London has fallen. At least, that’s what you’re told when you first visit the dystopian future of England’s capital city in Legion, the third instalment of Ubisoft’s action-adventure series Watch Dogs. Navigating the underground corridors of the Houses of Parliament as an MI-5 agent in the game’s prologue, you quickly understand that DedSec — the subversive hacking group at the center of Watch Dogs 2 — has been framed for a series of horrific bombings at major cultural and tourist spots around London by a mysterious and technologically-advanced group called “Zero-Day” (Ubisoft loves a trope).
These events inspire the government to appoint a private security company called Albion to restore order, resulting in authoritarian regime that is capable of operating with absolute impunity. It’s your job to take back London, but Albion — led by CEO Nigel Cass — isn’t going to give up easily, nor or the other criminal gangs that have sprung up around the city.
Ahead of the Ubisoft Forward event, I was invited to hit the virtual streets of a futuristic London, where drones fill the sky and cars drive themselves, to explore for a little under three hours. I was allowed to complete two of the game’s first real missions and, most importantly, dive into the “play as anyone” mechanic that the company has been championing since the title was first announced at E3 2019. Ubisoft was clear to remind me that my playthrough was by no means a final representation of the game, and that elements could change before its public release.
If you’ve played Watch_Dogs 2, you may (or may not) agree that it was a little too easy to switch the game’s protagonist, Marcus Holloway (with his melee Thunder Ball weapon) from pacifist to a gun-toting hitman. Something felt a bit off about seeing a new recruit slaying with reckless abandon. Legion, while still offering access to weapons, reminds you that violence isn’t always the best answer and instead leans heavily on recruitment — the ability to switch to and utilize any character in the game to literally open doors that may not have been accessible otherwise. However, if you want to go all John Wick, you can do that too.
In Legion, there is no one central character. I played with five characters in the first couple of hours. You merely represent the interests of DedSec, serving as the deciding factor for anyone who wants to expose the truth and clear its name. At the start, you’ll have a small selection of recruits, but it’s on you to pick up others who will add useful attributes — like the ability to escape from the police or fight bare knuckle (really) — to get various jobs done as you progress through the game.
While the first objective is James Bond-esque in its setup, the early missions serve as a useful guide in how to find, recruit and deploy operatives (while also showing you the inside of major historic landmarks like the Tower of London, which has become an Albion base in this fake news-ridden world). During one, I was required to infiltrate a construction site in central London where a possible ally was being held after an apparent kidnap. Vulnerabilities in the ctOS surveillance system — the platform that underpins nearly every connected device in the Watch Dogs universe — allow any character to perform routine hacks, like opening doors or controlling CCTV cameras, but some missions need more of a social touch.
When I was told to access the site, I was able to switch to one of the construction workers in my roster and call in a construction drone. After all, there’s no need to walk through the heavily-guarded front gate when you can fly over the perimeter fence. These D-Pad abilities are unique for every character, meaning that while one person can summon a drone capable of ferrying cargo (and also a human) across the city, another can be instructed to sweep the sidewalk (or pavement) to blend in with the public and escape detection. Each job is unique, meaning that objectives can sometimes feel like a (more methodical) mix of Mission: Impossible, Hitman and a tiny bit of Assassin’s Creed.