We’ve all thought it while cruising through Los Santos or galloping towards Hyrule Castle Town: sure, this is fun, but wouldn’t it be much cooler if we could explore the world’s greatest city? No, I’m not talking about Washington DC or New York, as featured in The Division, and definitely not the Chicago featured in the original Watch Dogs. I’m talking about London.
Which is why it was so exciting to see that Watch Dogs: Legion will be set in Britain’s capital - and unlike the Victorian era Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, it looks like we might finally get to experience a London that is more than vaguely familiar. Not since The Getaway on PS2 have we seen a triple-A London sandbox that looks quite so lifelike.
The question then is… just how life-like? Let’s take a dive in and explore what the game has built, based on the E3 2019 reveal video and trailer.
How big is the Watch Dogs Legion map?
Now just a quick note before we go any further: we've yet to see the full Watch Dogs Legion game, so what we have here has been pieced together from reveal trailers, our own in-depth knowledge of London and what else we've heard and seen from Ubisoft so far. All this could change, and until we've got the final game in our hands, all this remains speculation.
First, an important question: Just how big is the map? Though Ubisoft does not appear to have so far said so, we'd wager that the size of the city was given away on the bus stop seen in the launch video near Piccadilly Circus.
This is a safe bet to be the game’s fast travel system, and it reveals a map roughly bounded as follows.
Kings Cross St Pancras -> Notting Hill Gate -> Battersea -> Brixton -> Elephant -> Tower Bridge -> The City of London -> The Isle of Dogs -> (A massive, non-existent road in real life cutting through Whitechapel) -> Old Street -> Back to Kings Cross St Pancras.
So roughly this:
Now let’s explore some of the places we saw in greater detail.
The reveal video started in Piccadilly Circus, and good grief, have they done a good job of recreating it. All of the buildings look pretty accurate to me. There’s just one problem: the 42 bus doesn’t go anywhere near here in real life. It is actually a route that goes from East Dulwich to Liverpool Street. And just as egregiously: the real route doesn’t use double-decker “New Routemasters” - it sticks to single deckers. And “City Centre”? What the hell is that? The game is ruined.
Here’s a wider daytime shot from the trailer - note the arches and the domed building. Even the road layout is pretty spot on.
We also learn that the Tube is out of action, with a sign reporting maintenance. Presumably this is so the game can avoid having to have a fast travel system where the player has to spend ten minutes pushing through crowds and descending on multiple escalators to get to the train, with NPCs passing out due to the lack of air conditioning. Though on the plus side, it means that it won’t annoy us with a completely fictional and implausible orbital railway, like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate did.
It’s also curious to see the actual TfL roundel logo present in the game, given that Transport for London has been historically protective of its brand. For example, though Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 had a sequence set on the Tube (don’t get me started on the geography), it was unable to use any TfL branding.
After the player beats someone up, we see them get into a taxi and race off - heading down Coventry Street towards Leicester Square. Good detail on the tourist tat shops, and unless we are mistaken it appears that the Prince of Wales theatre, currently home to Book of Mormon has made it into the game.
The taxi then approaches the North West entrance to Leicester Square, where we can see the large building that replaced the Swiss Centre. There is one crucial omission though. Look at the ground floor of that building: M&Ms World does not exist in Watch Dogs Legion. So maybe the dystopian future isn’t so bad after all?
The car then turns and gives us the first indication that though tonally very accurate, the map does appear to have been compressed: Haymarket and Whitcomb Street appear to have been combined. On the right you can see the Horses of Helios statue, and on the left you can see the red glow of the Angus Steakhouse. Presumably in the game you won’t be able to go inside, as the developers surely won’t be able to find a single Londoner who has ever actually been inside an Angus Steakhouse.
We then hit the Pall Mall approach to Trafalgar Square which looks accurate, with Canada House on the right and the National Gallery on the left. There definitely isn’t a bus stop there in real life though.
Incidentally, the outlook for Canada House in the game doesn’t look too good. Here’s a shot from the trailer:
Trafalgar Square looks pretty faithfully recreated - check out St Martin-in-the-Fields church in the distance. Try not to knock over any of floating Yodas on your way.
Here’s a look back at the National Gallery, which appears to be hosting some surveillance drones. Well, they do have form for this sort of thing:
Here’s the south view of Trafalgar Square. Aside from the overall accuracy of Nelson’s Column, the fountain and the steps, I also like how the LED warning sign looks accurate for Britain too.
The reveal video then crosses to the Victoria Embankment. The river side looks spot on. The arch on the right hand side is presumably for the Victoria Embankment Gardens - but it doesn’t look quite right to me. Though it does look vaguely familiar.
New Scotland Yard is in broadly the right place - though in real life the actual building looks very different, even once you remove all of the luminous sci-fi stuff.
The proximity of the Golden Jubilee Walkways to New Scotland Yard does, however, also show further how the map has been compressed - in reality, it would be slightly further away.
Here’s a higher up shot of Westminster which shows us something we currently can’t see in real life: Big Ben (yes, we know) without any scaffolding around it. Note an accurate Portcullis House next to it (that’s the building on top of Westminster Tube Station which is part of the Parliamentary estate), and, Of course, the London Eye and the old County Hall building across the river.
It does, however, show a number of missing buildings including, most obviously, the Shell Centre. Though look through the Eye, and you can see the new One Blackfriars skyscraper that was presumably inspired by Arrival.
Here’s another shot of Big Ben, this time with the rest of Parliament attached. In the background we can see what appears to be the silhouette of the Millbank Tower, an office block from which the Labour Party ran its 1997 campaign, and where today the People’s Vote Campaign is based (though presumably they’ll have moved out by the time post-Brexit dystopia Watch Dogs London actually happens).
