Before we start, I require to acknowledge something: the many misbehavior accusations fixed high profile Ubisoft workers. We understand things have actually been difficult and the business is definitely making all the best sounds, however I feel highly that evaluations should, where possible, assess the culture in which video games are developed. Though I fret that art can’t be separated from the artist, at the exact same time, I value that numerous numerous individuals add to Ubisoft’s large portfolio, which their work should not be eclipsed by the disgraceful conduct of a handful of individuals. It’s a balance I’m still having problem with, to be sincere, however it’s tough to immerse yourself in a video game that has actually apparently come at such an expense to some. Here’s hoping this is the last time a Ubisoft video game features this caution, eh?

The old expression states it’s grim up North, however I’m not exactly sure anything north of the M25 is as grim as Ubisoft’s ravaging vision of a damaged, near-future London.

As a relatively dark and twisty individual myself, I figured I’d accept DedSec London’s tale a little bit more greedily than the sunlight and sea lions of Watch Dogs 2’s San Francisco, however Legion is too terrifyingly genuine, and simply a little bit too grim. I question the really genuine environment in the UK is assisting much – which plainly isn’t Ubisoft’s fault – however I typically play video games to leave the ills of Westminster, not to be smacked over the head by them. I value that terrorist attacks and food banks and a lot of homeless individuals include a wintry layer of credibility to this imaginary vision of the capital, and I understand this isn’t Ubisoft’s fault, either, however excellent sorrow, it’s depressing to acknowledge a lot of indications of an imaginary dystopia from your regional real-life report.

Anyway. A terrible terrorist attack rips the capital apart, and DedSec – the hacktivist organisation we have actually understood considering that the start of the franchise – sets to best the wrongs and reveal who was accountable for the attacks and hold them to account. No, it’s not an specifically brand-new or interesting conceit, however it’s suitable for function – practically.

Droning on and on and on.

Unlike the video games prior to it that boasted both a sullen facsimile of a person – that’s Aiden Pierce, in case you forgot him (and the majority of us have, let’s admit it) – and his really antithesis, Marcus Holloway, a male packed with beauty and excellent humour – there is no main character in Watch Dogs: Legion. Instead, you play as… well, anybody you elegant, actually. Want to be a living statue outfitted in a golden spacesuit? Fill your boots. Fancy living life as a football eff-wit who lives to smash things up? Off you pop. The world has plenty of possible employees, and you can play as any among them. It’s an amazing task.

Trouble is, without a main playable character, there’s little to tether you to DedSec’s cockney HQ. Although the supporting cast is appropriately eccentric and wonderfully sweary, they do not have the epic characters of Watch Dogs 2’s Marcus and his team, that makes them oddly expendable. It’s simply as well the video game’s chief conceit is that we can play as anybody due to the fact that I feel no psychological connection to a single among them. They’re procedurally-generated shells that never feel anything other than procedurally-generated shells and therefore foster no sense of camaraderie, no matter how many group photos you foist upon them at the safe house.

And while the permadeath feature undoubtedly adds a dash of peril to your encounters, ultimately, it only serves to further sever you from the cast. What’s the point of getting attached when their lines are transferable to the next operative on the rota and there are Riot Drones and permadeath to contend with?

Watch this space.

The problem’s further compounded by some truly dodgy voice acting that feels peculiarly at odds with the faces attached to it. Stormzy’s voice work is one of few performances that felt nuanced and sincere, but otherwise they only served to divorce me from the world, not immerse me in it, and I ended up with three different women in my squad who all had the same voice and lines. I know it’s not practical to have individual voices for the literally infinite numbers of NPCs strutting about the place, but there’s significantly less variety than I’d been expecting (and if you’ll permit me a stroppy tangent: has Ubisoft never heard of Wales? Despite many Scottish and Irish accents flying the flag for the Celts, I didn’t encounter a single Welsh accent on my travels).

The story, though passable, fails to innovate on the excellent Watch Dogs 2, and it felt very much as if the skills and gadgets – while admittedly expanded this time around – don’t bring much added value to the party. I chiefly defaulted to camo or my spiderbot, particularly when I unlocked the ability to shroud fallen enemies. Few things are more satisfying than taking down an unsuspecting foe with a facehugger-esque squeeze to the face and then shrouding the corpse from view.

