You’ll probably begin playing Watch Dogs: Legion’s online co-op mode the same way I did, with everyone just sort of messing around in the open world. Trying to run each other over with remote-controlled cars, clambering onto cargo drones and flying around the city, making a big mess by blowing things up, terrifying the locals, getting the cops after you, and eventually everyone winding up dead or arrested.
And it’s fun! Using hacks and gadgets and weapons to smash up dystopian London in singleplayer is chaotic and silly, and with three co-op partners it’s even more ridiculous. Plus, if you’re accidentally (or purposefully) planted into the pavement by a reversing, exploding car, there’s someone around to revive you so your agent won’t have to do a stint in the hospital or jail.
Once you’ve had some fun making futuristic London a worse place by causing traffic accidents and blowing up things with hijacked combat drones, you’ll eventually want to get down to business. In the session I played last month, my three teammates and I tackled a few co-op missions in online mode, tried out the spiderbot arena (which allows for eight players), and ended with a tactical operation, a long, multipart mission that requires a lot of coordination with your partners.
The new co-op missions aren’t all that different from singleplayer missions — infiltrate a location, hack a server, steal data, rescue a friendly NPC, destroy a database, or make off with a vehicle. But with four players in co-op, the amount of enemies, and toughness of those enemies, is jacked way up. And I’m not sure if it was just our approach or the mission design, but stealth seemed to typically go out the window relatively early on. Missions always seemed to end with us pinned down behind cover as reinforcements swarmed our location and the data from the final hijacked server ever-so-slowly trickled into our phones before we were allowed to leave the area.
In our first co-op mission, we had to take down the Red Blade, a faction of Albion heavies that had truckloads of stolen documents and photos to blackmail various officials. After sneaking into their facility and subduing a few members of the faction, the stealth went a bit sideways and we had to blow up the trucks and hold off waves of soldiers before piling onto a boat and battling some turrets on an island. Our next mission was to free a vigilante from a construction site I must have raided at least three times before in singleplayer, but despite knowing the location it felt freshened up with co-op partners. Getting pinned down and seeing someone on your team heroically perform a bit of gun-fu to save you, or hijacking a drone and using it to take out an enemy who’s about to kill your friend, or everyone piling onto the same cargo drone to make a hasty escape under heavy fire is exciting.
Possibly the best moment from the session was at the end of a mission when I was driving a getaway car as cops and drones chased us. We eventually shook off everyone except for two final drones, and my co-op partner and I each disabled one of the drones simultaneously. The two drones crashed into each other and exploded as we sped to safety, giving our escape a neat little exclamation point. Good stuff.
Tactical operations are an entirely different beast. These are long, difficult, five-part missions facing multiple objectives and powerful enemies. In my session, we got through four parts, eventually, and got pretty close to finishing the fifth before running out of time, though we had our entire squad wiped more than once. To me, the tactical ops felt almost like missions from The Division 2: long, semi-exhausting slogs through waves of overpowered enemies and a lot of time spent hunkered down behind cover calling out threats to one another.
There’s fun in playing together as a group, but also something to be said for splitting up. And one part of the tactical op required us to hack two servers in different parts of the city at the same time, meaning our team of four had to split into pairs. Two separate infiltration missions had to succeed at the same time, and then each pair had to hold off the reinforcement swarms. If one pair failed, the entire mission failed. It took a few tries, but we eventually succeeded, and there was something cool and about synchronizing our efforts even though we were in different locations.
The fifth and final part of our tactical op will be familiar to anyone who’s played through Legion’s singleplayer campaign: a giant mech boss pounding you with missiles and gunfire in a fairly small lab without much cover, stealth absolutely not an option, guards swarming in from different directions, and enemy drones making appearances from time to time. There were a few things added—one player had to successfully pilot a drone through an obstacle course to lower the mech’s defenses, while the rest of the team had to battle enemies and protect the drone-pilot from taking fire. It was a brutal exercise, and not a whole lot of fun for someone (me) who prefers to stay out of sight and hijack drones rather than go toe-to-toe with enemies. This will definitely be a nightmare mission if you try to tackle it with strangers who aren’t on mics for coordination. I think we would have eventually beat it, because we got further into the fight with each attempt, but we eventually ran out of time.
As for spiderbot arena, it felt like the weakest offering in Legion’s online mode. You and up to seven other players run around a small arena using spiderbots, grabbing powerups like missiles and lasers, and try to blow each other up. Not much to it, really, and after two deathmatches lasting a few minutes apiece, I felt like I’d had plenty. Spiderbots versus people: fun. Spiderbots versus other spiderbots: not that thrilling.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t the opportunity to try out the online mode I’m really interested in, Invasion, where you sneak into someone’s singleplayer game without them knowing you’re there and hack their data. We’ll have to find out how Invasion mode works, and how it differs from the original Invasion mode, when Watch Dogs: Legion’s online mode arrives on March 9.