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For a game about a dystopian future and an authoritarian government, it may surprise you that we were not expecting Watch Dogs Legion’s story missions to be quite so dark.
Our previous hands-on with Ubisoft Toronto’s open-world effort revealed a project much more comfortable with the absurdist nature of its ‘play as anyone’ mechanic, which allows players to recruit any NPC including boisterous builders, gadget-wielding spies or killer grannies.
Following a lengthy delay, Ubisoft Toronto has clearly spent its additional development time increasing the variety – and craziness – of the Londoners you can recruit, in an attempt to make its key feature even more unique. And it’s paid off, with each playable NPC feeling distinct from the next, and chirping enough one-liners to distract from grim scenes of riot police beating up protesters in the streets.
But the tone of the story feels at odds with the silly and chaotic open-world action, with themes of exploitation and twisted technology showing exactly why Legion needed that layer of light-hearted comedy to keep players from switching off in despair.
Essentially, Legion’s narrative has players exploring the criminal underground of London in a plot that wouldn’t feel out of place in an 18-rated gangster film. One series of missions puts us against Bloody Mary, the kingpin of a people-smuggling ring which also deals in organ harvesting and putting explosives in illegal immigrants’ heads, in order to use them as a slave workforce.
Another adversary is Skye Larsen, a media magnate whose experiments with integrating human consciousness into computers has more than a whiff of Black Mirror about them – and one mission exploring her home-come-lab is as twisted as anything in Charlie Brooker’s series.
Our three-hour exploration of Legions story arcs suggests the game will offer something for those looking for a satisfying narrative, aside from the granny assassins and drone tours of neon London, then. The game’s side missions too, thankfully, appear to be more narrative-driven than the cookie-cutter bonus quests we’re used to seeing in most open-world games – although there will inevitably be some repetition.
As seen in our gameplay video above, each London borough holds a series of missions leading to the eventual liberation of the area, in the process unlocking a special recruit with unique abilities. In the one mission we played, we needed to navigate a spiderbot through a vertical platforming course to reach Big Ben at the top of the Palace of Westminster.
Our reward? An MI6 super spy with her own silenced pistol and rocket car. If Watch Dogs Legion manages to keep up this blend of playful satire and gritty exposition, at the very least it will be one of the more unique open-world games of the past few years.