The first thing I did in my 45 minutes with Watch Dogs: Legion was down a pint of lager as 79-year-old librarian Anette Schultz. Then I stumbled around the familiar-feeling pub before invading the privacy of everyone in my vicinity. I hacked into a dozen people’s phones, delving their profiles to find the perfect person with the skills I wanted to join my DedSec cell.
I found a middle-aged banker who packed 15% more pistol damage as a trait. There was a known criminal who could deal a huge 40% extra melee damage, but would spend double the time in jail than the average person if I were to get him arrested. One man’s bio said he was out tonight with his wife, so naturally, I hacked the phone of the woman he was speaking to to make sure that he wasn’t out committing adultery. He wasn’t, but he still didn’t quite have what I was looking for to become a member of my elite squad.
Ultimately, I decided to recruit dart-playing Durgila Dev. A 24-year-old rugby player who owns multiple cats and enjoys playing in fantasy sports leagues. Now all I had to do was convince her to join the battle against the oppressive force casting an Orwellian shadow over London.
Luckily, Durgila already possessed a significant amount of support for DedSec’s cause. This meant that I only needed to complete one objective before gaining her full allegiance. Up until this point, I hadn’t felt like I’d been playing a Watch Dogs game. Hunting for new recruits and profiling each of them really made me understand how Legion’s “play as anyone” system works and genuinely felt like something completely fresh – not just for the series, but in video games in general. It was only when I headed to New Scotland Yard that it all started to feel very Watch Dogs. Durgila had a criminal record on file, which I needed to erase from the system in order for her to trust me. Like riding a bike, the hacking and infiltration mechanics of Watch Dogs came flowing back into my fingers.
I first had to locate the server that housed the data by moving between the building’s numerous CCTV cameras. I stealthed past enemies, staying low and quiet (primarily because my chosen grandma’s mobility skills are significantly lower than average). But this didn’t stop my septuagenarian Annette from silently taking down a couple guards on my way to the server room. Her knees may be brittle but she still packs a punch. I then manually hacked the server and wiped Durgila’s info from the database, before making a swift-ish exit from the building. This all felt very routine Watch Dogs, but it’s a gameplay loop I’ve come to enjoy.
All of this meant that my cat loving, rugby playing friend was now willing to join my squad, so I hit the recruit button and promptly assigned her one of the three classes the game offers. I opted against the combat-focused Enforcer and stealth-centric Infiltrator, instead opting for the technical expertise of the Hacker class. This particular option offers a number of perks based around drones. From a choice of four, I went for one that automatically tags nearby enemies when operating an aerial drone. Durgila’s currently level nine, but two more perk slots open up when she hits levels 10 and 15 respectively, promising a lot of variety and skill combinations between squad members. It was time for Durgila to join the cause and start a story mission.
Time to Go to Work
The short story mission I played began with me meeting an informant on a park bench in Westminster. It all felt very James Bond. The conversation played out in a cutscene that my newly recruited hacker slotted into perfectly. I never would have been able to tell that this was one of the thousands of possible people that could have been on the bench. I’m sure that over time I will hear the same voices appearing in different people’s bodies, but I’d choose this over the voiceless protagonist of experiences such as Red Dead Online every time.
The information I gain from this encounter places an objective marker on my map in the center of Camden’s stables, where a group of gang members are based. If you aren’t familiar with the geography of London then you may not know that Westminster and Camden aren’t very close together, even in this condensed version of the city. I therefore had two choices: hop on the tube to fast travel, or switch to one of my other team members who may be closer to the location. It just so happened that my new favorite action-packed pensioner was in the area. The choice is simple– I choose Anette.
Anette approached the neon-drenched streets of Camden with her pistol set to stun. Only the creaking of her joints could be heard over the buzzing of the electric signs and rumble of a distant train. She was far from her day job. Far from rearranging all of those books in alphabetical order. Far from her comfort zone. But that didn’t stop me from hacking into an enemy surveillance drone to scout out my targets. I then deployed her spider-drone, a hacker class-specific gadget, and remote controlled it to take out a couple of leather-clad grunts. That quickly got destroyed – it was time for London’s deadliest 79-year-old to get her hands dirty.
I promptly headed into the stables, finding cover behind a pile of crates presumably containing hundreds of excess glowsticks. Bullets rained down from walkways above, narrowly flying past her quaffed, silver hair. A dozen headshots later, I emerged from the gunfight unmarked. Many stunned bodies laid on the ground where in years previous all sorts of nick-nackery would have been on sale, from nodding dogs to pictures of famous Hollywood stars. I was then informed of a dead drop that needed picking up from a bin in Trafalgar Square. Anette Schultz’s work was done for the day.
Now back in the body of Durgila Dev I approached the dead-drop as a cutscene played out. It is revealed to be an ambush, and I’m surrounded by heavily armed guards all bearing the company name Albion, a privatized military force patrolling the streets of near-future London. Chaos ensues as a detonator is shown and the neighboring Canadian embassy explodes. I briefly attempt to combat the approaching forces but quickly realize I’m fighting a losing battle. I run. I find a nearby road and manage to hijack a self-driving vehicle before making a swift escape from the area. If only Anette were here to see me.
This is where my mission ends. But I couldn’t help but feel how differently it would have ended if I had chosen to control a team member of my DedSec squad. Anette would have likely not been able to exit the area before being cut down by the Albion’s forces – since she moves with the speed of room-temperature honey. Her lavender knitted cardigan lay strewn across the pavement by Nelson’s Column. Due to the permadeath nature of Watch Dogs: Legion, this mission could have played out very differently, potentially the last time I played with my star team member, my sweet, precious Anette.
It’s this element of choice and consequence that has me so excited for Legion. Yes, I enjoy the fundamental hacking, stealth, and combat inherent to Watch Dogs. But a non-lethal approach is available, and to an extent encouraged, with around 50% of the firearms in Watch Dogs: Legion being non-deadly. The satisfying revamped melee system also supports this. But it’s that twist on open-world storytelling that has me most intrigued. Each mission can be played in a variety of ways with long-term consequences for the characters you choose to make a part of the plot.
In my short time with Watch Dogs Legion I already began to feel a connection to the people in my squad and can only think of what those bonds will be like over the course of hours. Honestly, all I can think about is how I can enforce a 75-year age minimum to be on my squad, and take back control of London, one slow step at a time.
Simon Cardy is a video producer for IGN in the UK and can’t wait to form his Grandma Guerrilla force. Follow him on Twitter.