As we face further restrictions on our freedom and liberty in real life, video gaming offers escapism little else can match right now.
And no more so than in the latest in the Watch Dogs series, Watch Dogs: Legion.
The sandbox action-adventure played from a third person perspective takes place in a dystopian London -not the real one we see before us today, but one in the not-too-distant future.
You traverse the open world setting either on foot using your parkour skills, by vehicles, or fast-travelling via London’s Underground network.
What is the game about?
The game is a composite of different types of missions. Those which progress the main story - ‘liberation missions’ - are designed to free the city's boroughs, ‘recruitment missions’ are for new playable characters, and various side-missions.
You have complete freedom to choose which missions to tackle next, or you can simply explore the city and its streets for Easter eggs and collectibles.
Multiple character use
In terms of freedom of choice, Watch Dogs Legion is like a Russian doll. The scope in your freedom of choice is opened up further as you peel back the layers. So, your choice isn’t limited to what mission you do next, but exactly how you want to take that mission and its objectives on.
They can be handled in a variety of ways, bet it all out combat using weapons, a stealthy approach where you interact with the environment and city around you to avoid detection or by hacking to beat your enemies and set up traps and distractions.
The crowning achievement is the all-new focus on multiple character use in WDL.
Unlike previous games in the franchise, WDL gives the gamer the ability to use different characters at will throughout the game. Each can be recruited from around the game's setting including those working for your enemies. Each character you recruit then becomes an operative you can switch to freely at any time. And another layer in the freedom of choice comes in the fact you can customise each one with various clothing options.
'Sorely needed escapism'
Most liberating of all, though, in these depressing times for so many of us is the genuinely powerful message of hope, unity and perseverance in the face of adversity which runs throughout WDL.
This was some sorely needed escapism for me personally - and I’m sure hundreds of thousands of others - having been working from the confines of my house for the last eight months.
I personally favoured and enjoyed the hacking and recruitment elements most. For me, the hacking is what has always set Watch Dogs apart from similar games in the genre. There is great satisfaction in completing missions using this method and you can get really creative along the way.
A dark humour runs throughout too particularly when it comes to the different characters you meet and recruit. Watch Dogs Legion sets itself apart by being both cool and clever.
There are some negatives, namely the inconsistencies which have a tendency to frustrate. The freedom of choice when it comes to missions also somewhat diminishes the importance of the main thread too and the key objectives and storyline is a little diluted as a result.
There are some elements of grind and repetition when it comes to certain missions which sees gamers forced to revisit the same locations and objectives over and again.
But, make no mistake, WDL takes a big positive step in a brave new direction and very much feels like a coming of age for Ubisoft’s series.
For me Watch Dogs has always felt like a mish mash of some classic games without ever truly standing out in its own right. A bastardisation of sorts, with influences from the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Saints’ Row, Crackdown, and Assassin’s Creed.
But, this time, with the team element and increased freedom of choice, it finally feels like it has found its niche, standing alone as one of the most technical titles in the sandbox action genre.