Its ambition is sky-high. After rebounding off of the first game to deliver a best-in-generation sequel in 2016, Ubisoft is back with a third one set in London and featuring a completely bananas premise: Big Brother isn’t just watching, he’s imposed a fascist state.
Resistance is the only way to fight back, and DedSec, the hacker group at the heart of Watch Dogs 2’s story, knows the gameplan. The difference in Legion is there’s no main character except the one you recruit yourself. All the people of London are there to be recruited, you just have to convince them.
Everyone in the city lives by their own schedule. They have jobs, homes, friends and family — full lives outside the brief, passing moments that you see them on the street. Convincing someone to join is a matter of figuring out what they need, want, or like, and helping them achieve that.
Once they’re in, they’re yours. The people you recruit all become the stars of Legion. There are other characters inhabiting the main story, but everyone in DedSec is playable and everyone brings a different set of skills to the table. (Think RPG-style character classes, devoted to street brawling, hacking, and stealth.)
“There are definitely character movements and things that happen in the main storylines of the game,” creative director Clint Hocking said in a chat at E3 2019. “But it’s your investment in the character and your investment in picking them — from choosing them from the world, figuring out what their problems are … and doing their origin mission to bring them into your team is very personal to them. It’s what’s going on in their life.”
It’s an unusual approach to building a story. Think about the previous two Watch Dogs games, led by named and (moreso with the sequel) fully fleshed out humans. In Legion, you find that depth of character in your interactions with recruits. While it ultimately circles back to a larger story built around five main questlines, the overall effect is that you’re choosing the stars of your Watch Dogs story right off the street.
‘Watch Dogs: Legion’ has tons of ambition, but it comes at some cost
Back to that pesky weight problem. During an E3 presentation and subsequent hands-on demo, something unusual stuck out. While there’s a wide diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and personal styles represented in Legion, that variety doesn’t extend to body types.
Everyone I came across in Legion’s London was either an average-sized adult — men and women both — or a hunched over, older lady, much like the reveal trailer’s granny assassin. I didn’t see any older men and I didn’t see a single fat body.
I asked Hocking about this as well, and to give you the full context, I want you to see how the question he responded to was framed. Here’s that brief exchange (edited for clarity):
MASHABLE: In this admittedly small slice we’re seeing, I’m not seeing a huge diversity of body types. And you know, I feel like games should represent all of us. Is this just because it’s an early build?
HOCKING: So the body types that we have in the game are the body types we are going to ship with. We’re really, really proud of the diversity we do have. And I think we could probably claim that we’re the most diverse representation of people that you’ve ever seen in the game. That’s maybe up to you to decide. But we can’t include everyone. It’s impossible. Right? So we have to start somewhere. We’ve made enormous investments in technology, enormous investments in getting the diversity we have been able to get and whether it’s ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, gender diversity, all of these things. And of course we would love to be able to do everything. But we do have to start somewhere and build from there.
As I transcribed the interview and reviewed what Hocking had said, I grew puzzled by this response. For one, plenty of open world games — going as far back as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in my own memory — have included fat bodies. None have had the ambition of a game like Legion, but that’s a hard fact to accept when there’s already a celebration-worthy level of diversity, as Hocking said.
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Moreover, his response side-stepped the question of body representation entirely. Hocking hailed Legion’s “ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, gender diversity, all of those things.” Maybe he misunderstood the question. So I emailed Ubisoft on Thursday morning seeking clarification.
Again, for the sake of transparency, here’s how the follow-up question was phrased:
I was struck during the demo by the fact that Legion’s London seems to consist entirely of [average-sized] adults and slow-walking “grannies.” I didn’t see any comparably older men and I didn’t see any fat bodies. Is that simply a product of this being an early demo and a small slice of the world? Or is it as Clint said, that the body types that are in there now are the ones that will ship?
And here’s Ubisoft’s clarifying response, attributed to Hocking:
We’re pleased with the unprecedented level of diversity we’ve achieved in Watch Dogs: Legion. We had to make some very difficult decisions along the way, and we were not able to include and represent everything we would have liked. It’s something we care about deeply and we’ll push to go further in the future.