Why did Watch Dogs: Legion fail?
It's fair to say that the Watch Dogs series divides both fans and critics with its inconsistency. Watch_Dogs was a gritty, dark, and grungy game with a deadly serious protagonist, Watch Dogs 2 was bright, fun, and humour-filled with a witty likeable main character, Watch Dogs Legion was a bit of a confusing mess.
Don't get me wrong, I do like Watch Dogs Legion, I enjoyed it a lot when I played it. Played is the key word though. I still play Watch Dogs 2 semi frequently and to be honest I would play the original still if the second one didn't exist, what I don't do is play Watch Dogs: Legion. But why? It's not like it's a bad game, it's far from it. The setting is excellent, the parkour is still good, the gameplay is pretty solid too, but it's missing a lot too.
Watch Dogs: Legion lacks the soul that Watch Dogs 2 had, it lacks the character and the identity that the second installment had done so well at bringing to the series. It isn't even any one thing that lets the side down either, it comes down to a number of shortcomings and changes.
The first change is the protagonist. I'm not suggesting that they should have stuck with Marcus and his group (even if that is what the ending of Watch Dogs 2 hints at) but what I am suggesting is that they should have put the same effort into carefully crafting a likeable main character. Having a main character at all would have been nice actually. The ability to take control of anyone in the game is a fun gimmick and might have been a cool little addition in a DLC or something but it just doesn't really work when it comes to getting players invested in a full length game. Not every character needs to have a definitive main character or a likeable protagonist take No Man's Sky for example, that character is completely silent and indistinct, but for a game like this the decision to do away with the traditional protagonist is baffling. I'm not even going to get started on the horrible British accent that each character has either.
The setting is great in theory, London is perfect for a game like this. The problem is that for some reason the decision was made to make it a weirdly half futuristic post Brexit London. It's not set far enough in the future to really make a big difference either which makes the change just kind of annoying. There are weird holograms and driverless cars everywhere in what feels like a desperate attempt to get ahead of the curve by making weird dystopic predictions on futuristic London. Part of Watch Dogs 2's charm is how authentic the San Francisco setting feels, it stays fully true to the real life identity of the city. It's not like London isn't an interesting enough setting on its own either, the best parts of the Watch Dogs: Legion map are the bits that are relatively untouched but those bits are very few and far between. They've also somehow managed to absolutely drain the city of any colour. One of the strongest parts of Watch Dogs 2's setting was its vibrant and distinct colouring but in Legion even the most colourful parts of London like Camden are completely soulless and grey.
I think most people would agree that it's a bad thing when video games take themselves too seriously, and that's definitely true for the Watch Dogs franchise. I'm not saying that games shouldn't be serious, but if you're making a whacky open world snadbox filled with attempted jokes about the society we live in you have to stick to that. Watch Dogs: Legion takes the whole "we live in a society" message a step too far and just comes across as a bit of a soulless slog of a game that can't take a joke. Nobody expected Legion to be a comedy, none of the Watch Dogs games have been, but at least the other two games seemed like they knew that they were a bit over the top and ridiculous. I'm tired of the current trend of video game and movie writers trying to push all of societies flaws down our throats as though the companies that make these games aren't half of the problem (especially Ubisoft) but I could kind of allow it if at the very least they were self aware, but that's really a different issue for a different article. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I just wish Watch Dogs: Legion was allowed to just be a video game, not every game needs to make a statement.
The main problem is that Watch Dogs: Legion is just a bit boring. I could go on for hours and hours about all of the gameplay features they inexplicably removed from the franchise but I won't, what I will say is that the biggest element they removed was an interesting story. I found myself just on auto-pilot doing the same four missions over and over again, there was absolutely no variation. When I think of Watch Dogs 2's story missions I think about infiltrating Nudle or going to the Helter Skelter festival, when I think of Legion's stoy missions I struggle to remember anything. I guess there was the fifty times I had to steal an ambulance or the two hundred times I had to free Albion prisoners from around London. The antagonist is so unmemorable that I actually genuinely can't remember who it is and the same can be said for every story point from start to finish. I don't expect a masterclass in story telling or mission design but I expect some evidence of effort and care when I'm paying £60 for a game. Even the heavily criticised Watch_Dogs had a well put together story, and some very memorable characters and missions.
I don't even think that Watch Dogs: Legion is a bad game on its own but it just seems so out of touch with its own series and I honestly don't understand why it is the way it is especially after how well Watch Dogs 2 was recieved. This article doesn't exist just to bash Watch Dogs: Legion, it exists purely because I just played the game for the first time in a very long time and I was just left completely amazed that it fell so far short of its completely huge potential.
Like I said I could go on for hours and hours about this, but I don't really like writing horribly negative articles and I can easily see this just becoming a 3000 word essay about how the Watch Dogs franchise is getting wasted or how Ubisoft is a hideous company that lacks all self-awareness. What I will do though is point you to a slightly more positive topic and recommend the Cloven Hoof podcast, this week we spoke about the hit movie Morbius and the much loved retro game The Oregon Trail. If a podcast isn't your idea of fun then you could also check out the three suggested articles below, I'm sure they're great.