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A lament on the demise of the Watch Dogs series – Reader’s Feature-GameCentral-Entertainment – Metro

Following rumours that the franchise has been put on ice by Ubisoft, a reader argues in favour of a new Watch Dogs game.

A lament on the demise of the Watch Dogs series – Reader’s Feature-GameCentral-Entertainment – Metro

Watch Dogs: Legion – should there be another one? (Picture: Ubisoft)

Following rumours that the franchise has been put on ice by Ubisoft, a reader argues in favour of a new Watch Dogs game.

I came across the article on GameCentral recently, speculating on the demise of the Watch Dogs franchise. Although not officially confirmed by Ubisoft, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see this series come to an end, given the mixed reception on its most recent release. I enjoyed Watch Dogs: Legion, it was a day one purchase. The concept of playing in a modern day London was an appealing one that seemed to build on Ubisoft’s interest in my home city.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, with its Victorian London setting was instantly familiar for anyone who has spent time around the West End and the modern world in Legion was even more recognisable and enjoyable to play in. It was also released at a period of time, during the Covid pandemic, when restrictions of movement and access to the city were in place, and afforded an element of escapism beyond the four walls we found ourselves in at home.

It had its issues, a common problem with Ubisoft open world games, principally over-promising on what it could deliver and achieve. My motivation to play Legion was entirely to use it to play around and explore the City of London, the principle conspiracy narrative and threats to democracy with a digital insurgency weren’t particularly relevant or engaging. As with Syndicate, the motivation to clear each area in this particular game wasn’t to restore some sense of liberty, more to remove the technological facade of occupation to bring London back to a sense and appearance of normalcy.

When you are rewarded for you actions by stripping away what makes the locations unique in its futuristic setting, to make them appear more ‘normal’, it does speak to a fundamental issue: those changes just weren’t interesting or appealing to those playing this particular game.

In contrast, the first Watch Dogs game, released in 2014, had a darker and more traditional narrative structure. And just a whiff of the Nolan Batman films as you tore around the dark, rain-soaked streets of Chicago in your black muscle car, fighting against injustice and an elusive threat to the citizens of that fair city.

People have different motivations for playing games, the virtual sandbox concept has been extremely profitable but it always felt with this particular series that it didn’t quite understand what it was trying to accomplish, as it expanded beyond a single release. The lighter visual setting of Watch Dogs 2, in a fictionalised depiction of San Francisco, felt like a ‘response’ to the setting of the first game. The style and mechanics of Legion in turn grew from a relatively tight and single character in its processor to just being able to play as anyone. Fun, but lacking in motivation or purpose.

The idea of playing as anyone was an ambitious one but didn’t really deliver and personally you never felt really attached to any of your virtual avatars. The first Watch Dogs had a somewhat traditional protagonist, one whose motivations and drive were easy to understand, but with the entire city’s population now at your control there was no real incentive or reason to empathise or relate to the characters under your control.

To use the Batman analogy, it would be like seeing the movie through the eyes of every character in The Dark Knight for a few moments before skipping to the next nameless individual, every bank clerk, passing civilian, nurse, anyone – eventually you’d just stop caring. Legion had a forgettable conspiracy laden plot and characters you didn’t really connect to, so is it surprising then it failed to perform?

Fundamentally, it was a fairly generic open world game, what made it appealing to me was the setting; the first time depicting a modern European city in an open world game to this level of detail. It would have been fascinating to see this continued into a virtual interpretation of modern day Paris, Berlin, or Rome. The use of New York or interpretations in Grand Theft Auto and the like are fun to dip your toe into but they became so commonplace, exploring another version of Manhattan island has lost its appeal.

London has its own distinct character and aesthetic, that mix of traditional architecture and more modern buildings is a fun place to explore in the real world; great in a virtual sandbox and especially at that moment in time when the ability to get out and about was heavily restricted. There was a potential to expand upon this concept that now seems like a missed opportunity.

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In a world with AI manipulation of news and events, a billionaire that is in equal parts a liberator of free speech or the antichrist depending on your political stance, and the pushback against traditional forms of media consumption it would be strange to see a studio overlook a franchise, despite its issues, that has the genesis of these issues built into its DNA.

Would a sequel pull back across the Atlantic to its traditional American setting? Perhaps. Ubisoft, to its credits, has been open minded with its use of settings and cultures to advance a narrative. I hope there is more to this story, I hope we see a more global vision for this world. If not, personally, it was a delight to spend a few hours exploring my home city at a time when there was no real certainty that would be a possibility again.

By reader comfortablyadv (Twitch/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter)

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