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How Watch Dogs: Legion solves the character-creation conundrum

Or, ‘Why the best starting character is the one you just picked’

A worker in a hard hat and safety vest talks to another person inside a London pub
I didn’t create Brian Crecente as a construction worker in Watch Dogs: Legion, I merely recruited him.
Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft via Polygon

When I start a new game, especially if it has any kind of role-playing features, I spend an embarrassing amount of time dithering over my avatar, even if their features, clothing, origins, etc. can be changed at any time later. I do this in shooters like The Division 2 and Ghost Recon: Breakpoint as much as I do role-playing games like Fallout 76. Hell, who knows how long I spent on Star Wars: Squadrons, a freaking space-combat game, with only four facial presets, just trying to pick the Star Warsiest name I could think of.

Is anyone else in this silly boat with me?

It’s a little thing, but the different way Watch Dogs: Legion handles its cast solves such … paralyzing aesthetic overloads, even if all of the player characters you’ll control are unique to your playthrough. You get one choice for your starter character: What do they do? After that, their looks, names, backgrounds, attire, tattoos, scars, whatever, are all preset.

I spent about 30 seconds perusing the 15 perks before making a gut call that Timothy Abbasi’s short cooldowns for hack commands, which I’d used in the game’s preamble, would probably be the most helpful for a beginning character. Timothy stayed with my DedSec cell throughout the playthrough for my review. I don’t think I even changed his clothing. I trusted Ubisoft Toronto’s design more than my own fashion choices.

character selection screen on a young man in a black leather jacket, with a punk-mohawk haircut
This guy packs a short-cooldown perk that is as useful late in the game as it is at the beginning. Plus, he also looks like a hacker.
Image: Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft via Polygon

Subsequent restarts (I am an inveterate restarter of games I really enjoy — anyone else in that boat, too?) showed me how the pieces and parts are swapped around, or connected to one another. The kid with the huge backpack has the CtOS drone summon perk (second most useful, for its help with recon). He’ll be a board game designer or an esports competitor. The guy in the dashiki is going to be a physician or other medical worker, with the perk that reduces your operatives’ injury time. Anyone with an athletic background is going to take less damage; anyone with a working-class background has a pipe weapon — very helpful in melee.

But as I said in my review, part of Watch Dogs: Legion’s appeal is the magic trick behind the population it generates, which feels like I’m drawing a card at random — but it’s the one the game wants me to take. The game will find the way for all of these folks to be useful; I don’t have to figure that out.

The game’s recruiting missions, in which I target literally anyone from off the street, aren’t just favor-doings or fetch quests detached from the overall story, as we’ve all come to expect from open-world games. Several of them tie into and advance the story behind the particular chapter you’re on. Again, it makes the game feel like the choice I make actually advances the story; it’s not just the game indulging my sense of choice here or there before getting on with the designers’ priorities.

Anyway, if you haven’t yet played Watch Dogs: Legion, but you plan to, you’re probably wondering who the best starting operative is. The shorter hack cooldowns are going to be the most useful, long-term, as that will apply to the skills you unlock later — which are shared across all characters. The faster downloads will also be helpful in missions where your objective is effectively to stay in one place without being detected for a period of time, or to survive an onslaught of guards.

character selection screen for Watch Dogs Legion showing a woman, in garish makeup and hoop earrings, is a “tough drunk” who “takes less damage”
Pick a Karen (no, really) if you’re going to brawl in the bare-knuckle arenas early on. They have a prospective member who is very helpful, and a recruiting mission tied into the overall story.
Image: Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft via Polygon

If you want to get started in the game’s bare-knuckle boxing arenas — as they open up some interesting recruiting missions and valuable recruits early on — then pick someone who either takes less damage or has the strong counterattack perk. The melee system here isn’t very sophisticated, and patient fighters can easily counterattack their way to a win, even against multiple opponents.

Those who have lethal weapons (the handgun or the submachine gun) are helpful in that they can stop guards a lot faster, but the early stealth levels — even on hard difficulty — are all manageable. If they aren’t, you might be in the wrong game, period. And characters who have a vehicle spawn are the least valuable, given the plethora of motorcycles, hijackable cars, and auto-driving taxis available in the world.

Focus on what the character does, not how they look, and you’ll end up playing as someone you probably never would have created on your own. My avatar creation had become kind of rote, actually; Watch Dogs: Legion both speeds up that process and gives it a useful blast of fresh air.

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