A city isn’t just defined by its buildings or the landmarks around it. A big part of what makes a locale distinct is its people. That is one elements missing when designers re-create cities in video games. With the lack of distinct people, the setting is just a shell and it doesn’t have the same personality.

“Watch Dogs: Legion” is aware of this and puts the people of London out front. That’s one of the biggest selling points of the project. The third entry to the open-world hacker series takes a different tack by moving away from a central character and letting players control a roster of rebels.

Players start off with a handful of allies, the remnants of DedSec after the hacktivist group after they were framed for the Zero Day explosion that rocked London. The terrorist attack changed British society and ushered a new era of surveillance built on the back of series bogeyman The Blume Corporation and enforced by the security firm Albion.

ORIGINS OF THE GAME

As the resistance, DedSec has to get to the bottom of the mysterious Zero Day organization and unmask the perpetrators of the attack. Players have to use the talents of the DedSec members they have on hand and recruit more. (They can amass up a roster of up to 40.) Game director Kent Hudson said that the the idea came from creative director Clint Hocking and he focused on the profiler that was a highlight of the past two games.

In those titles, players were able to walk around and peek into the lives of the passers-by. Unfortunately, the people seemed to be a bucket of trivia and that led to the profiler showing citizens who were HIV positive and had the occupation of Blood Donor or a specialized paramedic looking up if it was bad to cough blood. The random and haphazard way these people were created turned them into faceless beings. Like the cities they inhabit, they were empty shells.

Hudson said Hocking wanted to improve on that and “follow that idea to the logical conclusion.” In “Watch Dogs: Legion,” randomized people mill around the world, but they’re created with more care as the algorithm has more logic behind it. Every citizen can be a DedSec recruit. Not only that, these people have distinct talents and personalities that make them individuals. The citizens even have their own schedule as they go about their day.

“That forms the fabric of the game,” Hudson said. The databases and algorithm take into account, “What’s their occupation, where they are from, what is their age.” It will also look to see if they have friends and “if they have friends, what are their friends interested in. It gets a sense that all pieces fit. For example, no pacifist will carry a handgun.”

GIVING LONDON A SENSE OF PLACE

All of this gives the city of London a deeper sense of place. Although the project has no central protagonist, the developers expect players to bond with their recruits and the people they choose reflect different playstyles.

I tended to play a stealth role and during one mission, I had to infiltrate New Scotland Yard. It’s a place filled with police officers so going in guns ablazing isn’t a good route. Instead, I looked for an officer to recruit and found one in police superintendent Mark Darrell. I tried to get him to join, but unfortunately, he hated DedSec. I had to use a deep profiler to find his routine and look for recruitment leads.

By locating and doing him a favor, I unlocked a recruitment quest for him and after I finished that, Darrell joined the cause. Instead of blasting my way through, I changed into a Darrell’s police uniform, strolled into New Scotland Yard and hacked the spiderbot I needed. His ability to freely access the building also helped with the Burrough Uprising system as I freed a resistance member handcuffed at the station.

FINDING THE PERFECT RECRUIT

A lot of the time sink and the fun in “Watch Dogs: Legion’ will come in locating potential DedSec members. Players will encounter hitmen, lawyers, tech workers and hooligans. Each of these job types has a distinct weapon set and abilities. For example, hitmen come with a Desert Eagle and G36. All their moves including takedowns are lethal. Contrast that with a hacker who has tasers and the ability to rewrite drone programming to attack enemies.

Players will encounter numerous character types, and within those jobs, some will have rare talents or even drawbacks to their personality. The art of “Watch Dogs: Legion” will be finding the optimal recruit. For example, players can recruit plenty of spies that will have a silenced pistol, spy car and gun-jamming watch, but a few will have extra talents such as quiet footsteps or a tough ability that reduces damage. It’s almost like “Pokemon” and how players try to find a pocket monster with perfect stats and the best kind of nature.

Like the popular Nintendo game, players will build ties with their recruits as they go through campaign missions, and they’ll care about what happens to them. “Watch Dogs: Legion” can also have a “XCOM” touch by turning permadeath on, so if recruits fall in action, the loss is gut wrenching. It also makes the missions more intense. Players will care because the recruit blended with their playstyle or made the game easier in places.

In addition, the random characters also have distinct personalities and voices. Sometimes the voices doesn’t always fit the faces but it’s not so distracting that it stretches the believability. In some ways, the odd touches make the characters more endearing.

KNOW WHERE TO LOOK

As for finding these characters, Hudson said they live in a world that’s supposed to make sense. If players want to find a spy, they can hang out around the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross. If they’re looking for a doctor who can heal DedSec members injured in the line of duty, they can head over to a hospital. Barristers who can spring arrested recruits out of jail early can be found near courthouses. Looking for a brawler-type character? Players can recruit the best of them from the Bare Knuckle Arenas. These are side quests scattered in London.

One of the easier ways of finding a great DedSec member is by completing the Burrough Uprising missions tied to the districts around London. By finishing the regional side quests which unlocks a fancy final mission, it creates a defiant state within the city. That means random citizens will help players escape if Albion or other gangs chase after DedSec. It also automatically adds a special recruit to the roster. For example, if you take over Westminster, players earn a spy.

Lastly, “Watch Dogs: Legion” doesn’t have a traditional role-playing game progression system. Each recruit is locked in with the weapon class they start with, and there is no leveling up. That means if you pick a doctor who has a duty not to cause harm, players can’t level them up so they gain access to a pistol. That wouldn’t make sense.

Players will collect tech points though and these unlock high-tech tools that are available to all DedSec members. These can be combat drones, AR cloaks or shock mines. Players can upgrade these gadgets to make them more powerful and they can also switch them out as long as they’re not in combat. That’s something they’ll need to do that as they adapt to each mission.

Hudson said he doesn’t want players to feel like they need a certain job type for each mission. He said they built the game so that players are presented with a problem and they’ll find multiple ways to solve it. They tried building levels with multiple paths and multiple methods. Players will likely come up with new options that Ubisoft never even thought of.

Players can dive into this rich reflection of London when “Watch Dogs: Legion” launches on Oct. 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and Series S.

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