Let me be clear up front and say that I don’t think Watch Dogs: Legion, Ubi’s hacktion-adventure game set in near-future cyber-London, is not fun. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy zooming around on a big construction drone and taking screenshots of the nice neon hologram art? However, its standalone Bloodline DLC that came out this week is arguably too much fun. It makes regular Legion look very dull by comparison. And the reason for this is pretty simple: Bloodline lets you play as actual characters again.
Even worse – or better, from my point of view – is that it has one of my favourite characters ever. Though the headline character returning here is Aiden, the protagonist of the original Watch Dogs game, we also get Wrench aka The Wrench aka Reggie aka the best boy supporting character from Watch Dogs 2 – and it is so refreshing after the main game’s “play as anyone” shtick.
I really liked Watch Dogs 2, and Wrench was a big part of that. He’s wacky and kind of goofy and pretty violent – an extremely online person taken offline and given a sledgehammer – but he’s also insecure and sort of sweet. Chances are you either loved him or loathed him, and I fall into the former camp. The plot of Bloodline is that Wrench and Aiden are initally at odds, but eventually team up to fight against a grim Elon Muskian mega-capitalist corporate cyberprick, who wants people to be as robots, or something. There is much banter on the way.
At the time it came out, a USP for Legion was that their were, sort of, no NPCs, in that anyone you saw meandering around London could be recruited into your gang of hackers, Dedsec (although most of them are useless, just like in real life, so you wouldn’t bother). I still think this is a pretty awesome idea, and from preview to full release, Ubisoft really polished it. Legion’s London is diverse and interesting. Plus you can scan a pedestrian and see how hard or easy it would be to recruit them. Some of them are on board because you saved their mate from the fash-y PMCs one time, but others are not because, while playing as another operator, you accidentally ragdolled their husband while driving a 4X4 the wrong way down Regent Street. That’s cool!
But in practise there’s no peg you can really hang your emotional investment hat from, and it turns out games like this do need one. In a strategy or management game, the main character is you, innit. You are the one directing a great war campaign or running a zoo, or running a war campaign against a zoo. In a third-person action-adventure you need to have that person be someone. That someone can be more than one person, as in Watch Dogs 2 where we had a varied gang of cool kids alongside main protagonist Marcus. But it doesn’t work if it’s literally anyone, because then it becomes a parade of no ones.
In Bloodline, you don’t do anything fundamentally different to what you do in Legion’s main game, but you’re doing it as the same couple of people with persistent and distinct personalities, and they work really well together in this context. They’re older than they were in their original games, and they’re almost polar opposites. Aiden Pearce was a boring default-mode man in the first game, but here we get to see his nephew calling him out on his hypocrisy, and for all the jokes about his coat and hat, they’re given a lot of believable significance. Wrench, who next to Aiden seems even more garish and hyperactive than normal, is now a 40-ish recent divorcee who has seen his attempt to go legit stolen from him, and has retreated to the persona of his 20s when he felt in control, even though the outfit is clearly not working for him as much as it used to.
It also means that some personality can be applied in a more meaningful way when playing the game itself. Aiden is more brutal so he can perform gun executions, and gets temporary buffs to damage for reloading at the right time. Wrench has a massive AOE hammer attack, non-lethal grenades for causing a distraction, and almost all his takedown moves involve a boot to the crotch. He goes in, he kicks you in the bollocks, he runs away. That all makes loads of sense and just makes it kind of extra fun to play. The problem is, essentially, that it’s way more fun to play and dress up a character when you know they wouldn’t like it.
So in that sense I would definitely recommend Bloodline, ‘cos it’s loads of fun (and I just want to give Wrench a big cuddle and tell him it’s all going to be okay
and maybe slip him my number). The problem is that it’s more fun than Legion, so then you’ll just be sad Bloodline, or something like it, isn’t the whole game. Great blueprint for Watch Dogs 4, though.