Video Game Review
Watch Dogs Legion
Sony PlayStation 5
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends
and the Secret Fairy
Sony PlayStation 5
Personal Computer via Steam
UBISOFT’S Watch Dogs series shares much of its makeup with Assassin’s Creed, the company’s other sandbox property. Just like its older brother, the Watch Dogs franchise makes heavy use of its large open world, filling it to the brim with quests, storylines, and alternate activities to keep its players entertained. However, where the Assassin’s Creed games eventually played with concepts of magic, myths, and historical tales of knights, assassins, and Vikings, Watch Dogs would follow its science-fiction roots to their natural conclusion. The series has delved further into its dystopian setting, and out of this evolution comes Watch Dogs: Legion, just released and available on the Sony PlayStation 5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and personal computer.
Technology is at a peak in Watch Dogs: Legion, with the franchise embracing crisp, futuristic applied sciences within a digitized version of modern London. Here, the eyes of the State and its various agencies are everywhere, keeping watch over dissident elements and silencing them in an effort to maintain control. It’s a chilling backdrop, one that, for followers of the series, may well feel out of place given the original material’s melodramatic presentation and the sequel’s over-the-top, even occasionally silly, treatment. And yet the third installment makes the premise work wonders, particularly in the face of stylized visuals that provide a horrifying look at a future filled to the brim with conspiracies, espionage, and shadowy dealings.
Watch Dogs: Legion has players picking up the pieces off an attack that leaves London in shambles. Controlling members of the local branch of DedSec, they’re tasked with exposing the terrorist organizations at work and, in the process, clearing the name of the hacking collective. En route, they must recruit new blood from the city’s ordinary folk, fulfill quests and side missions that bring about much-needed resources and upgrades, and ultimately prepare a team capable of restoring order and justice to the world around them.
Watch Dogs: Legion revels in its grandiosity from the get-go, and, for the most part, it lives up to its promise. London is vast and expansive, and the sheer number of missions on offer will more than hold players’ attention. From recruiting new members to infiltrating and clearing mission zones, they’re pretty much neck-deep in situations typical in a Watch Dogs game. There’s a lot of running around, sneaking, hacking, and puzzle-solving while continuing along a set path. Much is done in stealth, but unwanted discovery brings about action-filled encounters, with weapon and melee skills required for survival. All of this is pretty standard fare, and anyone who’s ever played a third-person shooter before will be right at home with its controls.
Where Watch Dogs: Legion does try to set itself apart from its predecessors, however, is in its informed decision to eschew a named principal character. If Watch Dogs had vigilante Aiden Pearce and Watch Dogs 2 had hacker Marcus Holloway chewing up the scenery, the latest release does not have a central protagonist to control. The world is the players’ oyster, and they’re free to pick and play whomever they want. The interface enables multiple playable characters, thus providing an incredible amount of variety and, therefore, uniqueness. Parenthetically, the setup allows it to double down on its sandbox nature, and helps maintain its freshness. There is no one-man killing machine. There are just nameless characters with diverse looks, distinct backstories, personalities, abilities, and gear. And just like the enemies they face, the protagonist being controlled at a particular moment could be anyone.
To Watch Dog: Legion’s credit, the deliberate, if surprisingly daring, choice actually serves to underscore its virtues. Coupled with a vast environment rendered exquisitely on the PS5, excellent shooting mechanics, and competent level designs, it proves to be no slouch as far as open world games go.
To be sure, Watch Dogs: Legion is not without its flaws. While it’s good parts do shine through and distinguish it from its older siblings, it nonetheless exhibits quirks that should be familiar to the series’ old hands. Meanwhile, the game is locked to 30 frames per second on all consoles, not a complete deal breaker given its polish, but still a minor letdown considering the vast potential being offered by latest-generation platforms. Certainly, players spoiled by other titles running on 60 frames per second will be looking askance at Ubisoft’s programming choices. Other minor complaints also surface once the midpoint is reached. It misses or throws to the wayside otherwise-notable marks like variety of missions and non-playable characters, as if suddenly engulfed by an overall lack of ambition. And perhaps due to the weight of its pledges, it never gets to reach its projected dazzling heights. It never stops being enjoyable, but the most demanding players will be bothered by a nagging feeling that it could have been not just better, but transcendent — that it’s just a few steps shy of greatness.
