A reader compares the London of Watch Dogs: Legion with the real thing, at a time when many can only visit the virtual version.
When the launch trailer was revealed for Watch Dogs: Legion at E3 in 2018 it immediately raised the potential to explore my home city of London in the virtual realm. A couple of years ago I used Ubisoft’s other open world series Assassin’s Creed to compare and contrast Syndicate’s digital approximation of the city to the modern world, an enjoyable endeavour but obviously in a world of historical fantasy and interpretation.
Watch Dogs: Legion has one of the most recent and faithful adaptations of the capital and an opportunity to explore how well it brings the city to life. The game itself is a competent, solid experience that pulls back from challenging any of the usual tropes and mechanisms of the genre. As the original review published by GameCentral stated, it’s a fun experience but nothing that will challenge your preconceptions of gaming as a pastime.
For me, it was an opportunity to instead use it as a form of virtual tourism, at a time when the capital and much of the South East is closed, preventing this form of carefree discovery. In that regard it succeeds with merit.
It presents a recreation of London in the near future that is the most visually impressive of any game with this setting. It is one of the most vivid and realistic gaming interpretations of the city in recent history, certainly one of the most accurate portrayals for a location that has been sorely unrepresented in the open world genre. Ubisoft has long been held in high regard when it come to their ability to recreate real world locations with a level of detail and finesse unmatched by their peers.
Watch Dogs: Legion captures the spirit and feel of the city, from the sweeping skyline shots along the Thames to the small, nuanced details of stop signs and Underground maps. It’s remarkable to explore and visit some of the city’s most well-known locations and to feel as if you are there. As a game, released across the generational divide, it serves perhaps as a coda for a genre that has been ever present for the past two generations without ever really challenging or pushing against expectations. It is a visually stunning game but does it really add anything we haven’t seen before?
As with other interpretations of real-world cities, such as Chicago in the original Watch Dogs, there are restrictions and changes by design that prevent you exploring too far beyond the confines of the city. That said, there is a clear expansion beyond Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, with the Borough of Camden an expressive and enjoyable part of the city to explore.
Key landmarks are recreated with a faithful observation, historical buildings such as St Paul’s and the Houses of Parliament were one of the highlights in the Victorian setting of Syndicate and are again in Legion. Equally, more modern additions to the London skyline have been recreated in digital form, such as the London Eye and Mayor’s Office that add a real authenticity to the nature and feel of the city around you.
It is easy to step back and observe the skyline and feel you are in the capital. One of the game’s, and broadly speaking series’, defining features is the ability to capture the heart and soul of its setting, as with the previous games and now here, you are left with the impression of exploring London for all its sins and glory.
There is huge potential to build upon this tapestry and improve the experience but also the forlorn realisation that will probably be as good as it gets. Fortnite and other online experiences have created longevity and dedication for their user base by implementing a seasonal approach to their games and being brave enough to make substantial changes and supporting the game long after release.
It makes you wonder at the feasibility of, for instance, adding a working transport network into Legion that you can explore and use or a tourist mode similar to Assassin’s Creed Origins that lets you explore the city without the presence of the game’s villains and antagonists. There is so much potential, and so little hope any change of merit will emerge.
Watch Dogs: Legion is a remarkably pretty game, a fun diversion and piece of escapism that lets you move around London at a time when it’s been taken away from a great many people. A beautiful tapestry to be admired, before moving onto the next gorgeous world they produce, which will probably be equally forgettable and equally as soulless.
By reader comfortablyadv (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Twitch)
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