Nancy Choi is not your average video game protagonist. She cannot parkour across the rooftops; hell, she can't actually move all that fast. Nancy lacks a cool sword or an outlandish gun with a name like, Thunderhorn, Blessed Core of Fallen. Nancy doesn't even have a day job, or at least she didn't when she became a part of my crew.
Nancy Choi is the first character I recruited in Watch Dogs: Legion. Gone are the days where you play a singular hero, whether that's bland Aiden Pearce or the young punk Marcus Holloway in the previous Watch Dogs games. Now Ubisoft proudly touts "Play as Anyone" as one of the focuses of Watch Dogs: Legion. In Legion, you're building out your crew, the local cell of DedSec in London, England. And who "you" are is a pretty flexible concept, as I found in my 3-hour demo.
Welcome to the Resistance
The prologue mission sets the stage for Ubisoft's near-future London. I stepped into the Bond-esque shoes of Dalton, a secret agent working in tandem with DedSec. The local cell is a robust operation run by gruff hacker queen Sabine in tandem with Bagley, a smug AI; it looks more like Marvel's SHIELD rather than the loose hacker collective from Watch Dogs 2. Dalton sneaks into the Palace of Westminster to prevent a terrorist attack, grounding you in the basics of Watch Dogs: Legion.
The mission goes horribly wrong as an organization called Zero Day sets off multiple bombs around the city, killing Dalton, arresting Sabine, and blaming DedSec for the attacks. The story picks up some time later, as the private military security group Albion steps in to protect London, turning it into a police state. It's up to you to gather up new members of DedSec, avoid Albion, and ultimately find out who Zero Day is.
Watch Dogs: Legion is largely… Watch Dogs. The moment-to-moment mechanics of hacking, stealth, and combat haven't changed much from Watch Dogs 2. A CtOS-enabled phone allows you to hack doors, drones, cameras, and more, making distractions and taking enemies out of the fight. Jumping from camera to camera, from drone to drone to scout out locations. I could almost convince myself I was still playing Watch Dogs 2. The distribution of character is the differentiator in Legion. Instead of just one protagonist, you're given several characters to now project your whims onto, with even more ways to approach any situation.
Following the prologue, I'm dropped into a slightly later stage of the game with four randomly-generated characters. Last year, when Ubisoft showed off Watch Dogs: Legion, characters were fit to three broad classes: Enforcer, Hacker, and Infiltrator. While the vestiges of that system remain, it no longer looks to be the foundation of Legion.
Every character now leans on a series of varying jobs that determine which weapons, gadgets, and abilities they have access to. Take one of my starting characters, Jadzia Wojcik, a hitman who started with a Desert Eagle, a G36 assault rifle, a stun mine, and the deadly art of gun kata, offering nearly-instant lethal takedowns. Hacktivist Julie Salehi has access to a wider variety of hacks than Jadzia—like being able to steal digital keys from any range—but only carries a non-lethal stun gun and controllable spiderbot.
My other two characters leaned further into some of the new flavors of characters now offered in Watch Dogs: Legion. Bryn Williams is a police constable, so I skipped right over him to Vicky. As a construction worker, Vicky has access to unique weapons, the nail gun, and the wrench. (Much like Watch Dogs 2's cueball sock, getting cold-clocked by a heavy Wrench doesn't seem non-lethal to me.) She can also summon a Cargo Drone, the rideable heavy drone shown in Watch Dogs: Legion's first E3 appearance.
The main key with Vicky is she has a construction worker's outfit. This is called "Uniform Access" in Legion. Much like the Hitman series, wearing certain uniforms means you can walk into certain restricted areas unopposed, as long as you maintain a low-profile by moving slowly and not straying into more suspect parts of a building. Even certain security measures like scanners will let you past, making infiltration much easier. Need to break into a police station? Recruit a cop. Adding an Albion contractor to your team helps to tackle missions involving the security firm.
I had two side missions on a construction site during my demo, and Vicky was able to waltz into both, right next to guards. No cover, no problem. Not having to hide opened up new vectors of attack: hacking a Cargo Drone to crush one guard with a crate, or simply walking up to a guard and hammering him in the face with a wrench. It made me wish I had recruited an Albion guard for some of the earlier missions I tackled. And being able to summon a Cargo Drone to fly onto a rooftop—warning: the cops don't like it when you summon big drones out in the open—made certain missions much, much easier.
You can switch characters at any time in the open-world. There's a 2-3 second load to switch between them, and they appear wherever you are instead of doing GTA 5-style positioning. In a restricted area, you're stuck with whoever you're currently playing, though you can sneak back out and switch up if you need to. Every character comes complete with a weapon and a gadget (Examples include Stun Mine, Spiderbot, and Cloak), and you can equip further gear back at your base.
There are other gameplay benefits from other jobs. A street artist can carry paint bombs and paintball guns for non-lethal interactions, while a protestor could carry a megaphone, allowing them to summon allies. There are also Skilled Recruits, marked citizens with higher level jobs. I met Evan Go, a Paramedic helping the homeless, who not only came with medical uniform access, but also had the ability to improve the recovery times of members in the hospital.
