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- Watch Dogs: Legion
Watch Dogs Legion is quite a promising game. Being able to play as anyone seems to add a lot to its open world, be it flavor or actual gameplay paths. Part of this has to do with the game’s nearly eight-month delay. Game Director Kent Hudson recently sat down with Game Revolution to speak about exactly how the game is better now as well as its approach to real-world issues, nonlethal gameplay, Aiden Pearce, how it differs from other open-world games, and more.
Game Revolution: The game was supposed to release on March 6, 2020 but got pushed. That’s quite a delay for a game that had an exact release date. What has the extra time let your team do?
Kent Hudson: We actually changed quite a bit with the extra time and the game really, really benefited from the extra time. We made a ton of changes like we removed a lot of the RPG stuff on the characters but we added so much more that really brought the game into its own.
For example, the Borough Uprising system where you can actually fight back against Albion in the boroughs and get to play these really cool exotic missions at the end of each one. There’s eight of those and you’re going through these classic London landmarks. You’re going inside Big Ben with a spider bot and you’re doing drone races around the city. You’re doing all sorts of these kinds of capstone missions for each borough. That was all added after the delay. It was something that we always wanted to do that we just never had time for until we got the delay.
The same thing can be said for the access gameplay like the uniform access where you can recruit somebody whose uniform gives them a modified stealth way to go into missions and take things on in a different way.
That was all added this year. We also added a ton of the player ability that you see in the world as well as the way we were able to push the “play as anyone” stuff with exotic things like the beekeeper, hypnotist, and the more classical stuff like spies as well as some of the characters we were able to create and the characters abilities. With the extra time, we were able to just sort of push it to where we wanted it to be.
It sounds a little like marketing speak that you’d see in a press release like, “With the extra time we were really able to make the game that we always wanted to make.” But that actually is true. I am just a developer on this game. I don’t do interviews that often but the difference between last October and now is striking. The playtest scores went through the roof once we made all these changes so it really is we really got the chance to make the game we wanted to make and it did pay off.
It was kind of a surprise at the time of the delay because we were on track to ship [in March], but once we got the extra time, we were really supported to making some really big sweeping changes to the game. And I think it’s all the better for it.
GR: How are ensuring that this game isn’t just another open-world game and brings something new to the table?
KH: I think that the course that we were on to sort of reimagine the open world was something that we had started before the delay that wasn’t significantly impacted by the delay. Open-world games traditionally have a ton to do. There are activities. There are side quests. There are collectibles. There’s all this stuff that you would expect across all of the games, which is great but our game, since the beginning, has been about people and people in the world being such an important factor in how you build your team, who you find, and who recruit, and how their relationships and interactions are done. And that’s always been at the heart of the game.
That stuff is tied to the open world more than people think because we’ve created this London that is very faithful to the different districts. So if you go to Westminster, you’re gonna see the classic Big Ben, the sort of higher-end part of London. Then you go to Camden, you’ve got the more punk rock vibe and, in our world, a techno punk kind of vibe. And it’s not just set dressing, it’s actually the people there.
If you’re really into customization, you’re gonna find different stores in that area that have different types of fashion that you can buy for your team and kit people out but you’re also going to find different types of people that have different types of both backgrounds and abilities.
The abilities people have are tied to their biography. You’re probably going to find a spy in Westminster because the MI6 building is there.
If you want to find a bare-knuckle boxer who can knock people’s teeth out, then you’re gonna go to the seedier areas and find the underground boxing circuit. The diversity of the world is really linked to the people of the world and since people are part of our game, I think that adding that entire layer of the population of the world changes how you play it and who you have on your team and what you can even do when you take on the missions. It’s probably the biggest difference that makes it unlike anything that’s come before it.
GR: Nonlethal play was one of the best parts of Watch Dogs 2. Were you able to track who played nonlethally? And how did you want to expand upon that for Legion?
