snippet, but it seems as though all you have to do is get close enough to an enemy to execute an immediate killing blow.
E3 2019 Conference Schedule
After rescuing Jimmy and showing a cutscene in a pub (naturally), the demo concludes by unlocking a new playable operative: Jimmy Shaw, himself. You have to recruit people to play as them, and a montage shows there is a veritable boatload of potential playable characters.
Clint Hocking, creative director at Ubisoft Toronto, expanded on how recruiting other characters works and feeds into the narrative. “Your mission is building a resistance to fight back against the ‘authoritarian regime'” he starts out saying. “You can recruit and play as anyone. Every Londoner is fully simulated”, they have their own lives, different backstories, and you can play their origin mission to win them over to your cause. Each one is fully voiced and animated, and every cinematic will change depending on who you’re playing as. Clint Hocking wraps up by saying it’s a game about “the heroes that live in each of us.”
This seems particularly relevant considering the post-Brexit setting. The near-future version of London is immediately familiar, yet subtly altered by the presence of drones, a heavily armoured police force, and a sudden splash of yellow on the Union Jack. “Today, with Brexit, London’s at a turning point. It’s hard to predict what the future holds for London, the UK, or for the world” Clint Hocking explains. “The UK has become a surveillance state and freedom has been replaced with fear. Granddad is using crypto to buy a new kidney on the black market.” It’s certainly bleak, but beyond this Legion is also aggressively British. There are cockney accents, red double-decker buses passing by, and telephone boxes repurposed as free Wi-fi spots. Each character is also linked together by an AI companion called Bagley.
Ubisoft has a habit of denying its games are making political statements, despite obvious content and themes. It will be interesting to see if it maintains that stance with Watch Dogs Legion considering the creative director for the game just mentioned Brexit during an E3 press conference. It would seem unavoidable given the deliberate setting, but we’ll see.
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