Watch Dogs: Legion Review: Reflective But Unthoughtful Resistance
Watch_Dogs is one of my favorite series. I have played the original Watch_Dogs for about 59hrs (according to Steam), and Watch_Dogs 2 for about 35-40hours (on PS4). And even though the first Watch_Dogs was kind of a let down because of its misleading marketing, it was still a good game, and Watch_Dogs 2 just build-up on the original formula and in many ways was better than the first one. Watch Dogs: Legion, on the other hand, feels like a side stepped downgrade. It does a few things better and different, but it is missing out on a lot of things that the original duo had, and made them great.
Watch Dogs: Legion is out on 29th october, available for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One S, X, Xbox Series S, X, and Stadia. The main story is about 15-20hours long, depending on your playstyle & costs about Rs 3999 on console & Rs 3250 on the Epic Store. The game also has in-game cosmetics only (at least at the time of writing) microtransactions. This review was done on PC using RTX 3080 & Ryzen 3700x.
The game is set in a near dystopian future London, where everything is controlled by ctOS, a city-wide operating system where everything is connected. London is facing its fall down, and DedSec is your last hope. It is corrupted by Albion, a private security company, led by Nigel Cass who has taken over London after Zero-Day Attack. Zero-Day is an enemy faction that frames DedSec for the bombings. Now it’s upon DedSec to find the true identity and intentions of Zero-Day and liberate London from the hands of Albion and all the enemy factions that are corrupting London to its core. It involves Human Trafficking, Human consciousness, and many other themes.
The game starts off great, and the introduction to mechanics is good. The first operative that you play as, is a Spy, James Bond-esque Spy. Trying to stop the bombing, but naturally, you fail and the whole story kicks off from there. The whole starting arc shows how disposable the operatives are in the story and in the game. The story however tries to tackle a lot of things, like human trafficking, terrorism, human unconsciousness, and a few more, which makes the faction/side story interesting, but it stops right over there. It does not translate well into the main storyline. There are about 5 chapters in the game, each titled according to the factions you are trying to stop while also trying to find the real identity and intention of Zero-Day.
The 4 factions that you need to stop are Clan Kelly, Broco Tech, SIRS & Albion. While each has its own sub-story, which is interesting and worth playing, the way they tie up to the main story is weak and predictable. I loved the villains in this game, as they had their own stories and agenda, and their plots are fleshed out quite well.
Overall the main story is a little predictable and the ending is a letdown. The Villians and their story arcs are entertaining and worth playing for.
The gameplay is where Watch Dogs: Legion lags a bit behind. Watch Dogs 2 is built upon what the original Watch_Dogs offered but in Legion, most of those things are being thrown away. Bare minimum parkour, no city-wide blackouts, no traffic signal hack, no bridge control, and few more things have been removed from the game. However, there are a few interesting additions in the game like you can recruit any NPC, you can also recruit enemy NPC. Each NPC has their own sets of skills and/or vehicle. Like if you recruit a SPY, they will have a car that can turn invisible or can shoot rockets.
I do like that the operative you have recruited and playing as is part of the cutscenes and have actual dialogues and don’t just stand around. You have to recruit each and every member of the group individually, the more you recruit the more people are there in stand-in during cutscenes and the safe house becomes more lively. As you recruited each and every one of them, you know organically and their involvement is shown during the said cutscenes.
Playing as any operative has its own perks and abilities, however, it doesn’t change the core game, all progress you have made playing one operative, carries over to another, like the guns and the upgrades are all shared. No need to grind for each and every operative. Throughout the game, I played mostly as Construction Worker as they have drone access, that can be used almost anywhere, to access anything. Recruitment follows the same standard template, you find someone you want to play as, you talk to them, they ask you a favor, you do that, and then you can play as them. It does get old, but it is completely optional and you can just stick to one character throughout the game, the game keeps unlocking operatives on its own, once you complete a specific mission or side quests.