I could've used Evan earlier in the session, as I hit a man while riding on the moped, only to turn around and realize that he was a great candidate for my squad. I went to the hospital he was getting treated at, snuck in, and hacked into their system to prioritize my dude for service. That got him out of the hospital quicker, which gave me a chance to recruit him. It was a harder road though, because somehow he knew it was DedSec that had hit him with a moped. (Yes, there will be people who aren't as willing to join your team.)
The recruitment process can be pretty straightforward or full of detective work. You can recruit anyone you meet on the street. It's as easy as walking by, catching someone's eye, and then getting the option to begin their recruitment mission. Alternatively, you can tag them for recruitment later. Once tagged, you have access to that character's Deep Profile. This profile shows you a detailed schedule of the character's actions, where they're going at what time. You can follow their life, see who their friends and family are, see what problems matter to them. You can then offer them or their family members help, making them more amenable to joining your cause. A step removed from the game, it's entirely creepy as you're essentially stalking someone, but that's a topic for a deeper discussion that has always surrounded Watch Dogs.
The Recruits Aren't Alright
Talk of recruitment takes me back to Nancy Choi. Near the starting point of the brunt of my demo, I walked up to a protest and scanned the crowd. There was a butcher, Androniki Xristopouilos, who could deal more damage to members of the Kelley faction, a crime family who controls part of London. Pass. There was a janitor, a job that offers another unique ability to hide by acting like you're sweeping the sidewalk. Baoluo Choi, a board game designer, had the ability to hack quicker, but also disliked DedSec, noted by a red thumbs down on his info card. I was told that this dislike can go up to three thumbs downs, so he only mildly hated my organization.
Then there was Nancy. She was transient, with no specific job. Nancy had a drawback too, being low mobility. And the flavor text clenched in: this obviously 60+ woman was apparently evicted from her parents' house recently. Watch Dogs's randomly-generated lives do sometimes end up with some odd contradictions.
Nancy's problem was simple: she was made redundant recently, and wanted me to look into the company and figure out how they were replacing so many workers. I popped over to the company, snuck into their server room, and found out they replaced Nancy with an AI. Then I destroyed it, giving Nancy her revenge and making her one of us.
Once I could control Nancy Choi, she was my go-to gal. While other characters could sprint and take cover, Nancy's low mobility meant that wasn't an option for her. She could only break into a leisurely waddle, was unable to hide, and it took her damned near forever to leap over a wall. Getting around within an immediate area takes forever with Nancy. She got into a fist fight with the Kelley gang members, and she could barely dodge. She felt every punch, but she expressed her wonderful personality in the matter of fact tasering of her opponent.
I started using Nancy just to get around the city. I used a moped as her primary means of transportation, because it just felt right. Nancy took a side hustle, delivering packages for a gig company called Portal Fox. And any time there was a cutscene, Nancy brought that hard grandma energy to it; the cutscenes are built to be played out with your current character and team as the main focus. I'm sure it requires a ton of voice acting and technology to make that work, but it largely does.
Nancy wasn't fit to undertake any actual missions for the most part. Anytime I reached a primary mission, I'd switch to Jadzia, Jules, or Vicky, depending on what was needed for the mission at hand. Jadzia was my combat pro, while Jules was far better for missions requiring a lot of hacks.
Once Nancy became my defacto DedSec leader, I decided to upgrade her style. Being a transient, she started with a dusty coat, old muddy boots, and a worn backpack. Over the course of my playtime, I purchased a set of red and white racing pants, a black hoodie, a shirt and tie, some glasses, and a weird top hat with a skull and crossbones on it. I even found a tourist tchotchke shop and bought her a Union Jack backpack. Different stores around the city sell different looks, and any gear you purchase is unlocked in your wardrobe, allowing you to apply it on any character in your squad.
Finding such a winner in Nancy even led me to add every transient I came across to my recruit list. I couldn't add them all to my team in the time allotted, but given a good 24 hours, I would've built the Transient Army with Nancy at its head.
I felt closer to Nancy than a number of other bespoke characters whose stories I've followed this year. Legion finds a weird gap between a written character and a freeform create-a-character in an RPG; I didn't make Nancy, and I probably never would've if given the option. Instead, I was able to guide her in a new direction though, and I'm sad that the next time I play Watch Dogs: Legion, she probably won't be there.
Watch Dogs: Legion is still Watch Dogs, but the ability to recruit anyone honestly does change the game. Classic hacking tricks still work—I backed a truck up to a fence to hope right over it instead of going through the front or back doors—but the distribution of abilities means that you're also thinking of your whole tool box. The premise reminds me of an old comic called Global Frequency, where a super-secret organization could call on anyone to deal with issues around the world. And like that comic's premise, I can already see myself building a rolodex of specialized agents to save London.
Or an army of transients. Who knows?
Watch Dogs: Legion is officially coming to PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia on October 29, 2020, with potential launch on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.