When Watch Dogs Legion came out last year, one of the biggest revelations for the open-world hacker adventure was the fact that there was no central protagonist. Anyone who inhabited the game world could become your hero, with the game letting you recruit pretty much any NPC you see and make them part of your DedSec army. It made the story of the game a little less exciting thanks to the sometimes clunky way your recruited heroes are procedurally fitted into cutscenes, but this was still vastly overshadowed by how much fun the character system was – it created an addictive ecosystem of social manipulation where half the fun of the game was the act of discovering, persuading, and recruiting new characters.
Half a year on, and the Bloodline DLC brings back two iconic Watch Dogs characters to serve as your playable heroes. Yet, in focusing the experience on them and removing the character-recruitment system that made Watch Dogs Legion so unique, the end result is a much less exciting experience than the game it intends to expand on.
Watch Dogs Legion: Bloodline takes place after the Zero Day terror attacks that occur in the prologue of the main game, but before the establishment of a new DedSec uprising that kicks off the rest of the game. There are no anarchist hackers, tech rebels or sarcastic AIs in this version of London, but there are still threats to modern society bubbling under the surface – namely, a tech giant named Thomas Rempart who’s building some pretty evil robots and needs to steal a bit of tech in order to make them work. This is where our sour and dour and incredibly lukewarm protagonist from the original Watch Dogs, Aiden Pierce, makes his comeback.
One entire console generation on from its release, plenty of people love to hate on the first Watch Dogs. Much like the original Assassin’s Creed, I think it was a clunky game with promising ideas that weren’t fully delivered on until the sequel arrived. With that being said, I genuinely loved the story of that game. It had plenty of gripping moments and memorable, endearing characters… but Aiden Pierce wasn’t exactly at the top of that list. He was a broody white dude with questionable fashion choices, and his aged appearance in Watch Dogs Legion – Bloodline somehow amps that up to 11. My biggest issue with the anyone-is-your-hero system of the base game is that few of my characters ever looked or felt special, so it’s wild that Ubisoft brought back the protagonist of the original game and made him look just as plain and forgettable as those NPCs.
Jordi Chen – the actual fan favourite character from Watch Dogs 1 – tasks Aiden with traveling to London to take on this heist contract for Thomas Rempart, but Aiden only agrees because his adult nephew Jackson Pierce happens to live in London. Once Aiden arrives, his tools of the trade are in line with what your heroes from the base game are capable of. His unique abilities, though, are all about guns. He’s got a dynamic reload system that buffs your gun damage if you double-tap the reload button at the right time, and you can also use his Focus ability to enter a slo-mo aiming mode immediately after performing a stealth takedown. I leaned into his abilities and tackled a fair number of missions with a more run-and-gun approach, but all that did was remind me why Watch Dogs 2 and Legion are so much better than the first game. Thinking outside of the box and using a variety of hacking tools to complete your mission is way more satisfying than just running in and shooting everything that moves.
Thankfully the second protagonist of this expansion, Watch Dogs 2’s Wrench, has a massive kit of weapons and abilities that are much more interesting to use. Plus, he’s just a more fun and iconic-looking character than old uncle Aiden. Wrench has a non-lethal assault rifle that hacks anything it shoots, a sledgehammer that causes an AOE explosion that disables any vehicles around you, tiny “ninja ball” stun grenades, a giant rideable glider-drone with a built-in grenade launcher. and more. When his time to shine arrives in the expansion, it’s a much more rewarding experience. His toolkit lets you approach missions in a lot of different ways, and while they still end up being a little guided or simplistic, they’re much more in line with the hacker sandbox experiences that make this series so entertaining.
The thing is that Watch Dogs Legion: Bloodline is touted as a major expansion, but at the end of the day, it really isn’t. There are no new cities or regions added to the game, no new types of activities, and no new gear, tools, weapons or recruitable character types. You can play as Wrench and Aiden Pierce in the main game, but that’s really the only way Bloodline expands on the package. It comes with ten story missions, a couple dozen side-missions, and a few hours of much more character-focused cutscenes and storytelling than the main game provides. But outside of those cutscenes, nothing that I was doing or seeing felt any different than it did in the main game. In fact, with the excitement of scanning my surroundings for new playable characters gone, it sometimes felt worse than the main game.
At the end of the day, the strength of the Watch Dogs series comes from its gameplay, not its narrative. While the memorable characters serve to enhance the experience, they aren’t the reason why it’s fun to play. Bloodline tries to bring back Aiden and Wrench to make them the core of the experience, but it ends up being a swing and a miss.