When Watch Dogs was first announced many were excited to jump into Ubisoft’s vast world of hacking delight, the first game envisioned a world that didn’t seem to farfetched but ultimately made promises that it could not keep. Certainly it was a fun game but ultimately failed to offer players the thrills that they were expecting, and due to this many hoped that the games sequel would fix the problems and develop the franchise into what it could be. For the better part Watch Dogs 2 creates a more enjoyable experience that seeks to try and fulfill the promises made by the original game.
Watch Dogs 2 does away with many of the elements that annoyed players about the first game, one of the biggest points being the omission of the original protagonist Aiden Pierce for a more edgy and more modern protagonist. Instead of focusing on a revenge story, Watch Dogs 2 takes us into the lair of the hackers as we join the group known as Dedsec with Marcus Holloway, this offers room to explore a much greater narrative that takes a hard look at many social and political issues.
The major narrative at play focuses on Marcus’s attempts to take down security company Blume and in doing this he, along with the other members of Dedsec must uncover the scandal’s hiding among the San Francisco bay area. Blume has their hands in many pockets and this allows the game to tackle many interesting ideas surrounding personal safety and security and questioning those that say they are helping. Through every moment the narrative remains consistently enjoyable with many great moments that truly shine and build an interesting dynamic, especially as it tackles the big points regarding corruption and personal interests.
What helps the narrative is the games characters who each have their own stories and their own interesting personalities that make each mission so inviting. Most of what keeps the story so interesting is that your allies are always there and regularly speak during missions, from silly moments of banter about Alien verses Predator, to the serious moments that are key to missions the characters always shine and remain amusing at every turn.
Watch Dogs 2 would never feel quite as interesting if the supporting cast were not around, they add a certain amount of interest to events and also help to flesh out Marcus as a character. In addition the dynamic presented by the characters makes it feel like you actually have a team behind you who work in the shadows to further your efforts. Each character is designed quite well and feels natural to the story with their own viewpoints and hardships which help build cause to the games greater narrative.
San Francisco acts a more enjoyable playground for Watch Dogs 2, unlike Chicago this setting often feels diverse and makes sure to include many of the famous staples of the area utilizing them to full effect never making it feel like a fictionalized world. Every area feels well fleshed out and there is always a distinct style seen throughout which makes missions exciting while also allowing the game and the narrative to truly play with some of the locations offered by the setting such as Silicon Valley. Although the realism of San Francisco is hurt by the shortage of people which makes the world feel quiet and not fitting for such a major city but this was likely Ubisoft trying to avoid overcrowding the world and making progression more difficult.
Outside of the open world the main thing to do is complete varying missions which has seen a major improvement, while still focused on reaching a goal how you choose to go about it has been improved. Using Marcus’s technological and hacking skills you are now able to ensure a more personal playstyle, you can simply choose to run in guns blazing but this is only one option of many. You can move Marcus himself through dangerous points making use of hacking options around you, or in many instances you can send in a drone to do the job.
Marcus’s drones can be used as a simple method of scouting out the area, or in most missions it has the capabilities to complete the task. Simply planting Marcus in a point where he is safe means you only ever have to focus on the drone and it being small and fast opens up new opportunities for progression and mission completion as you utilize certain elements of the environment in new ways.
Utilizing the drone acted as a great method of approaching a mission and finding a way to avoid trouble and detection, this also offered more challenge then simply running in with a handful of powerful weapons and taking down whoever stands in your way. Even delving in to missions without the drone and just sending Marcus in offers a decent challenge, his size offers a greater issue in hiding him and it can make each mission finished without trouble all the more satisfying.
The tools for general chaos and world control have also been greatly improved building a more connected world that fully plays with the futuristic setting. As soon as you have earned enough research points to upgrade your skills San Francisco truly becomes your playground, there is a greater sense of control as you utilize cameras in mission zones and make use of forklifts or other vehicles in the environment to help attain your goal. Using a forklift to move explosives was particularly satisfying as in certain instances it avoided even having to put Marcus or his drones into the mission area. But what was more thrilling was messing with peoples vehicles, using random cars on the road or in a mission zones as a personal toy was a blast, in particular seeing the confusion of enemies as a car flew towards them or sped away made everything worthwhile.
Even simple objects in the world feel more interesting then what was presented in the first game, every item such as a steam pipe or a junction box have easy ways to use them, there is of course a simple explosion. Though what is more useful is the additional abilities, being able to set up a junction box as a mine offered more room to build a strategy and find new ways to make it through tough areas particularly as you attempt to lure a crowd to stun them all in one fell swoop. Also helpful was the ability to temporarily lock doors, this made it easier to escape when trouble ensued or lock a door behind Marcus to ensure that nobody could interrupt his activities.
Though things still got more exciting in how you could build chaos through other new methods, as well as distracting foes by tampering with their phones or communication systems a new ability comes in the form of forging evidence. In what amounts to be some of the greatest moments in Watch Dogs 2 you can call gang members or the police to target people, this can often lead to entire wars, or the chance to move a particular target out of your way which makes completing missions easier. However there is nothing quite like setting the police on a random civilian who gave you information or insulted you which was simply hilarious every time.
One aspect that really holds the game back is the average driving mechanics which felt worse than the first game. Most vehicles feel very light and it was very easy to crash and this made driving a problem when it was so important to this open world, however the emphasis on vehicles in this game is thankfully reduced which did at least help. The shortage of car chases within the narrative and gameplay of Watch Dogs 2 does lessen this problem to a certain degree, although it was still frustrating.
Despite a few minor flaws which seek to dampen the experience, Watch Dogs 2 is an incredible game that truly plays with its key mechanics and ideas to create a fun and cohesive playground. Ubisoft has done well to expand their futuristic world and has started to provide a vision of what Watch Dogs can be, and hopefully they will continue to build up this world and expand upon the huge potential which sits at its core.