The first Watch Dogs game felt like a test run. It had great ideas and solid mechanics, but its pacing and uninteresting characters left it feeling like a shell of a game. With the sequel I was hoping Ubisoft would do what they did with the Assassin’s Creed series, and take some great ideas, and improve upon them. Watch Dogs 2 is that game. In what has become an Ubisoft tradition, the second time is most definitely the charm, as this sequel takes a different approach, and hits on almost every facet.
Everything has changed for the second outing of Watch Dogs. New characters, a new protagonist, and even a new setting. DeadSec still exists, but is now a group of colorful hacker stereotypes that are written just well enough to work. Sure, there are some eye-rolling moments and dialogue, but it feels self-aware enough that it never really bothered me. I loved Marcus, and let’s be fair, Wrench is one of the best supporting characters this year. The themes they touch on are a little too on-the-nose at times, but it makes for some interesting game play.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), XB1, PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
For example, XP is earned in the form of followers. The more Marcus has, the more access he has to various tools and abilities. Side missions consist of taking selfies with certain landmarks and taking on the role of an Uber driver. There is even the equivalent of Burning Man in the game. Watch Dogs 2 certainly works to nail every reference it can, down to a mission that involves a certain villainous pharmaceutical millionaire and an exclusive rap star.
The real star of the game though is the city. Open world games are a dime a dozen anymore, but their worlds are often not as exciting as gamers always hope they will be. Ubisoft has done an amazing job of recreating San Francisco, and the level of detail is astounding. Landmarks exist where they should, and while it is certainly not a 1-for-1 scale model, it has enough that people who live there can actually navigate portions of it by memory. The game is also colorful and sprawling with life. Characters react to Marcus’ actions, and the world feels more alive than most open world games.
Hacking is still a large part of the game. As Marcus gains more followers, he gains access to more abilities. Messing with traffic, calling gangs and police on people, and even a set of drones (one ground-based and one air born) make messing with the city that much more fun. Players can also still see details about every person in the world, and even steal money from their bank accounts. Upgrading to be able to see the people with more money was one of my favorite upgrades. There are so many ways to create fun in the world.
The story in the game feels a bit all over the place. I get that Marcus and DeadSec are supposed to be “hacktivists”, but their motivation is rarely portrayed well. There seems to be a clear antagonist, but again it feels more like an episode arc as opposed to a full-fledged narrative. There is very little to tie it back to the original game either. There are references, and even a character that makes an appearance, but Ubisoft seems OK with forgetting that first game even existed, at least as far as the story goes.
Watch Dogs 2 is a slow start, but once I started unlocking powers, things opened up more. It feels weird though because the game does allow shooting, but it almost felt wrong doing it that way. Getting into a firefight was serviceable, the shooting mechanics are fine, but it never felt like the right way to play the game. I wanted to use my tools. It was more fun, which is something I can’t say I feel about most action titles.
There is a lot to grasp in Watch Dogs 2. The controls feel weird at first, with R2/right trigger enabling Marcus to traverse over objects and climb. There is no dedicated jump button, and the amount of things I could hack and control can be overwhelming. Car handling is also really loose, and I ended up sticking mostly to motorcycles when I needed to move around the city. Fast travel exists, but only to shops around the world, which is nice, but also a pain when it clears my navigation line upon travelling.
I checked out the game across three systems. PS4 Pro, regular PS4, and Xbox One. On all three, this is a good looking game. The amount of detail is impressive, and the frame rate holds up most of the time. The PS4 Pro version is much sharper with better image quality, even on a 1080p TV, but for some weird reason the performance feels worse on that console. Hopefully a patch will come down at some point, but for now all three versions look really great.
There is also a multiplayer portion to the game, which was still not available at the time of this writing. It is very similar to the first game, where players can enter other’s games and hack them. Thankfully this can be turned off in the options menu, and co-op is still a blast (it was working) when playing with friends. I will never understand the appeal behind people entering my single player game just to mess with me, it has never been a feature I have wanted or used.
Watch Dogs 2 is the proper way to do a sequel. The series is now back in my category of games I care about, which says a lot after how forgettable the first game truly was. I love the tone, the whimsical nature, and just exploring the gorgeous interpretation of San Francisco. Sure it has some bad story pacing, and plenty of useless open world mission types, but I still had a blast playing it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.