All told, Watch Dogs: Legion is an extremely engrossing title well worth its $59.99 price tag. It boasts of practically everything it needs to keep players entertained, and it’s not one to shy away from using every trick in the open-world book to hold their attention. Through exciting set pieces, urban gunfights, and stealth missions, it manages to combine familiar Watch Dogs prompts with a darker, more serious plot and singular gameplay. That said, it seems to hold itself back when it should press on, and ultimately leaves fans wondering if the best is yet to come.
• Compelling dystopian premise, blended nicely with modern designs and architecture
• Excellent gunplay and stealth mechanics on a brand-new game engine
• Open-ended approach to team-building
• Multiple playable characters offer variety and freshness
• Familiar Watch Dogs design notes can give off a been there, done that vibe
• Settings and storylines are darker but seem to be held back, leaving the payoffs wanting
• Tasks become repetitive as the game progresses
POSTSCRIPT: Though the Atelier series has churned out a game practically every single year since 1997, longtime fans continue to look forward to new releases. It hasn’t mattered that the gameplay invariably features all-too-familiar elements; improvements come with every subsequent title, but incrementally. For the most part, similar beats being struck serve to keep gamers engrossed again and again, and it’s a testament to developer Gust’s steady shepherding of the franchise that all the freshness seems to remain even though the ingredients largely stay the same.
Until, that is, the arrival of Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy on store shelves late last month. Given all the advantages to playing safe and staying in well-tread paths, Koei Tecmo could not have made its decision to explore uncharted territory lightly. To be sure, there was ample reason for it to take the risk and, for the first time in the annals of the beloved franchise, come up with a direct sequel. After all, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout, brought to fruition in late 2019 by a new creative team within Gust, wound up being a runaway critical and commercial success.
To consider how much of a hit Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout became, gamers need only note that it wound up being the highest-grossing title in the history of the series. In fact, demand was such that physical copies, initially produced based on projections off performances of previous offerings in the franchise, quickly became scarce and fetched ridiculous prices in secondary markets. A second printing was approved and done, and yet, once again, stocks ran out. Supply simply could not keep up, if nothing else providing ample proof of its winning combination of a tighter, if still comfortable, storyline and a brand-new battle system.
Under the circumstances, it’s fair to argue that Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy comes with great expectations. And it no longer carries the security blanket its predecessors had the luxury of turning to from the outset; instead of the usual story of a female would-be alchemist coming of age after undergoing critical physical and social challenges, it follows the title character three years after the events of the first release. The fish-out-of-water narrative now has her chasing after big-city dreams, in particular the expansion of her knowledge of alchemy and the answer to a mystery a member of her small town has asked her to find.
Which is not to say Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy boasts of all-new dimensions. Reisalin Stout still gets to rely on friends and familiar faces while exploring Ashra-am Baird and the ruins just outside the capital city. And for those who have managed to play through Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout, there should be no learning curve. That said, newcomers to the series will find the interface as easygoing as the story it propels.
Parenthetically, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy’s turn-based combat mechanics offer not inconsiderable variety, but remain intuitive all the same. Even as the system makes use of individual and special attacks, it exhibits a profound bias for team-based executions that sound complicated in theory but are a breeze to pull off with and in practice. And, in this regard, it bears noting that, while in battle, gamers are treated to proper angles highlighting the urgency of the moment.
Needless to say, alchemy nuts and bolts are how the Atelier series has invariably separated itself from other Japanese role-playing games, and where Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout proved especially transcendent. In Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy, finding the right ingredients to mix and turn into useful equipment and powerful weapons still requires no small measure of grinding both in terms of exploration of dungeons and synthesis of items. That said, quality-of-lie features have been enhanced to the point where gamers don’t feel burdened; the world map enables fast and practical travel, while the crafting can be automated. In other words, gamers are provided avenues to spend their time wisely.
