Now and then, a game comes along and changes the landscape of the medium. Half-Life 2 changed the way players used physics in games. Halo: Combat Evolved redefined the potential of the console shooter. Batman: Arkham Asylum streamlined hand-to-hand combat with its intuitive countering system.
These watershed games have made their marks on the medium with their innovative mechanics, paving the way for future developers to take these ideas and weave them into their projects as the form continues to evolve. As the launch of two next-generation consoles looms, we may be about to witness another such defining moment in the history of games with Watch Dogs: Legion. As creative director Clint Hocking explained to GAME Media, Watch Dogs: Legion’s ‘play as anyone’ mechanic has “the ability to challenge people’s expectations about who could be a hero,” but we believe that this revolutionary idea could go even further, changing the open-world experience entirely.
You can trace the spark of Watch Dogs’ ambition to the franchise’s debut back in 2014. The original Watch Dogs presented a world of unprecedented interactivity, with environments that could be hacked and non-player characters that could be analysed and used to your advantage. The sequel built on these ideas by widening Dedsec’s scope of influence to San Francisco, a sprawling tech-utopia which was an even more vibrant setting for your digital revolution.
Watch Dogs: Legion’s big innovation comes in the form of how its world is populated. No longer are the denizens of the game world simply one-dimensional character models with short bios, instead they are full-fledged characters complete with their own voice, personality, skills, and more.
Not only can everyone you meet on the streets of London be recruited to your cause, but they can even be playable characters who take centre stage in your unique playthrough. Furthermore, if your character falls in battle, they might just be gone forever. When you take enough damage, you will be given the option to give up or fight on. Giving up can land your character in the hospital or jail, but fighting on has a good chance of condemning your player character to a permanent death.
These mechanics get fascinating when you consider how they recontextualise the gameplay experience. Suddenly, the residents of London are no longer bundles of polygons in human shape, but real people with dreams, hopes, and goals. You might think twice about getting involved in a wild car chase when innocent bystanders could be caught in the crossfire. Perhaps you will go to extra lengths to protect your home city when you can feel the life bustling within. Maybe you will even seek revenge when one of your heroes falls in battle.
Moreover, the consequences of failure just got a lot more real. We’ve all been there – an enemy encounter goes awry and all of a sudden, a stealthy situation turns into an all-out gunfight. Sometimes, it’s easier to charge to your death and restart from the last checkpoint than it is to fight your way out of a tough situation. In Watch Dogs: Legion, you’ll have to think long and hard about how to handle combat situations, as dying could mean losing the character you have grown to love. This raises the stakes of every scenario, without simply raising the difficulty. We can’t wait to see what kind of tense situations unfold in the pursuit of taking back London.
Over the years, game worlds have evolved to become bigger, more detailed, and more interactive. The innovations in Watch Dogs: Legion look to go beyond mere size, deepening the game world by populating it with characters that are more than just set-dressing. In a game where any bystander can change the course of the narrative, the way we play might be about to change radically.
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