Watch Dogs Legion has been out for some time and reviews have been all over the place. People have critiqued its story and voice acting while stating its open-world is a serviceable playground for all the toys and special interactions you can acquire in this hack-a-thon London, but I’m not here to talk about that stuff or give my opinion on them. I’m here to mention one huge realization I’ve made about this game, and it’s a connection to a game very close to my heart: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
If you aren’t familiar, Shadow of Mordor was an open-world action RPG set in the Lord of the Rings universe. It didn’t offer a lot of innovations to the genre, except for its incredible Nemesis System. The Nemesis System was a way for the game to create not only distinct enemies and boss fights, but also meaningful rivals, and unique relationships. Shadow of Mordor leaned heavily into their gimmick, polishing it for their sequel: Shadow of War. This system allowed players to either antagonize or recruit these unique orcs and have a manipulating hand at orc politics. Each orc was given unique abilities, relationships, weaknesses, and personality traits. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the Watch Dogs Legion play as anyone system but orcs.
Watch Dogs Legion really leaned heavily on their gimmick, it is a monumental and impressive feat to have a framework as wide as an open-world fit almost any subset of personalities, but it still doesn’t add up just right. The lack of a central character prevents them from taking any singular narrative too deeply, and the relationships that you can even make for each character doesn’t go too far either. These characters bounce off each other is loosely coherent conversations but beyond that, it’s almost like choosing an outfit. Also, they include some caveats to recruiting certain characters, such as hiccups, or immobility; but since there are so many characters out there there’s nothing really compelling me to ever use them as I can just as easily find someone who looks like them, has the same traits but without those caveats. This really painted my perspective as I realized that these were less than characters, they were loot. You meet characters in the open-world, and you do some generic open-world activity to recruit them, in an odd free-market favor-based bartering sort of way. The open-world gameplay is flexible enough to allow for some decent activities, but the real thing that these companions are missing is a narrative.
This brings me back to the Middle-Earth series. This game had the ability to not only diversify the behavior of the orcs but give them agency. They were put into an ecosystem where they were allowed to create their own narratives, but it wasn’t until the second game until they were able to make really meaningful contributions to the main game. This makes me really excited for the future of Ubisoft games if they decide to have Watch Dog Legions set a precedent for their open worlds. The play as anyone system, just like the Nemesis system, requires some iteration, and Ubisoft seems to have a bit of a trend to adopt some of their more popular structures to their other games. Such as the open-world format of Far Cry 3 that Ubisoft is now notorious for bleeding into every single one of their games, and Naval Combat in almost every Assassin’s Creed after 3, to an extent that they are making a standalone pirate title just to highlight Naval Combat.
Watch Dogs Legion is deeply flawed, but no one gets it their first time, all I can hope is that Ubisoft sees this incredible system they have made and really push for it to be included and expanded upon in future titles. Don’t let its lower reviews deter you from remembering this incredibly ambitious game, and it will probably come back better than ever. Hell, I’m still hoping they put For Honor combat into Assassin’s Creed.