Sadly, there’s very little variety in the mission types, too, with most revolving around infiltration, hacking – which is perfunctory if occasionally clumsy – and escaping a restricted area. Once you’ve upgraded your spiderbot and get adept at spotting handy vents, you can often complete missions without ever setting foot in the place, and while it’s initially thrilling to creep around a secret base on the top of Tower Bridge when your operative is tucked away on the ground below, it will eventually grow stale as missions rarely deviate from this template.

I got so good at infiltration, actually, that my efficiency surprised the video game as much as it shocked me. In one particularly memorable sequence, I was directed to “survive” whilst my AI companion Bagley – who irritates more than he assists – unlocked a secret elevator. But as I’d stealthily killed every goon in the place with my trusty spiderbot beforehand, there was nothing to endure except the boredom as I waited for Bagley to do his thing. The gunplay remains a little spotty, too, but there are definite improvements in hand-to-hand combat, and it feels like our London foes are made of sturdier stuff than the insta-crumble population of Watch Dogs 2.

You’ll no doubt gauge by the lateness of these words that I was one of the reviewers afflicted by the console-crashing bug that almost bricked my Xbox One X. Sadly, I can’t say I’d been having a particularly great time up until that point anyway, but the bug did put a premature halt to my campaign progress and instead sent me out into London to explore at my leisure. Like many games forged in the Ubisoft mould, this is where the world opens up and I started to enjoy myself.

Legionnaires’ disease

Driving around mindlessly doesn’t do much for me – I still hate the driving in this series, not least because the music selection is astonishingly meagre, and although I had never ever heard of Boston Manor before, I am now far more informed of their work than I ever expected to be. Also, the AI of the people roaming the streets of London is flawed to the point of hilarity. Pedestrians frequently – inexplicably – jump into the road rather than away from it.

By the time you start collating Tech Points and unlocking and upgrading your gadgets and gizmos, though, things get considerably more enjoyable. I spent a lot of time as a construction worker, not because of that snazzy hi-viz vest, but because of their super handy cargo drone. Big enough to accommodate both you and its cargo, you can not only use it to get across the city, but also access the collectibles frequently secreted on or around rooftops, too. While it’s not the speediest device, it’s certainly a relaxing way to take in the sights of London and move around.

Unlocking the ability to hijack drones also had a positive impact on my enjoyment, too. At first, the things are hideously overpowered and thanks to the floaty driving, you can’t even outpace the bloody things, but once you’re able to get them and turrets on-side, it should certainly make encounters feel a little less unbalanced, and a hell of a lot more more.

Hacked off.

But it’s desperately underbaked. Dialogue cuts out part way through, either because you’ve inadvertently triggered yet another loading screen, or because the game simply crapped out. Sometimes operatives won’t go into cover, which is super fun when you’re in the middle of a gunfight. Although you’ll encounter a number of UK-flavoured tracks adorning the city’s airwaves as you go about your business, the in-car radio – which mysterious follows you from vehicle to vehicle – offers the same two and a half songs over and over again and – sad news – WD2’s earbuds have been removed.

Accents and voice work are dodgy. Missions bug out and either don’t start or can’t be completed. Enemy drones are desperately overpowered, particularly early-game, and there are a plethora of other, less inconsequential issues and bugs including a funny half-hour in which my DedSec recruit was stuck looping her melee animation. They’re not all hangable offences, no, but combined they speak of a game that – despite its delays – may still have benefited from a little extra spitshine and polish.

Yes, it’s fun to pootle around London. Yes, it’s exciting to step past the roped-off areas and explore such iconic landmarks and yes, I did enjoy it the more I played, particularly when I leapt off the predictable story path and made my own entertainment. But without a compelling story or any tangible improvements to the mighty standards set by Watch Dogs 2, Watch Dogs Legion is dark and unpleasant in more ways than one, and it doesn’t matter the number of protagonists a video game boasts if you’re not able to appreciate a single among them.