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CNN —  

The Watch Dogs series stumbled with its austere first game, but it found its footing with the more lighthearted, “leet-speak” and meme-laden Watch Dogs 2.

Expanding hacker group DedSec’s presence and inviting players to learn more about the organization while becoming an integral part of it was a great decision, and protagonist Marcus Holloway was, by far, a more interesting hero than his predecessor, Aiden Pearce.

It’s safe to say, then, that Ubisoft has learned its lesson since introducing Watch Dogs as one of its newest IPs, continuing the focus on DedSec with its latest entry in the series: Watch Dogs: Legion. We came away extremely pleased with the direction of the game after spending four hours with it.

Preorders are open for Watch Dogs: Legion on PS4, Xbox One and PC. It lands on Oct. 29, with next gen console support and editions.

It’s shaping up to be a fantastic extension of the Watch Dogs universe that loosened up with the second title, while allowing players to write their own stories by letting them play as anyone — yes, anyone — they wish.

And we’re not talking about custom characters. You can use any NPC (non-playable character) you wish to carry out each mission.

The rebirth of DedSec

Watch Dogs: Legion kicks off after a full-scale terrorist attack in London. DedSec ends up framed for a series of bombings that decimate the surrounding area. The government cracks down on its citizens and hires a private security company called Albion to make something of a change — and to keep it from happening again. As a result, the local branch of DedSec has largely been disbanded.

That doesn’t mean DedSec isn’t still needed to quell the latest security threat, though. Albion recruits its own task force, known as the Signal Intelligence Response Service (SIRS), to begin surveillance of every inch of the city. This encompasses more than cameras, as security drones fly overhead, security guards and police flood the streets and privacy takes a backseat to public safety, or at least that’s what Albion wants those living in London to believe.

The citizens aren’t especially thrilled about these new security measures, but much like the way we’ve adopted face masks in the wake of Covid-19, they quietly accept this concession as their new normal. But Albion is less than altruistic, and as its scores of private police hit the streets, all but harassing the people, the desire for a revolution begins to bubble.

It’s typical Watch Dogs-esque storytelling, and in many ways, this third game set in the game’s universe is much like the first two. However, it differs in that there’s no central protagonist that propels the story forward. Instead, you get to choose the characters Legion revolves around as you build DedSec to its former glory.

Building your own story

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This goes back to when we mentioned “anyone” in terms of the available NPCs to craft a team.

Typically, when a game states you can do “anything” you want, it’s reason to take pause. In games like Scribblenauts, there’s a limited dictionary of words from which you can create items, of course. Watch Dogs: Legion lauded the idea of recruiting anyone you want as one of its most interesting features.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that this isn’t an exaggeration, and you can most certainly choose characters to your liking to comprise DedSec. It’s arguably the coolest part of the game.

Building your unique DedSec team means that, theoretically, you could have a group of hacker grannies working to restore power to the people. You could have a team of unassuming construction workers, if you wanted.

Each comes with their own unique traits, such as a special arsenal and uniforms that help you access particular locations. That’s why it’s important to continue building the best team possible, because it means you’ll be ready for any situation.

But it isn’t as easy as simply walking up to someone and adding them to your team. Many NPCs are typically ambivalent to DedSec as a whole, and they need to be convinced to join your cause.

There are tougher nuts to crack, however: Albion employees, security guards, IT professionals and those with skills that you’ll want to add to your team.

That’s where profiling characters comes into play. If you happen to see a particular NPC you know you want to add, the game will assist you in finding out more about them in a bid to help you decipher the best ways to join your side.

After you’ve done this, you’re granted a conversation with them about potentially joining DedSec.

This leads to a recruitment mission, which means you’ll need to complete a variety of different tasks if you want to successfully add this new person of interest to your team.

Once they’ve joined, you can move between them by going to the game menu. It’s important to select the best person for each job, which you can evaluate via a sub-menu that loads in your team area. You’ll get a rundown of the weapons and abilities each person has, and it’s up to you to make sure they’re utilized properly.

A ballet of bullets, drones and hacking

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Missions are an amalgam of driving, shooting your way through a variety of targets in your way, hacking terminals and cameras (and your fair share of drones), and solving wire-based puzzles that can definitely require more thinking than you might have assumed upon first blush.

During our playthrough, we certainly had difficulty on our first puzzle when we realized we needed to connect wires until they turned from red to blue since they were scattered around the landscape. Once you learn how to do them, they become second nature.

Aside from all the hacking, good, old-fashion combat comes in handy when you’ve decided to forgo stealth and want to go in guns blazing. There are several opportunities like these that arise when you need to unlock doors or be granted access to certain areas.

Otherwise, you’ll have to take part in some stop-and-pop shooting if you mess up and trip an alarm. Luckily, you can hack into drones and turn them against their owners, set traps for others to walk into and hack into systems to turn off alarms and alerts.

You can make life a living hell for your enemies if you’re crafty enough, but if you don’t care to do any of that, you can just shoot your way through, for the most part. Most NPCs have enough firepower to take care of just about any situation.

However, some caution is necessary if you’re trying to take play with agents using non-lethal weapons. Some of the recruits use only melee weapons and non-lethal pistols, shotguns and SMGs, most of which utilize electricity to incapacitate others without killing them.

This can be frustrating if you’re trying to clear a large expanse of people, but if you hack into cameras and terminals and employ stealth, this usually isn’t an issue. It just means you need to be cognizant of who you bring into battle. If you want lethal means of completing a mission, you’ll need to choose someone who can offer that.

You’ll have to be prudent about using certain team members for this reason, though. Sometimes, they’re wounded, so there’s a cooldown period until you can use them again. You run the very real risk of losing them completely if they’re killed in action, which means you’ll have to go find another character to replace them in some situations. This adds a sense of permanence to the game that feels realistic. Losing a team member never feels good.

Freedom to fight

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One of the great things about Legion is the fact that you have the freedom to do what you want, within reason, of course.

There are multiple ways to complete objectives. For instance, in one mission, you needed to avoid several booby traps and enter an apartment. Though the game gave us a few options to run with, we decided to ultimately hack into a window-washing unit and use it to reach the apartment. From there, we were able to remotely complete the objective by way of security cameras.

You can make these decisions at just about every turn, from the order of missions you tackle to the NPCs you recruit. It’s a major selling point, and we hope to see it expanded on when it debuts. That way, it’s set apart more from other open-world games, including those made by Ubisoft.

There was plenty of time to explore London in a variety of different vehicles, from a plodding, sensible ambulance to a zippy, futuristic sedan. Both felt fantastic to drive and came with radio stations packed with tunes. I couldn’t listen to them because we would be recording the session for publishing alongside this piece due to copyright issues, but artists like Gorillaz and Bloc Party were among the artists.

Keeping watch

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Four hours simply isn’t enough time to sample everything that Watch Dogs: Legion has to offer.

It’s clear this will be a game that merits dozens of hours spent within its world, as well as multiple playthroughs since there are so many different NPCs to recruit. As far as the narrative, we can see plenty of emergent missions and ways to approach their completion that it would make sense to complete the game again to see them all.

Watch Dogs: Legion seems like a major improvement on the previous games and offers exciting prospects for fans of the series. We can’t wait to see more of the game when it finally hits store shelves on Oct. 29.

There’s no release date set for Watch Dogs: Legion, but it’ll be headed to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC and Google Stadia. Preorders are open now.

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