Shortly after watching Ubisoft’s E3 2019 Showcase, I finally beat Watch Dogs 2. Beating that game, in a lot of respects, made clear what my objections are with Watch Dogs Legion. In short, effectively all of those objections are related to the narrative – in particular, how the story will play out with procedurally generated characters.
Old vs. New
By way of explanation, I need to get into why Watch Dogs 2 was better than the original game. Part of this, certainly, was due to Watch Dogs 2 ditching the towers system from the original Watch Dogs. However, where Watch Dogs 2 was also an marked improvement was in terms of the story and characters.
The original Watch Dogs was a story with nothing to say. It made lip service during the early promotion of the game to the threat that invasive big data had on our lives. However, it pretty much stopped there. The final game was very much a more conventional gangster versus vigilante story, with side plot elements related to CTOS and the Blume corporation, with DedSec also operating around the periphery.
Moving to the Coast
Watch Dogs 2, by comparison, moves DedSec, CTOS, and the Blume corporation to the fore, and it does it in three major ways. The first is in the change of setting, moving the story from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay area, and in particular into Silicon Valley. This moves the tech sector and the people in and around it into the fore.
Second, DedSec is the leads of the story, and the group in San Francisco is very much involved in social activism through hacking. Effectively every mission in the game is involved with making a point about CTOS and Blume in general, and Big Data in particular. Where other Ubisoft games try to “both sides” things and claim to be apolitical, Watch Dogs 2 is open about its particular political views related to the invasiveness of technology.
Third, rather than one mostly solitary protagonist with a handful of people who either don’t like him or he doesn’t like – DedSec SF has a crew of people working together with tremendous chemistry. They work together and want to see each other succeed. Also, because they are a diverse group (half the members of the group are people of color), the story is in a position to talk about the racial inequalities in the tech sector, along with how the income inequalities related to the tech sector have made things difficult for people who don’t work in tech in the Bay Area.
More is not necessarily better
Watch Dogs Legion, on the other hand, by having a procedurally generated cast who can be permanently killed, makes it harder to craft character beats because your cast can change at any time. Perhaps even worse, this actually discourages experimentation. There were multiple missions in Watch Dogs 2 that basically took me multiple tries to ghost. Permadeath means you have to get it right the first time, or you lose a valuable operative and the story potential that goes with them.
Perhaps worse than that, the implication in Watch Dogs: Legion that I took from the gameplay demo is that outside of recruitment missions and possibly online multiplayer, members of DedSec won’t necessarily interact. This means that the characterization we got in the hacking cell from Watch Dogs 2 won’t happen in this game. That is a tremendous bummer.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Watch Dogs: Legion has an option to turn off Permadeath, and finds ways to tell interesting character-based stories with room for social commentary through this setup, but it feels very much like I’m going to be proven wrong.
If you’re interested in picking up Watch Dogs 2, it’s available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC from Amazon. Or, if you’d like to support a good cause with your purchase, you can pick it up for the PC from the Humble Store. Purchasing anything through those links helps to support the site, and purchasing through the Humble Store will also help support ASAN, the Autism Self Advocacy Network.