Notably, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy improves upon its older sibling by offering narrative heft. Cutscenes and expositions are now in abundance, aided immensely by outstanding Japanese voice acting and spot-on English subtitles. If there’s any negative to the experience, it’s that fanservice is done to excess. The Atelier series has always had lots of it, admittedly lending to its unique appeal, but the latest release seems to have even more – an unnecessary “improvement” in light of all the other pluses.
In any case, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy delivers, and how. As one of the finest JRPGs to be released in a while, it figures to bring hours upon hours of bliss to longtime followers of and newcomers to the series alike. It’s a finely tuned audio-visual treat, with an excellent storyline that complements the immersive gameplay. And it certainly serves to justify the choice of Koei Tecmo and Gust to take the road less traveled. Considering the unmistakable sheen of the final product, it has made all the difference. Highly recommended.
• Excellent audio-visual presentation
• Expanded narrative supported by ample cutscenes and exposition
• Superb voice acting and subtitling
• Complex but easy-to-learn interface
• Alchemy at its finest yet
• Grinding required
• Fanservice offered to excess
• Character stereotypes abound
THE LAST WORD: The Game Bakers has come through with yet another surprise hit. As with Furi, the independent developer and publisher’s previous offering, Haven boasts of a carefully thought-out sense of style that shines through its science-fiction setting. It takes gamers on a wild journey across a distant, colorful planet through the eyes of survivors Yu and Kay, as they do their best to find a home in its hostile shores. Centered around the relationship of these star-crossed lovers, it winds up providing a heart-warming tale of exploration, survival, and love amid dangerous times. It’s a story of coping with the struggles of the world alongside a chosen partner, and, just like any other romance-fueled chronicle on any other platform, it derives its value both from the ending and from the journey getting there.
For Haven, getting engrossed in the voyage means engaging in its role-playing-game and survival mechanics. As gamers traipse through the planet’s surface, they’ll frequently find themselves veering off to the nearest resource node to collect plants and items the couple needs to survive. They’ll clean up goop trails called rust, and occasionally, they’ll be allowed to glide from area to area, charging up their boots through energy lines to allow them to hover in the air or run across water. While the interface isn’t particularly engaging or deep, it does serve to maintain interest and alertness levels. After all, the energy lines or flow threads can be rather fickle in design, with tracks that occasionally force sharp twists and curves and lead to new areas to visit – thus furthering the ever-present need to keep collecting resources.
Haven isn’t just about exploration, however. Battles crop up every now and then, with the game pitting the lovers against dangers that lurk on the planet’s surface. When these various fauna attack, the characters team up for some good old-fashioned turn-based combat. As there are but two different attack types to choose from, the system is less about thoughtful decision-making and more about quick reactions. In a lot of ways, it’s like a dance, asking players to juggle between normal hits and dual attacks and blocks. It may seem a little strange at first, especially for gamers used to more conventional Japanese RPG styles of engagement, but it has no lack of satisfaction in any case. It proves particularly entertaining when the couple begins to weave attacks together and block for one another. The resulting visuals ooze with charm, showing off the relationship Yu and Kay have for each other even more.
Which is all well and good, because the relationship is really where the heart of Haven lies. Its other mechanics may be straightforward, but the simplicity serves to enhance Yu and Kay’s interactions. Throughout the game, gamers aren’t just helping the couple survive; they’re also learning more about the central characters. Through its 15-hour campaign, the various conversations they have reveal a bond that only grows stronger with each trial they face. From the small quips they have during battle to the lovey-dovey compliments they give one another during the quiet moments at night, it’s clear that the game isn’t about fighting space demons or building sprawling houses, but about constant love and affection.
The Game Bakers consciously has Haven move off the beaten path. Its RPG elements take a back seat to the overarching narrative, thus supplying entertainment in doses seen to be appreciated by gamers with a pronounced bias for visual-novel-style dialogue. It makes for an interesting story of love conquering any and all challenges, and while the implementation may well be an acquired taste, it does glue everything together with charm. Its artistic design and outstanding writing are its strongest points, and wind up being more than enough to merit its $25 price point. Recommended.
• Engrossing storyline of love conquering all
• Engaging exploration and combat mechanics
• Stylish presentation
• Lacks gameplay depth
• An acquired taste
• Can be repetitive over time