2020 is almost here, so we’ve asked GameSpot’s staff to share which games they’re looking forward to most in the new year. New consoles are going to dominate the headlines, but at the end of the day it’s all about the games, and there are a ton of exciting ones to look forward to. When you’re done reading this entry, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub and our Most Anticipated of 2020 hub.
Though the first Watch Dogs never grabbed me, I was delighted by Ubisoft’s tack with the second. It centers on a young, diverse, and mostly well-drawn group of characters, it’s a smart send-up of tech culture, and it has a lot of interesting things to say–while being a fun open-world game that utilizes Watch Dogs’ interesting hacking gameplay ideas in a story that’s actually engaging. After playing Watch Dogs Legion at E3 2019, I’m even more excited for the third entry in the series, which appears to be expanding on all the good things of its predecessor, while adding some truly engaging and innovative gameplay mechanics and story conceits.
The crux of Watch Dogs Legion is that you can play as any character in the game: all the NPCs are recruitable to your ever-growing underground hacker insurgency, and each character has a unique backstory and set of perks and drawbacks. It sounds like a pie-in-the-sky idea about the capabilities of procedural generation that will immediately collapse under close scrutiny, but after playing Legion, I was blown away by how well the game actually does integrate the idea of pulling characters from its future London into your group, and how well-realized they feel. You add characters to your group by helping them deal with the problems in their lives, almost all of which are caused by the draconian, fascist surveillance state (one that’s an outgrowth of our real-world political climate) in which they find themselves. So Watch Dogs Legion feels like you’re completing a series of loyalty missions specific to the characters.
Once they’re on your team, you can switch between your characters on the fly, making use of different people’s particular skills to complete your missions. When you get into trouble and the authorities are closing in on you, it’s the other characters you’ve recruited that come to your aid with special passive abilities, like setting up roadblocks to divert police that give you time to escape. While “any NPC is playable” sounds like a gimmick, the complex systems at work in Legion do well to make all those characters feel distinct, rather than just a series of random attributes attached to a random character model. Legion sees the return of Watch Dogs’ long-running scanning ability that lets you see into the lives of people on the street, but for the first time in the series, that ability is essential to the game as you recruit characters, and helps create a London that feels populous and alive.
The character recruiting system goes beyond gameplay, though. Legion’s random NPCs actually feel like bespoke characters created for the story as you play through its campaign, and each has their own voice actors and dialogue pieces that slot seamlessly into cutscenes. Ubisoft didn’t hire thousands of actors, obviously, but there are enough that, at least in our preview and in gameplay footage, we haven’t yet heard the same voice repeated on two characters. It all works together to create a feeling that you’re creating a unique take on the game’s story through the people you choose to bring into Ded Sec, and who you choose to take on missions. What’s more, you find yourself caring about these characters because of the history you have with them and the time you’ve put into them–which makes it all the more devastating when they’re arrested or killed.
Though we got hands-on with Watch Dogs Legion at E3, Ubisoft recently delayed the game from its original March 6, 2020 release date. As of now, Ubisoft is expecting to launch Watch Dogs Legion in the second half of the year. Given the level of complexity in the game (not to mention its politically charged story, which deals with the repercussions of Brexit), the development team using that extra time is probably for the best. We also know that Legion will be one of the first Ubisoft games to appear on the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett, so it’ll be interesting to see how Legion will leverage the capabilities of new hardware.
For a brief rundown on everything you need to know about Watch Dogs Legion, be on the lookout for our explainer highlighting all the essential details.