Each Operative plays differently, has different animations too like a construction worker would be rough and tough in combat using a wrench to knockout, but a spy will be more agile and fast in hand to hand combat, an old person wouldn’t be able to run or fight. The way each recruit talk compliments their personality too. They have their own quips and one-liners.
The game does not reward you extra for stealth but it has tons of the option for you to play in a stealthy manner as well as going in like a brute. You can also complete the game without killing anyone (except the main baddies). Each mission can be played and completed within 5mins or 45mins, depending on your play style and the way you like to progress. It’s very dynamic and adapts the way you play it. If the mission is to infiltrate a stronghold and download files from a specific location within the stronghold, you can sneak your way in, on top of a drone, and then jump down, download, and disappear, or you can go in guns blazing, killing everyone and download the files. It doesn’t matter if it a security post or a fort, you can sneak in anywhere and sneak out without anyone knowing.
There is a negative point here, that it is easy to kill the soldiers if you are equipped right, but when reinforcement comes in (if they are called by someone), they are not challenging as well. 3-4 Soldiers come in as reinforcement and that’s it. Once you kill them, there are no follow-ups and you can take your sweet time. It makes the game a bit too easy. Most of the missions are kinda generic and bland, but with interesting set pieces spread throughout the game, it keeps it from getting old and repetitive. There is a set-piece where you control a micro-drone, which was fun.
You can also drink like a drunkard and play with a football, both together and individually. You can also play darts in-game, although it is a little tough, but fun. Overall side games are fun, nothing out of the ordinary. The game also lets you control a spider-bot, the feel of controlling and playing as a spider-bot is good in general, and it really helps if you are trying to be stealthy.
Driving in the game is fun, you drive on the left side of the road (the correct side), for a change. The driving feels light, especially after how mishandled it was in the first one, the heaviness of the car is eliminated mostly, turning and roaming around in the car is a thumbs up, however, most of the car gives somewhat the same feeling while driving around. Riding on a bike is a breeze too, and that was my preferred way to travel in the game.
Legion isn’t as challenging as the previous games. Albion task force is a joke, as they can be ditched in less than 5 seconds on pursuit after committing a crime.
Overall I wish the game was slightly more challenging and had more hacks and features than what was given.
The skills and upgrades aren’t that fleshed out as I would personally like it to be, there are about 6 gadgets, 6 weapons, 6 hacks, and 6 upgrades ranging from hacking turrets & drones to disrupting enemies & blasting the traps, it really depends on the play, I like to sneak around and hide.
But it is kinda disappointing that there aren’t enough skills in the game, as you cannot hack the traffic signals or cause a city-wide blackout, which was one of the main attractions in the first 2 games. It has been completely removed from the game. The skills & hacks aren’t sufficient which makes me miss the original two games.
You can purchase the gadgets & skills by collecting upgrade points scattered throughout the world. There are subcategories to some of the upgrades which can be purchased using the same points. It’s the same old formula of collecting the points from the open world and spending them on the upgrade. Watch Dogs: Legion feels like more of a downgrade in this department than even a sidegrade. I hope that they add more features, post-release. And not just send it out to die.
Graphics & Optimization
Graphics & Options
Ubisoft is notorious for PC optimization of a game, they usually have tons of options in their game that adapts to your taste & configuration, here in Watch Dogs: Legion there are many options as well, but compared to other Ubisoft titles, it is lacking a few, like Volumetric Cloud. But in general, covers most of the ground. It also shows the difference between the modes with an in-depth explanation, but I don’t know if it is a bug or just my eyes, in most of the settings I couldn’t see the difference in the screenshot provided on the right.
Legion weighs about 55.5GB, of which 52.8GB is stored in just 14 files, a similar thing happened in the original Watch Dogs. Back then it was speculated that this was the reason why CPU usage was so high for the game. I think it’s the same case here, as it uses a good 60-80% of my 3700x. To put things in perspective, Red Dead Redemption 2 used 20-30% at 4K all ultra.