KH: I don’t have the specific playtest and telemetry numbers on Watch Dogs 2 on how many people preferred to play one way or another, but I can tell you from a qualitative perspective and the comments we get from players, it was both something players really appreciated in the game and also said they wanted even more of.
It’s super important to me personally and it’s an influence I try to have on the game. For example, all the DedSec are nonlethal weapons and there are additional nonlethal weapons you can find in the world. And our melee system is a nonlethal way to play. And we put a lot of effort into the fact that if you get spotted by the enemy during stealth, they will stay in melee if you stay in melee.
So it’s not like “Oh, I got spotted, now I have to murder everybody.” It’s more like, “Oh, I got spotted but if I win this fist fight, I can reset back to stealth and keep playing.” And eventually if you try to exploit the AI, they will go to guns but you have a very generous warning and if you simply do a disrupt hack on that enemy, you can do a nonlethal takedown and reset it back to quiet.
Of course we support stealth and stealth tools that let you play fully stealth and let you get in and out without anyone ever knowing you were there. Recently, and I didn’t get a chance to finish it, I got pretty deep into the game where I never equipped a weapon. It wasn’t even just nonlethal guns. I just never equipped a weapon on any of my characters. And I was able to get really far and I probably could have beat it, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the time.
GR: I appreciated that and it sort of matches the general attitude the U.K. has toward guns when compared the United States.
KH: That certainly goes into it. In our game, it’s only the private military contractors and criminals who have the guns. And obviously that’s London today with the super strict gun laws. So it is certainly part of the fabric of the city but it’s also something that we put a tremendous amount of effort in trying to support.
GR: Watch Dogs 2 seemed to have sadly predicted some things in our current world like election hacking. So this time around, what real events inspired the team and what events do you think you’re getting ahead of?
KH: I wasn’t on the game in the very beginning when the small team of Clint Hocking and a couple of directors were coming up with those original ideas. But I do know that the big sort of political topic at the start of this game was, of course, Brexit. Back in 2017 and 2016 with the original vote, there was a big “Will it happen? Won’t it happen?” It was very much ripped from the headlines and when we picked London, that became the backdrop of the game.
And our game is cast a little bit in the future so in the backstory of our game, Brexit happened. And of course, when development started, we didn’t know it was going to happen or not and when it did, we were like, “Oh crap. I guess this is just reality. It’s not even like speculative fiction.”
But then especially once the game got delayed and a lot has happened since last October in the world, it almost feels like Brexit doesn’t make the headlines as much as it used to. I mean, it still has the same impact on the E.U. and the U.K. but obviously we’ve moved on to a new round of uprising and strife in the world.
And the thing that we found was that even though the specifics of our fiction might not be as ripped from the headlines as they once were, the themes of our game about people putting their differences aside, everyday people bringing what they can to it and trying to come together to overthrow these oppressive elements, be it the militarization of urban policing or xenophobia, that stuff is universal. Sure, the specifics might have shifted from us a little bit but the themes and the message and what people get from it, that’s as prescient as ever.
That’s something we found people really connecting with in the game and it’s something we try to take seriously and treat with respect. But it’s not tied to one specific instance, right? You see the protests worldwide and it’s not about Brexit anymore but it’s Black Lives Matter so it still connects with people even if the specifics might be different.
GR: Aiden Pearce is returning to the series, which is quite unexpected since he wasn’t that beloved in the first game. So why did the team feel compelled to bring him back and do you see this as a second chance for him?
KH: The producers will kill me if I give too many details, but I will definitely say that we are not taking the Aiden from Watch Dogs 1 and just plopping the same person into our game. As you can tell even from the earlier images, this is an older, more weathered Aiden. Time has passed. This is not happening three days after the end of Watch Dogs 1. He’s learned some lessons and changed and is grappling with some new stuff as he arrives in Watch Dogs Legion.
It will be an interesting take for players who want to know what happened since Watch Dogs 1 and how he changed in that time. We’re embracing the passage of time and embracing the reflection on the events Watch Dogs 1 and how that might have changed him.