In the case of Watch Dogs: Legion, the most appropriate source of another unannounced Ubisoft game leak before its big reveal would be if the company got hacked.
That was not actually the case — blame an overzealous online retailer, again — but the video game world learned of (and then the company confirmed) the existence of Watch Dogs: Legion last week, in advance of the game’s planned unveiling at the company’s press conference at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the world’s largest showcase for the videogame industry, which happens annually in Los Angeles.
Watch Dogs: Legion is the third game in the Watch Dogs series about groups of hackers, with development led by Ubisoft Toronto, this city’s largest game studio. They have been working on it for four years with teams around the globe. Clint Hocking, the game’s creative director, says he was a little disappointed that the word got out, but he’s glad that he can start discussing the ambitious game.
“Too many people want to know about it,” says Hocking, while giving the Star a Canadian-exclusive sneak peek last week at Ubisoft’s Wallace Street studio. ”Of course you want to keep your secret for showtime and, you know, drop a bomb in the room, but at the same time, it gets us excited too. We can finally talk about the thing we’ve been working on for so long.”
Legion will be set in a near-future London, where society has grown more oppressive, with private military forces and factions committing crimes and warring in the city. Similar to the previous games in the series, players can hack and take control of many things throughout the game world — cellphones, drones, traffic lights and even non-player characters.
“In Watch Dogs: Legion, your mission is to build a popular resistance to fight back against the emergence of an authoritarian regime,” explains Hocking. “What’s critical to this game is you don’t just play as one hero, you can recruit and play as anyone. Every character in the game has a persistent life, a back story with relationships, friends and families … Anyone in the population can be recruited into your team, and they can become the hero of your gameplay, or the star to your own unique story.”
It’s an interesting gameplay decision, and one that plays on hot game trends like personalization, emergent gameplay (character interactions with each other changing how things play out) and procedural generation — the use of algorithms to vary the game’s details, virtually guaranteeing that every player will have an unique experience with Watch Dogs: Legion. That said, the large-scale narrative storylines in the game will remain the same, with five overarching plotlines that can be played through — the ingredients being unpredictable but ending up in the same meal.
How this works is through a mixture of technologies which have proved to be one of the big challenges for the game’s creators. Basically, every character in the game is a blank slate until your character scans them, and then they are assigned character traits and goals, and often have relationships with other characters. By hacking them, you gain insight into what makes them tick, and can undertake missions to win them to your side.
“If you want to recruit someone, you have to hack into their lives, profile them, figure out what’s going on in their lives, “says Hocking. “So, everybody has got their own little origin story so you can hack into it, solve their problems and then bring them into the resistance.”
Once someone is recruited to your side, you can switch to their perspective on the fly. For a game like Watch Dogs, with missions spread out over a sprawling city, you might select the character the closest to your objective, or pick the one with the skills — for example, choosing an infiltrator or an enforcer — that works best for that mission. Players can recruit 20 characters but that group will likely be fluid, because characters can be captured, injured or put in jail. They can also permanently die.
It’s an intriguing addition to a game series that more than most, has changed with each iteration, with new main characters and cities. A view of a demonstration of the game suggests that the virtual representation of London looks fantastic, and will give players plenty to explore.
There is still a lot unknown about Legion. Ubisoft is keeping how you start in the game — and who your player character is — secret, and won’t discuss multiplayer plans yet, either. After all, the game is set to come out on March 6, 2020, and there is plenty of technical work that the local studio has ahead of it, before the world gets its chance to virtually hack London — and all of its people.
What to watch for at E3 2019
E3 is the where the world’s videogame companies come and give their state-of-the-union addresses, and reveal what big games and technologies are coming next. Officially, the show floor opens up on Tuesday morning, but prior to that, the big players hold press conferences to reveal their big news.
Here are a few quick notes about what is already making waves:
Whoa: Keanu Reeves was the highlight of Microsoft’s press conference, as it was revealed his voice and likeness will star in Cyberpunk 2077, a much-anticipated role-playing games coming out April 6, 2020.
Console vs Cloud: This is a transitional year for the game industry, as traditional players get ready for new competition. The most interesting fight to watch is that of console makers — PlayStation, Microsoft and Nintendo — and how they contend with a streaming, cloud-based near future. The dream is games that can be played anywhere on any device, is something that Google is attempting to deliver with its Stadia service, which the company announced will arrive in an early form next November. How gamers, developers and the other companies respond will be fascinating to watch over the next few years.
Games and when we get to play them: The best thing about E3 is seeing and hearing about new games and learning when we’ll get to play them. That said, the event is really a trailer fest, so enjoy the visuals and get hyped, no matter how long it actually will be until they get into our hands.