Also extra points if you spotted the most annoying thing about this photo: once again it is the 42 bus. Still wrongly a double decker, and still not on the correct route. What’s wrong with the 159, Ubisoft? Maybe the TechRadar UK team start a campaign to make the bus numbering accurate.
On the other side of Parliament, here’s Parliament Square. This is the view from the north side looking towards Parliament. I can’t tell for sure, but it definitely looks as though St Margaret’s Church - the smaller one next to Westminster Abbey - may have been cut. What I’m most interested in though is to see whether the square’s newest statue, that of suffragette Millicent Fawcett, has made the cut.
The most incorrect thing from this screenshot though is staring us right in the face - and it isn’t the “Kensington Rovers” bag. It’s the pub that the character is leaving. Called “The Earl’s Fortune”, it appears that it may be the player’s home base. Unfortunately, there isn’t a pub there in real life, instead it’s the Supreme Court and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
One last thing from Westminster. Behind the character here is the Guard’s Memorial in St James’s Park, and behind her we can see a wall covered in greenery, suggesting we’re looking North towards the Mall. However, that building behind, whatever that is, shouldn’t be there. To the right and just out of shot should the Horseguards grounds where Trooping the Colour takes place.
South of the River
Crossing the river we get to see a little bit of South London. In this aerial shot from the trailer, going left to right look out for Guy’s Hospital, The Imperial War Museum (green dome a little further back), the Shard (of course), and the Baby Shard - now home to Rupert Murdoch’s empire in London. A little further back is the massive Park Plaza hotel that sits to the South of Westminster Bridge, and we can see One Blackfriars again.
Here’s a dramatic rooftop shot. The building on the left used to be the headquarters of MI5, but today has been repurposed as some very expensive flats.
We also got to see this very brief shot of Brixton - we know that because there’s some big letters saying “Brixton”. Though what’s curious is that I can’t quite place this: It looks like it should be Windrush Square, but the building on the right doesn’t match the architecture of either the church there or The Ritzy cinema. Though architecturally, it is definitely very similar to many other churches in London.
Here’s perhaps the most obscure spot though - and full marks to Twitter follower Liam Blizard for spotting this. Remember this shot of what looks like a fairly informal housing estate from the trailer? It turns out it is a fairly accurate recreation of Southwyck House in Brixton. Maybe one of the developers lives there?
Amazingly it appears that the game even makes it down as far as Battersea - as we can see from Battersea Power Station in the background of this shot.
We also get to see Vauxhall Bridge and the Vauxhall Tower - as well as some of the new blocks of flats that are down that way.
Oh, and here’s the Tate Modern and the Millennium pedestrian bridge:
And what comes after the Tate Modern? City Hall, of course!
Going north again
It wouldn’t be a London game without Tower Bridge, and we can also see HMS Belfast, St Paul’s, Mansion House and the Walkie Talkie.
It looks like there’s going to a mission at the Tower of London.
Here’s a close up of St Paul’s:
Here’s another aerial shot of the city that appears to have done a very good job hiding the Walkie Talkie. If only we could do that in real life. Most obviously we can see the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater, as well as what looks like a stand in for the massive boxy skyscraper in the city that is still under construction.
It also appears we’re going to get a little bit of East London, as that Chimney belongs to Truman’s Brewery on Brick Lane.
More north of the river
Here’s Kings Cross St Pancras, complete with massive clock on the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
This is a cool shot. It might be a strange one to work out at first but this is a view of BBC (here called “GBB”) Broadcasting House on the left - which retains its shape and (ornamental?) antenna on the roof. On the right is All Souls Church, which sits opposite the entrance. The BT Tower looks familiar but has had a bit of a redesign on top. It also shows how the map has been shrunken slightly - in real life it isn’t visible from this vantage and feels like it should be slightly further away.
There wasn’t a clear shot unfortunately, but we do see the retired assassin lady take someone down right in front of the Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace. There’s another bus promising to take riders to the “City Centre” too.
Here’s Admiralty Arch on the Mall side with that sodding bus again. No buses go down this road for a very obvious reason: it is regularly closed and disrupted by various royal happenings. Not a good place for a bus route.
China Town also gets a look-in. Here we see it correctly placed behind Leicester Square.
Though annoyingly, we then see this arch, which is real… but isn’t placed here. Wherever here is supposed to be.
I’m not entirely sure which bridge this is supposed to be. It looks a bit like London Bridge, but the landmarks don’t entirely match up.
And now we’ve reached Camden Town, which features heavily in the reveal as we saw a rescue mission take place there. It’s an incredibly impressive recreation. The “Camden Market” branding is spot on, but in slightly the wrong place. The cut by the side of the railway arches we see the mission take place in though? That’s entirely real, and is called Gin Alley.
And finally, here’s some of the other London locations that we've so far been unable to place.
This modern shop front with a colorful bridge?
This place has a very strong Camden Town vibe, but it is hard to pin it on anything in particular.
The location of this house is frustrating. It looks like it could be either Downing Street or Doctor Johnson’s House, but neither match up correctly.
And finally this football pitch at the bottom of a large tower. If you’ve any ideas please do tweet as we will be genuinely and unironically interested.
So that’s London, as seen through the eyes of Watchdogs: Legion. And… it is pretty incredible what the developers appear to have done.
Now all we have to do is wait until March next year to play it, by which time we could have tipped over into Brexit dystopia anyway (food shortages, civil disorder, the 42 bus being rerouted, etc), so the game might eventually become even more realistic.
All image credits: Ubisoft
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