It’s been a hot minute since Ubisoft took us for a leap into a reimagined post-Brexit London populated by randomly generated “play as anyone” protagonists in Watch Dogs Legion, the third title in the series. Legion and its star-studded Bloodlines DLC tied up some loose story threads from Watch Dogs 1 and 2, most notably with the return of titular antihero Aiden and fan favorite Wrench. Legion had mixed reception, despite its innovations. Even I had been skeptical of the move from a well written cast in Watch Dogs 2 (which I gushed about in a prior post) but found that the “random” recruits and team building was better than I expected it to be. In fact, I was almost immediately attached to my characters, which may have made choosing to play with perma-death enabled a mistake. Or was it? More on that in a minute.
First, one of my favorite themes from the Watch Dogs and Far Cry series has been Ubisoft’s tip toe dance around real world issues. Watch Dogs 2 in particular nailed many real-life parallels in comedic fashion, and Legion made an attempt to do the same to a degree. So did Far Cry 6, although delicately without naming real places. I wrote a fan review of Far Cry 6 here, spoilers; I loved it. With that said, Ubisoft hasn’t been very consistent with addressing social problems in games, and as a company have weathered fair criticism themselves. That brings me to my first hope for the next game in the series.
Confront Real Issues
The state of technology and cybersecurity has long since spilled into the realm of very serious human rights abuses. To be fair, Watch Dogs was more or less built on this very topic from the first game, but seemed to show a trajectory away from a variety of topics that could be to avoid divisive political messaging but comes across somewhat tone deaf or noncommittal. This isn’t a great look, especially when the same company continues to put out military themed “bad hombre” Tom Clancy simulators that perpetuate damaging stereotypes about Central and South America nationalities. Not minding that, consider other real situations that the game could address.
The AI race is heating up. Journalists, activists, political rivals have all been the targets of Israel’s Pegasus spyware. There is a form of AI developed for the machine guns at check points in the West Bank. Censorship at Meta, Twitter and Tiktok decide which trending catastrophe is seen and which is not. Now more than ever, unfettered internet access is more important than ever for people living in regions rocked by turmoil and war. Meanwhile US lawmakers made fools of themselves accusing Tiktok’s CEO of hacking local Wi-Fi and tracking eye dilation or other biometrics to spy on Americans, which has led to at least one state banning the app and a number of government agencies to bar it from devices. A follow up bill would make it illegal to use a VPN to access Tiktok, which begs big questions on what sort of back door VPN nonsense that could entail. All the while women (and anyone who would benefit from services provided at a woman’s health clinic) across the nation woke to find their digital privacy and personal data at new risk as anti-abortion laws collateral impact spread to anyone who may have even had a discussion with a woman seeking an abortion in a state where it was banned.
All of these are absolutely explosive political topics that should be on the mind of a speculative cast of Watch Dogs 4. Legion did not leave many open story threads outside a hint that there was a Ded Sec cell in Egypt interested in stolen historical artifacts, which I agree is also a cool topic the game should discuss.
Less Gun Play
I’m not saying the combat in the games was bad. I am just arguing again that the current state of the cover-shooter genre is very well saturated, and Watch Dogs adds very little to set it apart. I said it before and I stand by it still; gun culture and hacktivism have only marginal overlap at best. Sure, yeah, blah blah 3D printing, but right now we could stand to have a little less gun enthusiasm in the US.
One of the things I enjoyed the most in Watch Dogs 2 was how many of the missions could be solved with just stealth, including one of the most challenging late game missions. Legions had a lot of forced combat, coupled with optional perma-death, which made it frustrating to play if you were trying to cultivate characters with strong stealth skills. Part of the problem was the way the game tricked you with “surprise, you’re trapped in the mission now and the guards are already alerted” mechanics, which was not easy to predict before you began the mission. As I played with perma-death on my first playthrough, I lost a great espionage-skilled character this way, one of around a dozen I lost in the first playthrough and associated DLC. With that said, allow me to fishtail on the subject of perma-death in Watch Dogs.
Optional Perma-Death / Hardcore
In the long run, perma-death was probably one of the better features of Watch Dogs Legions, but for reasons that are maybe cruel. I found the stress of staying on my toes to be both good and bad, but once I had started a new game with perma-death off, it got really silly fast. The lack of risk took depth out of the game. I hope Ubisoft keeps this feature and instead works to improve unintentional death traps instead of removing the feature.
Keep Play as Anyone, with VIP
I think “play as anyone” in Watch Dogs Legion does not get enough credit for the innovation that it was. I did enjoy having story characters in the roster too, especially as it pertained to series continuity. The optional add on heroes were very cool, too, be it the woman with the mind control powers or the non-canon descendant of Assassin’s Creed’s Evie Frye. But overall if Ubisoft announced this core feature would continue in Watch Dogs 4 I would be very happy.
Multiplayer in Watch Dogs needs a new approach. The combat heavy, bullet sponge fights and weird mission mechanics made multiplayer not a lot of fun given the possibilities. I think co-op story mode could be a great start, along with maybe some new ideas for non-combat cooperative puzzles that play out across multiple locations. Make the technology the heart of the gameplay here, not just combat. There is a big opportunity for this part of the game to be amazing and unique to the Watch Dogs experience.
Location, Location, Location
Finally, I think I would be excited no matter where they announced the game would take place. The last story had the trailing hint of Ded Sec in Cairo, but Tokyo could be fun too. So would a new US location, maybe one the series has not been to yet like Miami, or one like New York that so far had only been explored via the post catastrophic The Division. Wherever it is, I hope they continue the tradition of featuring music artists from that area on the soundtrack – or even in game, again.
I hope Ubisoft is planning a 4th Watch Dogs. If the teams that worked on the last two are involved, it should be good. Maybe great even, we can only wait and see.
As a footnote, I asked Bing Chat AI which Watch Dogs character it liked, and it answered Bagley. 😭