I am a man of the people. A slave to the machine. A friend to all children. When I get the opportunity — the very rare, socially-isolated opportunity — to preview Watch Dogs Legion, I know what I have to do. What They (with a capital T) would like me to do is explore the interplay of the game’s systems and how they relate to one another, dive into how liberating boroughs of London expands your options in a city under lockdown and investigate how the ability to recruit anybody reshapes how I view NPCs in video games.
Instead, let me tell you about my attempt to recruit a grandma into my cohort of techno-anarchist revolutionaries.
Like the entire internet, I was enamoured with the idea of playing a high-octane sci-fi open-world hack-a-minute shooter as a grandma whose primary stat was apparently ‘walking slower than everyone else’. It’s just too weird. It defies logic. Games are typically about power fantasy, and while my Italian grandmother might beg to differ (not that she’d ever beg), the grandma stereotype stands in clear defiance of that fantasy.
Adding her to my coterie of cyber-guerilla rebels felt essentially mandatory. Anything less would be a failure.
So after the introductory elements were out of the way — tutorialising, contextualising, that sort of thing — I set about my mission. I scanned anyone and everyone. I hunted high and low. If a woman had her hair in a bun, I scanned her. If a man was short, I scanned him. If anyone ever moved at less than a ‘normal’ pace, they got scanned. At every corner I ran into dead ends. Women who were politicians, men who drove fast cars. People who were currently being tased by the private military/technology company handling security throughout London.
It wasn’t working. And worse, I kept getting distracted. I found a guy with a thick Eastern European accent who was apparently a hitman. That’s what it said in the scanner app — Professional Hitman. Like he was up on LinkedIn as the CEO of ‘Clappin’ MFers Inc.’ or something. And when I scanned him, his special skills included Gunkata. I had to add him to the crew. It was a heavy cost, but I paid it gladly.
It turns out it was a good idea because recruiting some people requires a bit of effort. My man Lloyd Ristic, Hitman and repeat catfish victim, is wanted not only by the Albion security forces but by Clan Kelley, the only criminal family left in WDL‘s London. To bring him into the fold I need to find out why.
I could go anywhere in London, so I headed over to a Clan Kelley hideout that was marked on the map. Hacking the servers at this location would tell me what I could do to help Lloyd out, and helping Lloyd would help recruit him to Deadsec. What’s cool is that, if I’d gone to an Albion facility, the following mission would have been completely different. Probably harder, as I’d find out later.
For now though, I’m running around an under-construction area filled with two-bit thugs. Heavily-armed two-bit thugs, but the point remains. And being a man of great hubris, I decided to tackle the situation with another person I’d recently recruited — a transient who happily joined Deadsec after I saved him from a beating.
He didn’t really have a lot going for him, not compared to the rest of my team. Erin Martinez, the Construction Worker, can summon a Cargo Drone, and she shoots a nail gun at people. It’s brutal. Then there’s Becky Flanagan, a Police Constable who can walk uninterrupted into any cop shop, and she has an instant takedown stun gun.
And finally, there’s John Dasgupta, who comes with a spy watch that jams enemy weapons, a special self-driving spy car with missile launchers and the only silenced pistol I’ve seen in the game.
But no, I have to pick Teddy White, whose special power is begging on the streets for money. That’s not me being a dickhole, that’s literally his special ability.
Luckily, when any character joins Deadsec they get a few basic additions to their arsenal. Teddy can hack all the same things others can using his phone, he gets a non-lethal electric shock pistol, and he has a robot drone which he can use to distract people (and shoot them). Still, I could have done a lot better.
Breaching into the Kelley gang’s hideout is easy up-front — the only person guarding the entrance runs away terrified when a nearby AI-powered forklift comes to life and rams itself into him. I too would run if faced with the same dilemma.
What complicates things is my decision to then exclusively use the forklift to clear out the hideout. Forklifts are good for many things. Teddy White gets to a hard-to-reach area by standing on the forks and lifting himself up some scaffolding (an OSHA nightmare, mind you), and if I’d needed to lift some pallets somewhere, I would have picked the right tool. But they’re slow. And when I park the forklift on some poor lady, instead of assuming a ghost did it the Clan Kelley goons call in back-up.
After a laborious effort to shoot everyone with Teddy’s garbage electric pistol, I’ve finally cleared out the area and hacked the server. Word is my (hit)man Ristic has been going all vigilante on Kelley family hideouts, but they’ve just now managed to capture him. And if I’m going to recruit him, I need to do it before he’s fed to the pigs.
Immediately I switch to John Dasgupta the spy. Teddy White is dead to me. I don’t mean in the sense that he actually died — although the game ostensibly involves permadeath, if you let your operatives get, you know, killed. No, Teddy White is benched, never to be used again.
Dasgupta is a god. He’s so good it might actually be a problem for the game. Why would I ever use anyone other than my spy? All his shots are silenced. Watch Dogs Legion isn’t exactly a ‘stealth’ game, but stealth plays a large factor in how situations play out. If gang members hear gunshots, they’ll call in backup. If, instead, their faces appear to be exploding at random, they will do their best to sort it out themselves. He’s like the BFG of people (the Doom weapon, not the Dahl Universe behemoth). In practically no time at all everyone near Ristic is dead, and our Professional Hitman is rescued.
