‘Watch Dogs: Legion’: A politically minded video game where you start the revolution

“Watch Dogs: Legion” goes on sale Thursday, and promises to be one of the biggest video game releases of 2020. How big? The game, where you can play as nearly anyone in dystopian London, could sell as many as 10 million copies, analysts predict.

Ubisoft’s “Watch Dogs” franchise has sold over 40 million copies globally, according to the company, which also makes the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The French company is hoping to generate another hit with its third game in the series.

“Watch Dogs” could get a boost from a relatively quiet video game release schedule leading up to the debut of the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles, according to Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter.

But the game’s unique characters could be a selling point on their own. “Watch Dogs: Legion” features countless characters generated by a computer that the user can play. These characters, such as a street poet, a grandma and a construction worker, have traits, voice acting and appearances that were picked and assembled by a computer. Ubisoft said it’s the first game that lets you play as anyone. (Well, almost anyone. British rapper Stormzy also stars in the game, but he’s not playable.)

“Watch Dogs” establishes a version of London in the near future that has suffered multiple simultaneous terrorist attacks and has become taken over by a private police force and various shady crime groups. You play as members of a hacker group called DedSec, which has been framed for these attacks, and is part of the resistance against the government.

Most people in London fear DedSec and your job is to slowly win back the country by recruiting people to your cause, often by completing missions for them. On missions, you can use weapons like guns or crowbars or simply hide in a corner and send a drone to do the work.

Running into the military in “Watch Dogs” can get you killed (or arrested, depending on how you have customized your game settings.) At several points in the game, I was ambushed by multiple drones or angry militants that would shoot at me at any provocation. Running away by car or motorcycle didn’t necessarily lose my pursuers — there are checkpoints across the city that alert security of your location, and are reminiscent of real-life authoritarian cities. Those fearful moments of fleeing work for the game and help the dystopian setting feel more convincing.

Real-life events

While the game was in development, events like Brexit, Black Lives Matter protests, the Hong Kong protests and the Covid-19 pandemic all shaped the final product of “Watchdogs.”

“We first started working on “Watch Dogs: Legion” in 2015. Back then, the kinds of themes we were looking at were themes of economic disparity, a thorough rise of authoritarianism, of privacy, of how technology influences our democracies,” said Clint Hocking, the game’s creative director, in an interview.

Ubisoft wants to champion “Watch Dogs” as a diverse and inclusive game, particularly after multiple company employees stepped down following allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Our team in particular has worked very, very hard on ‘Watch Dogs: Legion’ to make a game about diversity and quality and representation… we rejected from the beginning the idea of the heroic ‘dude on the box who saves us all,'” said Hocking.

“Watch Dogs: Legion” costs $59.99. It runs on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Google Stadia and the next-generation consoles. Compatibility with the Xbox Series X was not available during CNN Business’ playthrough but Ubisoft said it will be added shortly. A multiplayer mode will be added on December 3.