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Opinion: Watch Dogs Legion's 'Play as Anyone' Isn't Working for Me

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BatmanH

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Aug 25, 2020
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After roughly four hours with Watch Dogs Legion, I can tell you that everything it adapts from previous games is great. It expands on your ability to easily hack almost everything at the touch of a button – the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind – and offers a big sandbox to experiment in. However, while the moment-to-moment gameplay loop seems to be solid so far, Legion’s big new “play as anyone” feature might not be as effective. The feature sounded tantalizing, but I‘m a bit worried that “play as no one” is probably a more accurate tagline. In the original Watch Dogs, you played as Aiden Pearce, a vigilante hacker out for revenge. In Watch Dogs 2, you were the more likable Marcus Holloway, hellbent on returning the freedom of privacy back to the people. These characters weren’t perfect, nor were their motivations, but you at least had shoes to fill and felt like a piece of the larger puzzle. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/watch-dogs-legion-gameplay-overview-ubisoft-forward"] In Watch Dogs Legion, however, you’re no one. Literally. You are essentially DedSec as a whole. The only character, it seems, that’s guaranteed to see you through to from the opening to closing credits is a smarmy AI assistant Bagley (think a snarkier version of Tony Stark’s Jarvis). The characters you control exist, to be sure – they’re all fully voiced and have a variety of personalities, and Ubisoft has allegedly taken the time gained by its delay to refine NPC diversity – but, even so, eventually you start to get the feeling that they are no more than empty vessels that serve only to do your overarching bidding. And while some players may find the idea of being a mastermind who solves various worldly problems from a God’s-eye view exciting, it unfortunately seems to create a narrative disconnect that is left for the various side characters and villains to fill. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=%22The%20NPCs%20I%20recruited%20don%E2%80%99t%20fill%20the%20void%20left%20by%20a%20single%20carefully%20crafted%20protagonist.%22"] The very first mission of Watch Dogs Legion has you infiltrating Parliament as Dalton, a former MI5 agent and one of the few characters that everyone will play as in Legion. The mission, which you can check out part of below, is classic espionage action complete with witty banter between Dalton, Bagley, and a few members of DedSec that could be ripped right out of the Kingsman movies. I only got to spend around 20 minutes with Dalton before my demo was transported to a later section of the game where I was in full-on “play as anyone” mode. And after tackling four main story missions as a few different characters, I found I never cared a lick about any of them as much as I did Dalton. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/07/12/watch-dogs-legion-6-minutes-of-first-mission-gameplay"] For example, there’s a story mission that requires you to recruit an Albion guard to sneak into their headquarters and gather information on their leader. This character barely spoke, and all the witty back-and-forths with Bagley were gone. You go from controlling someone with personality to what is little more than a lifeless shell wearing the costume I happened to need at that time. This is why the moment that mission was done, I instantly switched back to Claire, who I had decided was just going to be my main character, though not because I found her to be more interesting than other recruitable characters. I’d switch to someone else if I needed them for a given task (like getting a construction worker to sneak onto a job site), then switch back to her once the job was complete. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it at least allowed me to somewhat connect with one of the characters I was controlling. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=The%20Watch%20Dogs%20series%20has%20always%20seemed%20more%20focused%20on%20gameplay%20than%20story."] The idea of playing as anyone does sound awesome, especially given the sheer amount of folks populating the streets of virtual London, but the NPCs I recruited don’t fill the void left by a single carefully crafted protagonist. That’s because they aren’t anyone. They aren’t real characters. They’re essentially skins with slightly different dialogue and different voice actors -- and sometimes not even that. Recruiting a world character was really cool the first time, but after seeing previews and videos from other folks throughout the internet, I found that my recruitment process wasn’t nearly as unique as I once thought. Looking through various videos online, I stumbled upon several instances that featured repeated recruitment missions and multiple characters voiced by the same actors. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=watch-dogs-legion-screenshots&captions=true"] I get it: the world features thousands of citizens. There couldn’t possibly be a unique voiceover artist for every one of them, nor did I think that they would all offer a one-time-only quest specific to that person. But when you’re expected to spend dozens of hours recruiting people to DedSec to fill out your ranks, how long is it going to be before the tedium of doing the same recruitment quests sets in, just to unlock slightly different versions of the same character with some combination of the dozen or so special abilities? The Watch Dogs series has always seemed more focused on gameplay than story. But without a compelling story - or at least an interesting main character to invest in – I’m not sure there’s enough for me, personally, to want to spend dozens of hours with just the recruit-shoot-hack-repeat gameplay. But maybe – hopefully – it opens up. Not having seen how Legion introduces the mechanic itself, it’s possible the foundations of “play as anyone” offers more narrative impact than just being dropped into the world. Maybe we’ll see these random characters start to come into their own, and help the broader scope of DedSec’s mission take the full reins as a central story. I sure hope so, because after playing for just a short while, I sort of get the feeling I’ve seen most of what Legion has to offer and, right now, it’s making me miss Marcus and T-Bone. [poilib element="accentDivider"] Mark Medina is a Features Producer at IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Medina.

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