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Watch Dogs: Legion Online shows how empty an open world can feel

There’s not a lot to do, and not much reason for doing it

players ride construction drones over London’s skyline in Watch Dogs Legion Online Image: Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

I’d been hoping that Watch Dogs: Legion Online would launch this week with a greater sense of purpose than I’d seen in a preview of the mode two months ago. But it hasn’t, really. If anything has changed since January, it’s my realization at just how empty an open-world multiplayer experience is when only three other players can join it.

Ubisoft Toronto promises there will be more to do in a couple of weeks, which includes another PvP mode and some additional cooperative missions. But for me, the sticking point with Watch Dogs: Legion Online is that whenever I boot into a free-roam of London, the pool of potential teammates is three, and that’s it.

It’s not that the mode’s chaotic co-op slugfests need any more bodies. But with only four players to an instance, pretty much everyone needs to be there for the same activity, which is usually a five-chapter team job that takes less than an hour to finish. With Watch Dogs: Legion Online’s progression, currency, cosmetics, and roster of operatives all separate from the main single-player game, there’s not much reason to grind the solo tasks in the open world, either. Anything I gain from doing them stays in the online component.

Unfortunately, then, Watch Dogs: Legion Online plays right into the criticism that it’s an unnecessary mode that Ubisoft Toronto bolted onto a fundamentally single-player game. Unlike in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, the single-player missions of Watch Dogs: Legion can’t be resolved more quickly or efficiently with additional firepower; extra players would just get in the way.

That’s perfectly OK, but neither is there any real need to turn Watch Dogs: Legion into a PvE cover shooter, with teammates holding out against waves of AI enemies, as is often the case with the cooperative missions’ structure. The base game already has far more variety and value than this, and its blend of stealth and near-omniscient hacking talents is rendered moot when everyone else in the squad is playing with a premium character who carries a fully automatic weapon.

As crestfallen as I was to realize I probably wouldn’t be bumping into others and helping them grind out their tasks, I was even more disappointed to find out that I probably didn’t want them trying to help me, either. Not that I was running into griefers or miscreants. The folks I encountered did seem like they wanted to play along.

The problem is, their idea of help was a guns-blazing frontal assault while I was tiptoeing through a courtyard with a spiderbot, looking for a server to hack, which is essentially a one-player job. Naturally, they raised every alarm, and a combat drone descended on my player character and filled her full of lead before I could get her back to cover.

Feeling we needed a more structured agenda to focus our talents, I started the cooperative mission. One player can boot all four into the event simply by selecting it from the map, which suggests to me that the developers view this open world as just a complicated lobby for the same multiplayer gametypes that Watch Dogs 2 served up four years ago. If you really want to do the single-player side activities, join a friends-only session and don’t invite anyone.

There are three different cooperative mission sets for now, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in doing these jobs beyond building up another wardrobe (entirely separate from the main game) to outfit another roster of punks and hacktivists (also separate from the main game) — unless they’re one of the three premium characters available for real money only.

Watch Dogs: Legion Online’s raid, called a Tactical Op, won’t begin until March 23, so I can’t yet tell if that’s gotten any easier than what I played in the preview. The map says microphone communication is strongly recommended, so it sounds like coordinated teamwork is absolutely critical. I just hope the game is a little more clear about what everyone should be doing, because figuring that out for ourselves during January’s preview took more trial and error than was worth it.

If nothing else, this week’s update does deliver two additional single-player missions — “Guardian Protocol” and “Not in Our Name” — for those who own Watch Dogs: Legion’s season pass. I understand Ubisoft Toronto not wanting to overshadow the work (delayed twice) on the multiplayer mode. But if anything would encourage me to pop back into London, it’s more story missions that make use of my hacker talents, not run-and-gun rampages for more virtual clothing.

The next level of puzzles.

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