This is a counterpoint to my original feature post two weeks ago prior to E3 2019. If you want my initial perspective, check it out there.
What a difference a few days can make. Much to the chagrin of Ubisoft, one of it’;s biggest surprises of E3 2019 leaked out a bit early. Watch Dog Legion was confirmed for the show, but details also let slip that the game would be taking place in a near-future London. While that sounds like an incredible location to run around in, the other gameplay tidbit was startling: You could play as any character you wanted and the cutscenes and story would dynamically shift to that character’s perspective.
I won’t lie, I was worried especially coming off of Watch Dogs 2 which featured really great written and strong characters. I couldn’t see how a game that seemingly doesn’t have a main lead character would be able to give me a compelling story or feature really strong characters you can root for.
I was hoping that actually seeing the game in action would help me see the grand plan. Then E3 2019 happened.
Ubisoft wanted to kick its show off with a bang, which meant that Legion led their E3 show. As I initially expected, seeing is believing. Thanks to the lengthy gameplay trailer, I was able to see all of these wacky concepts in action and I really was blown away by how well it seems to work. Obviously, judging an entire game based on a 10 minute demo is folly, but it put me in a much better place.
So the demo kicked off with the player as Ian Robshaw and according to his information he’s a bareknuckle brawler. Each person has their own set of skills and traits, so finding the right NPC to use can make missions easier or harder. In Ian’s case, he gets +30% to melee damage and he will never surrender. Remember that because it’ll come up later.
His mission is to find a drone operator to help DedSec deal with some military variants. He finds someone being harrassed, to which he intervenes. Soon enough, Ian is on the run after the mission goes sideways. Players get a look at Ian’s active skill, a cloaking device of some sort as he hijacks a car and attempts to outrun the authority. Things go from bad to worse and Ian is eventually gunned down showing us the first instance of permadeath.
While Ian is now gone forever, the game takes players into the operatives menu which lets them pick from available members they recruited at some point in the campaign. Jada Wokoma is a hacker that gets a 10% discount at 3D Printer stores, the enforce Peter Cox is adept at explosive weapons, and then you have the most shocking (and my favorite choice of the group), Helen Dashwood. This unsuspecting granny has a 35% hacker cooldown speed and she can deploy spiderbots.
What I’m trying to say is that you can basically recruit an army of grandmothers if you want. Recreate the Golden Girls and go on a hacking spree around London.
This gameplay was hilarious and wildly refreshing. The player eventually switched characters again, this time to the trained assassin Naomi Brooks in order to track down that drone tech from earlier. I’ll stop there, but hopefully you can see what Ubisoft is attempting to do with this NPC system.
Frankly, I’m thrilled by the idea and I hope it can translate to a full and memorable experience when Watch Dogs Legion launches in full. I can’t imagine how much extra effort getting all these systems in place and working actually took the team. Animating, voicing, and creating these systemic gameplay moments for such a diverse and large amount of NPCs in this open world could not have been easy.