It also has the first-ever open-world Ray Tracing for Reflections (AFAIK). And it looks great. Honestly once I turned on Ray Tracing, it was hard to go back to normal screen space reflection or cube maps, it looks terrific. If you have an RTX card I would highly recommend you to turn the feature on, Ultra is recommended (High might do too, but you can at times see artifacts). It looks real, especially the puddles (puddlegate anyone?) when it rains, you can drive through the road and actually see the reflection of the sky and things behind you. I do not think it is at full resolution, but it is terrific and gives a great experience.
Legion also has a High-Resolution Texture Pack of 20GB, It adds high resolution to all the textures in the game. Required if you are playing at 4K.
Here is the screenshot of the difference between both, RTX OFF & RTX ON.
While it looks and feels good, it doesn’t play well. Below are my result at 4K Settings with everything cranked up to 11 except Shadow, Shadow is set to High instead of Ultra.
There are 4 modes available for DLSS, I have tested the game in each mode along with & without RTX. In all the results below, the game at times stutters and lags a lot to mid 15fps. It’s not too often, but enough times to notice it. Here are my results.
All tested on Ryzen 3700x with RTX 3080.
RTX ON, DLSS OFF: While everything cranked up to eleven, and without DLSS, I was getting frames in single digit, and the maximum I saw it hitting was 20fps, averaging at 15fps.
RTX ON, DLSS ON (Performance Mode): With Performance mode, I was able to get 45 fps on average which at times dips to 40fps. However, the funny thing is I always had 25-30% GPU & 30-40% CPU Headroom, but it wouldn’t hit 60fps. Not sure why. Compared to quality mode, this looked a bit blurry and illusion breaking of DLSS.
RTX ON, DLSS ON (Quality Mode): This mode gave me identical results as performance mode but without any GPU headroom left, I played the whole game in this mode. It was much clearer than Performance mode.
RTX ON, DLSS ON (Balanced Mode): It gave me around 45-50fps with 10-20% GPU headroom & 30-40% CPU headroom.
RTX ON, DLSS ON (Ultra Performance Mode): It gave me around 45-50fps with 30-40% GPU headroom & 30-40% CPU headroom.
RTX OFF, DLSS OFF: Around the ballpark of 40fps with full GPU utilization.
RTX OFF, DLSS ON (Performance Mode): With Performance mode, it would give me a 10fps boost over DLSS OFF, but with 30-40% GPU headroom, for some reason, the game does not use full GPU in performance mode, even though I have 30-40% CPU available.
RTX OFF, DLSS ON (Quality Mode): It gave me around 50-55fps with 25-30% GPU headroom.
RTX OFF, DLSS ON (Balanced Mode): It gave me around 50-65fps with 30-40% GPU headroom & 30-40% CPU headroom.
RTX OFF, DLSS ON (Ultra Performance Mode): It gave me around 55-65fps with 40-50% GPU headroom & 30-40% CPU headroom.
VRAM usage: Average usage of VRAM was about 8-9.5GB/10GB across all the modes.
BTW: All the above frame rates are not from the benchmark tool in-game, as for some reason that works better than the game itself, probably the first time a game benchmark runs better than the game itself. Also, your mileage may vary from mine.
Sadly, there is no way to play legion at locked 60fps. Even though I have more than enough CPU & GPU headroom, and the game uses only 8-9GB of VRAM (in my case without any background process running).
One more point to note, If you have some kind of CPU overhead, like I do, (I run Unraid, for my local media server) then I would strongly suggest you run the game directly on Windows, instead of bypassing or VM or running CPU intensive programs. The game is CPU hungry, takes up 60-80% of my 3700x while playing. And in VM it wouldn’t even give me 30-40fps whereas all the other games give me 1:1 result in VM or directly.
It’s very hard to run the game unless you have the latest & greatest hardware.
There are graphical bugs here and there along with some save bugs, like there is this first recruitment mission where you need to recruit someone and then meet them back at the pub, if u somehow manage to recruit them and then try to meet them by playing as themselves, the game would stop saving altogether. I somehow stumbled over this bug, there should have been some kind of failsafe for such a situation, as the game clearly let me do it.
