Watch Dogs: Legion‘s comedic gameplay and serious narrative cause a tonal imbalance that can disorient the player. When enemies ragdoll while falling or die at the hands of mind-controlled bees, it’s hard to take the revolution-centric story seriously.
For all the dissonance that such a blend of elements entails, though, an online mode can work to strip away the troublesome narrative aspects in favor of a chaotic playground. While Legion’s online play does manage to do away with the game’s storytelling woes, problems arise when it tries to deliver on focused and enjoyable chaos.
The trouble begins with recruition, a major selling point for the game. Anybody from construction workers to protestors can join the hacktivist group DedSec and help London expel its militarized government. Legion’s multiplayer shares the single player campaign’s recruitment system, but carries with it the problem of recruits growing bored with DedSec and resenting the hyperbolic organization.
Furthermore, there isn’t much to do in this virtual recreation of London. Besides a galling lack of co-op missions and an empty open world, a planned cooperative heavy raid had its release pushed back. Thus, the initial content roll-out for Legion Online amounts to five short and uninspired co-op missions, a series of solo objectives, and a player-versus-player (PvP) Spiderbot Arena. This all serves to leave recruits twiddling their thumbs until more content shows up.
This is all the more astounding given that Watch Dogs: Legion is multiplayer-oriented design in its purest form. Players gain influence by completing the content listed above or performing daily tasks like destroying five trucks. Once they have accrued enough points, players can either recruit civilians to the DedSec cause or buy character upgrades.
As with the campaign, civilians have their own abilities like immediate access to cargo drones or a stealthy Spiderbot. Players can recruit up to 20 civilians to liberate London, which translates to shooting soldiers in the face while intel slowly downloads. This is where the main source of content comes in: the co-op missions.
For a game about hacking, the co-op missions sure have a stark lack of it when compared to the likes of Legion’s predecessors. In the original Watch Dogs, players could hack into another open world and initiate a stressful game of hide-and-seek. The target then had to search every crevice of a specific area and kill the hacker before they downloaded all their data. Whereas Watch Dogs experimented with multiplayer options appropriate for its world, Legion’s missions boil down to killing all the NPCs in a restricted area.
It’s a peculiar choice for the online mode to focus on gunplay, one of Legion’s more underdeveloped mechanics. For a brief refresher, the cover system and animations were awkward, the AI acted in an unintelligent fashion, and enemies absorbed a ridiculous amount of bullets. Taking a combat system that skewed toward mediocrity at the best of times and having it serve as the centerpiece of a game’s online suite feels like a bad idea.
Though the missions do offer some variety, most of a given player’s time is spent killing several enemies in stretches of gameplay that resemble wave-based survival games. Not helping matters, a squad of four DedSec recruits rarely looks like a team of professional hackers, being made up of random citizens drawn into a larger conflict. Suffice to say, the co-op missions tend to be chaotic messes that also struggle to stay interesting.
Even a team of communicative and confident individuals can quickly descend into chaos thanks to the sheer number of enemies thrown at them. In one mission, all four squad members have to dodge and weave for dear life as dozens of drones fire upon them. As drones quickly swerve around cover, literally running in circles became the best option for survival.
Sometimes players get to experience an odd shakeup in the routine, such as driving two vehicles while Albion soldiers chase them down. Of course, the clueless AI crashed their trucks into each other and created a self-made blockade. To add to this chaotic scenario, one player was standing on top of the speeding car and destroying pursuing vehicles with a non-lethal pistol.
It seems clear to us that players would gain more enjoyment from free-roaming around the city. There is some aimless fun to be had in crowding a flying cargo drone with four people or blockading a bar’s entrance with vehicles. That said, online free roam antics are greatly limited by the four-player session capacity.
None of this is to say that the online experience is a wholly bad one. Players may well embrace the zany gameplay and laugh with joy at the shenanigans. At the same time, Legion disregarded its core concept while embracing one of its most lackluster elements.
Without a doubt, the chaos would be better enjoyed if it was supported by stable gameplay. It’s possible that the greatest sin Legion commits is lacking a range of polished cooperative missions at launch. Five short missions of variable quality is a pithy offering that only highlights the game’s wider shortcomings.
Outside of co-op missions, players can pursue the solo missions that are generously scattered across London. These revolve around completing simple objectives like assassinating a soldier or hacking into an Albion armored truck. If this is beginning to sound familiar, that would be because the solo missions share striking similarities to the campaign’s recruitment missions.
To our surprise, the most fun came from an underground arena where Spider Bots duke it out. Players acquire additional weaponry, such as shotguns and homing missiles, by passing through Mario Kart-style boxes. In turn, enemy spiders are blasted into tiny metal pieces via a vast array of weaponry. Simple though the concept may be, it’s telling that the explosive excess of the Spiderbot Arena is the highlight of Legion Online.
The key to the Arena’s success is in how it adopts a central concept of Watch Dogs and successfully integrates it into multiplayer, something which the rest of the game failed to accomplish. Instead, Legion skews too close to formulaic multiplayer design without the compelling gameplay or enjoyable content to back it up. There is no harm in trying out the free multiplayer upgrade if one already owns Legion, but it likely won’t encourage any hesitant newcomers to pick up the game.