The third entry into the Watch Dogs series asks the player to forget playing as the main character. Play as anyone you want. And it works…mostly. But I feel you lose some of the ownership of the story when you don’t have a central protagonist. Now you’re a team, and there is no “I” in team, but there is a “ME”, and I felt like a backseat driver or armchair coach for these operatives risking their life to take down the authoritative surveillance state that has become London.
The story starts with a terrorist attack, and as a result, the city goes into complete lock-down with a very heavy handed privatized military group, called Albion, overseeing law and order. Street cameras, roaming patrols, and drones are always on the look out for any rebellious activity. And the terrorist attacks are blamed on the Dedsec group (even though we totally didn’t do it, guys) and the main plot of the game is playing as Dedsec operatives trying to clear their names and get to the bottom of the attacks.
The story setting is a futuristic dystopia. But not like TOO futuristic. Take the highly technical ideas of the Watch Dogs series we’re familiar with, with hacking capabilities right at our fingertips, and one central OS that runs the city. Then add crytocurrency, drones, driver-less cars, and Artificial Intelligence, and that’s the future we’re in.
The story touches on sensitive subject matter like human trafficking and organ trafficking, slave trade, and neural mind mapping which is essentially trapping people in a cyber-coma.
Ok, so that’s the setting, now lets tackle the gameplay. Everything from previous games is back. Hacking ctOS hubs, huge network grids that you need to unlock one node at a time, hacking cameras to spy on people. NPC profiles. Spider bots, guns and stealth play. Collectibles (barf).
New to the series are non-lethal weapons, like paintball guns, and shock rifles. Bigger, badder drones, and turrets, but also helpful drones, like cargo drones that you can call and climb onto, to access rooftops, and of course, the aforementioned recruits.
The progress tech tree is back, but with a slight twist. The progress tree allows you to apply points to unlock hacking capabilities that everyone within your recruit list can benefit from. These range from weapon upgrades, hacking enemy electronics (guns, radios), to hacking and hijacking different enemy drone and turrets. Also unlocking different combat techniques, like electrified brass knuckles for a one punch knockout, or electric traps, or different spider bots.
The grid hacking is the same as previous games, with minimal advancement in that area. Some grids are small, using multiple camera angles where you’ll need to cycle around the room, some are big, branching out across the entire outer face of a building, where you’ll need a drone to fly around and unlock. Gone is the urgency from some of the grids, as with Watch Dogs 2 there were timed nodes that would call security if you didn’t unlock the grid in time, but with WD: L, they just reset, and they were few and far between. Also, speaking of scale, it gets even smaller, as you have to build and control a nano-drone that can fly inside a server computer and laser computer chips, and avoid heat sinks and cooling fans.
Make way for the recruits. In Watch Dogs 1 and 2, the game proudly proclaimed that you could profile any NPC to find out about who they are, and then hack them and rob them. This game takes it one step further, and turns every NPC into a potential playable character. Every person on the street is a potential recruit. They all have jobs and depending on what they do, can provide gameplay perks. Like a construction worker can call upon a cargo drone at any point, or the former spy comes with a car and unique weapons or watch gadget. The hitman comes with an AR cloak, and the football fan comes with a gang of rowdy friends to help beat people up (leaning on some stereotypes here). Every recruit is unique in their own way, and by the end of the game I think I had accumulated more than 30 different members. Some will be stronger, and better at fighting, some will be better at hacking. There is also a permadeath mode to the game, where if your recruit dies, they’re gone for good, but on the normal mode they just get arrested or injured. And if you have a cop or a doctor-type recruit on your team, the cool down for the arrested or injured recruit is drastically reduced, and they’ll be willing to help again in no time.
Overall the idea is cool, and there are some missions where you have to recruit a specific person to fill the job, like a DJ to infiltrate a party, or a getaway driver to help escape, but besides those rare exceptions, its really nothing more than a novelty. You can dress the recruits how you want, and equip them with the needed hardware and gadgets, and they each have their own semi-unique personality and accent, but at the end of the day you’ll want the best stealth or best firearm for the job, and I found myself cycling out of 1 or 2 key recruits that I would use for every mission, and a 3rd if I happened to get my others arrested or killed mid-mission.
Really the best part about the recruits is that they roam around the city and scope out the next mission or side mission, so they’re basically mobile fast-travel spots.
So who is the main character of the story? Bagley, the AI. He’s with you every step of the way, and is always in your ear, filled with attitude. Even though you don’t play as him, he is the main character in my opinion. There’s even a post-campaign mission where you find out who Bagley was, prior to him becoming an AI, retreading on the story’s neural mapping ideas.
Overall the game was just OK. The main story villains played their role, but like our generic operatives, didn’t leave any lasting impressions. The final “who did it all” bad guy was a let down. The gameplay remains a fun mixture of stealth and gunplay. The anybody-is-a-recruit idea makes for a fun playground. However I did experience some issues with the collectibles and completion type of activities, like drinking at every bar location or completing all the paint-up wall paintings, as the achievements never unlocked for me. Apparently this is a glitch due to the changing operatives function, and probably the Xbox’s Quick Resume. The sure way of unlocking it is to visit all the locations in one sitting as one operative, and I really can’t be bothered to go back and do that.
I bought the DLC expansion, and haven’t tried that yet, but unlocking Aidan Pierce (WD 1) to be a playable character in the main campaign was fun for a minute, except hes now a grizzled shell of his former self, so playing as him was just depressing. He’s just so angry now. Playing as Wrench (WD 2) was fun though.
Meta-Gaming: Recruit a Video Game Designer
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For those that like cell phones, paintball, and driverless cars.
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