With Ristic secured and added to the roster, the mission to find a grandma is back in full swing. It’s not at all easy. I keep getting distracted by things. I’m alarmingly close to a rooftop which contains an Albion server that I could use to liberate the Burrough. I figure I might as well do it to see what Lloyd is all about. His gun isn’t silenced so people keep running at him — and that’s the way he likes it. Anytime anyone moves within three metres of Lloyd he gives them the old John Wick one-two — that’s one quick grab and two point-blank shots to the chest.
It’s terrifying seeing him in action. If Dasgupta is a scalpel, Lloyd is one of those Rambo knives with the shark teeth on one side.
I return to my mission, the pursuit of a grandma. What I’m noticing is that generally speaking, the area I’m searching in has a very… youth-oriented vibe to it. Graffiti on the walls, pubs on every corner, bright neon-lit art installations — it doesn’t have a very grandma vibe to it.
What I needed was an area that grandmas might prefer to be around, but I don’t really know where you’d go in London to tell your grandchildren they’re wasting their life on video games. I was at something of a loss.
Worse still, I was running out of time. We only had three hours of playtime available. And I couldn’t stop from being distracted. I’d found Isabelle McMahan, an Albion Captain, and I was intrigued to think I might be able to recruit one of the enemy into my squad. She was outright hostile towards Deadsec, but getting her onside is still possible.
Like every citizen within WDL, Isabelle is operating on a schedule — and you can actually see that schedule. If you save them as a potential recruit, you can view their “Deep Profile”, which tracks everything they’ve done — and everything they’re going to do. And by plumbing the depths, you can find information that might be useful to get them onside.
For example, Isabelle had been identified as a Clan Kelley racketeer. She’s clearly not squeaky clean. And by following her to a meeting with a friend, I found an almost perfect attack vector — her friend had an arrest record that I could expunge to…
Wait, was that little old lady hobbling down the street?
Manying Ip, when I tried to recruit her, told me I could kiss her arse. Her special ability is not being able to take cover or sprint. She’s a barber and apparently a darts player, and according to the Deadsec system, she was under investigation by Albion for trying to get dirt on two Albion operatives.
If I could get the dirt on those operatives, I’d have a grandma on my team.
The Albion agents were working at a location across the city, so I hopped in a cab and told it to autodrive over. It’s not the fastest way to travel, but it’s a fantastic way to stop myself from getting distracted.
Once there, I surveyed the building and got the lay of the land. The two Albion operatives were inside a place called Broca Tech, and the front door was heavily guarded. If I’d recruited that Albion Captain, this probably would have been a cinch — she has a uniform that can get her access to places like this.
Instead, I needed to try something different. I switched to Erin Martinez, the construction worker. The high-vis vest didn’t set me up well for stealth, but her construction drone gave me an easy way to get onto the roof of the building.
The roof was crawling with bad guys. If the roof entrance was twitter, these dudes were the dumbest takes alive. Just everywhere. But by chaining together access to the security cameras, I had a path to my targets. I just needed to get to them. I had to download their “Optik Records”, which I think are their body cams, so I had to get up close and personal.
Luckily, one of them walked out onto the roof itself, and capturing their Optik Record was simple. Unluckily, a security drone spotted me in action. I was so close to getting away with it, too.
My first instinct was to take cover. Unfortunately, my ‘cover’ was the high-tech dystopian London equivalent of an explosive red barrel, and I found myself critically wounded, gunfire peppering the walls around me like so many bad analogies in a game preview.
I managed to get to cover and I got the five-minute warning from the team running the preview. I was basically out of time. I needed to act, and I needed to act fast.
With my health regenerated, I dropped down onto the roof. I was trying to land on the catwalk, which I figured would allow me to circumvent a few of the guards, but I missed and fell two storeys to land in front of someone. There’s fall damage, but it’s surprisingly lenient in Watch Dogs Legion.
The Albion guard is as surprised as I am, so I take him out. Erin isn’t a Dasgupta or Ristic, but she has what it takes. The nail gun helps. I’m under fire again, a host of guards keeping me pinned, and the nail gun’s range is a bit garbage, and the clock is ticking.
But I am a man of the people. And despite the overwhelming odds, I do what I need to. While the guards bear down on me, I go into a trance-like state. I can’t miss. My gunplay is perfection. With Erin’s special weapon, what I manage is a thing of beauty. I put together so much nail art I could open a salon. Every single Albion guard who comes my way collapses, a nail lodged right in the speech centre of the brain. At least I figure it must be there because they all stop yelling.
There’s just a couple of guards left between me and the door. Having dropped them, I have a clear run. It’s surprisingly quiet. All I need do is walk through the door and over to the second guard to grab his data, and I’ll have my grandma. I wondered idly what happened to the first guard. And then Bagley, the computer AI that runs everything behind the scenes at Deadsec, chirps up.
“Looks like you put that guard in hospital. I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what our prospect would have wanted.”