Overall, there aren’t many bugs per se, but there is this general feeling that legion lacks finishing, they could have delayed it a bit and cleared out all the small bugs, and spend more time in optimization.
Characters, Animations & Voice Overs
Characters & Voice Over
Every character you meet in-game is playable, you can play as any NPC and that’s the main selling point of Legion. To my surprise, there are many unique characters, throughout the game. I came across repeating character only once, throughout my playthrough. Each NPC is detailed and thought put behind them. If there is a beggar on the street, the game shows information that is relevant to that person. Like their routine, or what they are currently doing. The perks are attributed to that person according to their job and the way they look. Ubisoft has clearly spent a lot of time and thought behind this and makes it unique.
One thing is commendable, even though there is no main playable character and the character you do play as is an NPC stand-in, it doesn’t feel like it. They have given proper lines, voice acting, quips, one-liners, and all. There are different accents, AI modulated voices and everything feels like it is their place and not just a stand-in. The game does not make you feel that the operative you play isn’t the main character.
The face animation in this game isn’t up to the mark. They look dead, with no facial expression, just moving mouths, and nothing else. At times it feels the operative is just there with no interest at all. It takes you away from the plot and seriousness of the story. Apart from the facial expression, the other animations are alright. It’s not something next level like GTA5 did back in 2013, but it is passable and works fine.
As usual, Ubisoft nailed down the world, it’s beautiful. It’s hands down one of the best worlds, I have seen in a game. It’s very well detailed, from cobblestone street to individual poles on the side of the street, everything looks real and lived in.
From the Victorian style building to the modern glass skyscrapers to the Albion dictatorship & propaganda, it all blends perfectly and compliments each other to show their vision of the Dystopian Nightmarish Future London. The world is very alive & responsive, if I do some donuts on the bike, the crowd will pay attention and start taking photos and clap. Also, if you rev your bike a lot while holding brakes, the back tire will get punctured followed by the tire coming off completely, attention to detail are brilliant. These small things go a long way to make the world feel alive. It doesn’t run the best but it sure looks good, especially when this first open-world reflection-based RTX game.
Legion has 8 districts, all have their own tone, and feel to it. All are also accessible from the start, however, you need to liberate them, one by one. You have to do 3-4 small chores, like taking photos or hacking a ctOS location, these small chores take about five minutes at best, followed by one main mission for that location which is slightly longer. There are only eight of such missions and they are all unique. Same old Ubisoft masala but done slightly better.
There are no physical shops, that you can enter & shop like in Watch Dogs 2. You have to stand out on the road and select what you want to wear or buy. There are tons of variations for clothing that can be purchased using the in-game currency. The game only has clothing stores, and there are tons of it. You cannot buy a vehicle or a gun and if you want to set the paint/skin on your weapon, it needs to be done from the Operative customization menu.
The microtransactions in Legion are for cosmetics only, you cannot buy weapons or get any kind of advantage in Online (Releases in December) using MT. There are multiple cosmetic bundles worth 1500 gold WD Points which are worth about Rs. 724 each (if you buy in bulk).
It includes 3 outfits & masks, 1 vehicle painting & 1 weapon skin. I won’t lie, the bundle/cosmetic looks good. It’s a shame that these are not available via in-game currency, and the only way to get them is by spending the money.
All and all, the cosmetics look good, but it is very costly, and there is no way to get around the WD points or even earn the points doing in-game chores.
Watch Dogs: Legion PC Review
Watch Dogs Legion has eye-candy graphics with world-building being its crucial feature. The attention to smaller details in the world is terrific but it lacks in both story and gameplay aspects. Legion can at times feel repetitive with the story being a letdown at the end. It does have a good side story but it fails to keep the overall suspense and seriousness. The optimization is flawed and even a brute like an RTX 3080 cannot run the game at locked 60fps at 4K. Overall, it feels like a step down from previous games in the series rather than an upgrade.