How on-the-ground research shaped Watch Dogs Legion’s version of London

Watch Dogs Legion

Watch Dogs Legion takes place in a grim version of London in the near future, where you’ll be part of a resistance looking to overthrow the evil Albion corporation. Excitingly, it also introduces a new system where you can play as any single person you see. Yes, even the living statues that you’ll see standing oh-so-still in Camden.

We got the chance to have a chat with Lead Producer Sean Crooks at this year’s E3 about the extensive research that went into creating this near-future version of London, which included chatting with business owners and gangs in the city, as well as the game’s new classes for characters. On top of that, he also reveals who his favourite person in this fictional London is…

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Watch Dogs Legion takes place in a grim version of London in the near future, where you’ll be part of a resistance looking to overthrow the evil Albion corporation. Excitingly, it also introduces a new system where you can play as any single person you see. Yes, even the living statues that you’ll see standing oh-so-still in Camden.

We got the chance to have a chat with Lead Producer Sean Crooks at this year’s E3 about the extensive research that went into creating this near-future version of London, which included chatting with business owners and gangs in the city, as well as the game’s new classes for characters. On top of that, he also reveals who his favourite person in this fictional London is…

GAME: If somebody wasn’t aware of Watch Dogs Legion, how would you describe it?

Sean Crooks
: Watch Dogs Legion is a game about building a resistance to fight back against an authoritarian regime that’s taking over London. Your goal is to find people in the world, recruit them, make them join your team, and then play as those characters to fight the fight oppression.

GAME: And how did the idea for this sequel come about?

Sean Crooks: So, with Watch Dogs, we always had the profiler, which has always been a very interesting way to explore people. But, with Watch Dogs Legion we thought ‘what if that was accurate?’, as in fully simulated. So we explored that idea. And that led us where we are now with the play as anyone innovation. Literally any person you profile in the world can be playable. If you look at that profile, there’s a full schedule attached to it. So if that person says, they work at a certain place, they will go to that place and they will be working there. If they have a meeting at a certain time or a lunch event, they will literally go through the world and have a lunch at that time. And the person that they meeting, if you look at that life in their schedule, they’ll be scheduled to meet that person at that time, at that place for lunch. It’s an extremely crazy and deep system that literally brings the promise of the Watch Dogs profiler to life.

GAME: You can recruit anyone to join DedSec. Let’s say I see someone walking past on the street, how do I recruit them?

Sean Crooks: The first thing is that you want to know whether you want to, right? [Maybe] they look cool or if you profile them, they have a really cool trait. In Watch Dogs Legion we have traits, which are gameplay bonuses that you can look for that might help you resolve a situation. So say, you have a problem with a drone. You’ll need a guy who’s good with drones. So you scoured around the world to find this guy, profile him, and you’ll see when you look at his schedule, how much he’s aligned with DedSec. He could be super happy with them or he might not be.

So what you then need to do is look into his life, look into his problems, and start fixing those problems. Maybe has a debt with a loan shark or maybe has a problem with a crime gang. If you fix that problem, he’ll come to love DedSec, then you’ll finally get an origin mission [to complete], and then he’ll join your team.

GAME: How do those origin missions come about? What’s the process behind how they’re generated?

Sean Crooks: So that system is massively systemic, it can be cast in many different locations in the world. It’s literally dynamically built from what’s happening around you – from the characters to where you are physically, all of that kind of combines into it choosing the schedule.

GAME: How did you begin to design characters when every single one is playable?

Sean Crooks: The starting point is to go around to London and look at the people – like the cultures, the areas, the different locations and boroughs of London. What are the characters like in real life? We flew to those areas, we looked at it and studied the fashion and the different people in those areas. And then we said what if you know, this was a near future London, so then we added that spice on top, and that’s how we developed the fashion and the characters that populate Watch Dogs Legion.

GAME: What was it about London that was that was attractive to you?

Sean Crooks:
London is one of the most surveilled cities in the world, which is something we love in the Watch Dogs universe. On top of that, you have the contrast between history and modern architecture, the variety and diversity of its people. All of these combined to make it just an amazing playground to experience and to fight a resistance in.

GAME: How did you go about trying to create that feel of London?

Sean Crooks: So what we did, very early on, we had a team of people go to London and do an extremely in-depth dive [into the city]. We met with local businesses, and in each of the different boroughs, we studied little elements and parts of London. We even met with crime gangs, we studied that in depth. And then that was the starting point. Once we had all of this interesting information of snippets of local cultures, then we sent a big team down on the ground. So we spent weeks in London, photographing, experiencing all the boroughs, recording ambient audios. And then we bring all of that back and then we start work on actually recreating that in Watch Dogs Legion.

GAME: From what we’ve seen of the gameplay so far, you can choose how to approach missions depending on the character you’re playing as. Do you have a preferred playstyle?

Sean Crooks: So the one really cool new feature in Watch Dogs Legion is that you can play [as one of three] classes. So when you recruit a character into your team, you can choose the class type you want to be. So you have the Enforcer, which is the guy who walks in the front with heavy weapons, you know the type of character who can carry those and support those. They also have a special ability which is throwing a less-than-lethal shock device that can stick and explode.

You can also have the Infiltrator. The Infiltrator is more your stealth character, and they have the ability to hack the augmented reality devices of the bad guys to make you invisible. They also have very competent melee skills, and melee is a new mechanic we’ve added to Watch Dogs Legion. With melee, when they fight, they don’t propagate the experience around the whole layout, so you can just deal with the small pockets of guys.

Lastly, you have the Hacker, which is my favorite! The Hacker has the ability to launch this little stealthy spider bot that can run around layouts and be deployed into a little automated mini-turret that can take out the bad guys. Hackers can also hack every single drone and control them in the world including CT drones that have rocket fires and machine guns, so it’s pretty cool

GAME: In terms of the melee, how has it changed for Watch Dogs Legion?

Sean Crooks: It’s an entirely new system. We never had a you know, in the past it was always a takedown based system but now it’s a full melee system. You can have grapples, punches and each character and each personality of character has unique take downs. An MI5 agent can do tactical take downs. You know, as you saw in our amazing E3 assets you saw the granny’s taser take downs there so every single character and the people you recruit from the world it actually changes the feeling of how you do your melee.

GAME: Speaking of the E3 demo, we also saw Permadeath. How did you arrive at that idea and how does it change the way the game feels?

Sean Crooks:
So, for us, in Watch Dogs Legion, it was important that we made you care about your characters. We want them to be important to you, we wanted to introduce risk and reward with that. So, when you go down for the first time when your health is drained, you get an option – you can choose to resist or you can choose to surrender. If you surrender you’re arrested and then your character’s unavailable for a time. You can technically go and do some hacks and expose a police station and get your guy out though, but that’s a separate topic!

Or, if you choose to resist, you can get up and fight again. But if you do that, you know you’re risking the permanent death of your operative.

GAME: One final question. What’s the best character you’ve seen so far?

Sean Crooks: I think the internet would kill me if I didn’t say Helen. I think I have no choice. She is she’s she’s a celebrity in her own right now. We all love Helen.