Watch Dogs Legion hit at a weird time, releasing for PS4 just a few weeks before next-gen consoles launched, with a free next-gen upgrade available once the new consoles were out. The ambitious new Ubisoft title almost begs for next-gen, allowing you to recruit literally any NPC in the sprawling London map to become a playable character (can we still call them NPCs at this point?). But despite the power and capabilities of the PS5, Watch Dogs Legion feels stuck betwixt console generations, unable to ever break free of that traditional “Ubisoft open-world” formula despite its novel concept and advancements.
At its core, Watch Dogs Legion is a Watch Dogs game. The general open-world gameplay, hacking, and gunplay will feel familiar to anyone who’s played the past two games. What’s new here is the idea that London faces a not-so-farfetched dystopian occupation, so the hacker resistance group DeadSec needs to stir the pot that is beginning to boil within the city and recruit citizens—anybody and everybody—to rise up against the evil corporation Albion.
Each citizen has different skills that can either aid in gameplay or benefit your resistance team. Medical characters might drop the amount of time your characters spend off their feet after an injury. Someone in law could lower jail times for captured resistance members. Still others will have skills like faster hack times, bonuses to abilities, and improved combat skills. Some even have mixtures of positive and negative abilities, like a fighter I recruited that was a “glass cannon,” dealing but also taking more damage.
I would have loved to see the more varied traits played up a little bit more to create an incentive to seek out and recruit members of the team based on the missions you were about to undertake and how you wanted to complete them. While there’s a little bit of this element at play, it’s not nearly as strong as it could have been. You can realistically play through a good majority of the game as one single character, using the DeadSec-wide tech and upgrades, and largely ignoring specific bonuses you might get from certain characters. It would have been cool to see certain abilities or tech locked off from certain characters, forcing you to engage with the recruitment system a little bit more to build a team in harmony with each other. As it stands, the system is little more than a novelty.
Personally, I found that playing with permadeath mode on made this “play as anyone” feature far more engaging. Building up my “legion,” as it were, felt a little like XCOM with permadeath on. I had at least a little more investment into who I was bringing in and who I was sending out on missions, and losses held a much bigger impact as I lost skillsets that certain characters might have. But when every character plays the same and can largely wield the same weapons, gear, and abilities, swapping characters became little more than a cosmetic change, for the most part.
Narratively, Watch Dogs Legion is painfully on the nose, while at the same time being exceptionally bland and sterilized. It’s got definitively political roots—you absolutely can’t have a game about a resistance against an oppressive authoritative force without it being political—but it never really dives deep into the real issues that would cause and come from such a political dystopia. Watch Dogs Legion tosses around words and phrases like “fake news” and “oppression,” utilizing them more as topically relevant buzzwords than meaningful messaging. It has the opportunity to say a lot, but doesn’t really end up saying much at all; Perhaps not all surprising from a company with a track record for unprolific games rooted in shallowly palpable but underutilized political settings.
Pair the shallow political underpinnings with the “play as anyone” feature not giving you a meaningful protagonist to connect with, and Legion’s narrative falls flat. There’s little incentive to “rise up and resist” except “authoritarian corporation bad. Resistance good.” Frankly, it’s rather unfulfilling, even with a few moments and set pieces that showed promise throughout.
Watch Dogs Legion PS5 Review – Hackers Anonymous
The fantasy of Watch Dogs has always been the ability to hack anything and anyone, and that remains true here. Sure, you can play Watch Dogs Legion like it’s straight up Grand Theft Auto or any other chaotic open-world game, but the true thrill of the series lies in using your phone to hack cameras, panels, locks, vehicles, and virtually anything electronic. The best encounters are those when they don’t even notice you at all, figuring out a puzzle almost completely through hacking cameras, panels, and objects to clear the way to an objective.
Unfortunately it seem like the focus on hacking has fallen by the wayside. The hacking tools have been simplified, which leads to faster moment-to-moment gameplay, but ends up boiling Watch Dogs Legion down to a much more generic open-world game. The third-person gameplay is serviceable enough. It’s not exceptionally poor, but it doesn’t particularly stand out either.
Rather than a focus on novelty marketing points like “play as anyone,” I would love to see the hacking angle really fleshed out in future entries to allow the series to stand apart from other open-world games. In combination with the “play as anyone” mechanic, there were some incredible opportunities for hacking to come into play that ended up getting shoved into more traditional missions to recruit them (rescue a person, steal a car, hack an onsite server, etc.). Thus hacking becomes a simplified gameplay mechanic, rather than an opportunity to really delve into interesting ways in which the technology we rely on every day can be used to manipulate us. As with the narrative that showed a ton of potential but fails to blossom into anything meaningful, so too does the very crux of the fantasy that makes Watch Dogs so fascinating in the first place.
Watch Dogs Legion PS5 Review – That New Gen Tech
Watch Dogs Legion takes advantage of the PS5 by improving on load times, which is a good thing because there are a lot of them. Even on the new console, the pacing is chopped up by loading screens. They each only last a few brief moments thanks to the PS5 SSD, but it’s telling just how often they do come up. Again, this is where Watch Dogs Legion feels a bit stuck between generations, an idea with clear potential for the new tech, but held back by being built like a last-gen game. I can’t imagine suffering through the PS4 version though. The faster load times really do help a lot.
Visually, the game looks stunning, particularly the London environment. The neon soaked streets, wet cobblestones, and narrow alleys all evoke a feeling we’ve yet to get in an open world game. While so many games are content to be set in the same-old cities we’ve seen time and time again, just being in London alone is enough of difference to really make Watch Dogs Legion feel fresh. And the PS5 really enhances the lighting, reflections, and textures that litter the city, bringing it to life even more, even if it’s stuck at 30 fps while doing so.
And what a juttery 30 fps it is. I wouldn’t necessarily call Watch Dogs Legion’s performance “bad,” exactly. But character animations in particular are noticeably stiff and the lower framerate doesn’t do them any justice at all. Normally I’m not a framerate snob at all. I can deal with a 30 fps game without any problems (I preferred to play all of Spider-Man: Miles Morales in 30 fps thanks to the fidelity enhancements it offered). Legion, however, is hurting for a higher framerate option, and yes, even if that has to come at the expense of a high-fidelity dystopian London.
As for other PS5-specific features, Watch Dogs Legion basically touches on the bare minimum, with some light use of the adaptive triggers and haptics and very rudimentary use of the Activity Cards. I don’t expect third party developers (particularly with cross-gen games) to be fully taking advantage of these features yet, but the benefits of this new-gen version seem arguably light overall.
What you end up with is an experience that shows a ton of promise, but ends up being entirely average. It’s hard to call Watch Dogs Legion a bad game outright. It’s a serviceable, if traditional, open-world game with a boring story and novelty mechanics that play out better on paper than in execution. The PS5 version makes expected improvements to visuals and load times, but isn’t a standout example of a “next-gen” title.
Watch Dogs Legion review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS5. For more information, please read our Review Policy.