The original Watch Dogs was a game that drew a lot of attention as the first highly anticipated next game. Gamers were blown away by the visuals, the gameplay, and overall hacking mechanics that were shown at multiple E3 press conferences. When the game finally launched, we found that the game wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the hacking masterpiece a lot of people made it out to be. It had it’s fans, but the overall feeling was that it was a missed opportunity. When Watch Dogs 2 was announced, a lot of people weren’t sure exactly what type of game we would be receiving. Would the game continue the story of Aiden Pearce and his run-ins with organized crime or would Ubisoft take a different approach? Turns out, Ubisoft decided to take the series in a completely different, more lighthearted direction as they embraced internet culture and did away with the more serious tones of the previous. Was it enough to breathe life into this IP and warrant a sequel or is Watch Dogs destined for the pound?
The game begins with you playing as Marcus Holloway, a self taught hacker who was accused of some crimes he did not commit against the HDC (Home Domain Center). Not wanting to be the played party, he decides to take the fight to them and infiltrate a Blume (think Google of Facebook) company server farm while also trying out for a secretive hacking collective called Deadsec. While infiltrating the server farm, Marcus sees just how deep the company goes in collecting data on everyday citizens and the nefarious ways it’s being used. After erasing his own information from their servers and escaping, he is welcomed into Deadsec as a full fledged member and their work towards bringing down Blume and the invasive ctOS begins.
The first thing I noticed while playing Watch Dogs 2 was just how lighthearted they went with the story. This is a resounding plus in my book as the first game tried to take itself too seriously and in the end got weighed down under it’s own lore. In Watch Dogs 2, you can tell Ubisoft wanted the game to be fun first, story second. And that’s not to say the story isn’t decent. As you begin the game and are introduced to the other members of Deadsec, you wouldn’t be remiss to roll your eyes and utter “Millennials…ugh.” These characters are unabashedly products of their environment and that environment is internet culture and the San Francisco bay area. Skinny jeans and machiatos await you at every corner and the characters relish in the fact of what they are. The longer you play the game though, you’ll see that these characters actually have some depth as their plights are brought to the forefront. They are each participating in this war against the “system” with the “hack the planet” style motto for a reason. Finding out what those reasons are is where the story really takes off and shows the quality of the writers who’s task it was to intermingle a serious story into an otherwise silly game.
The real bread of butter of Watch Dogs 2 is it’s world and goofy quests. I knew I was in for a treat when one of my first missions was to sell a fake LP to a Martin Shkreli clone while impersonating a rapper’s voice. Another notable mission involved stealing a Nightrider style car and taking it for an explosive run through downtown San Francisco. The game truly shines when it doesn’t take itself serious and you are left to your own devices to cause mayhem. And the developers gave you quite a few ways to cause said mayhem. From 3D printing brightly colored guns to using drones and remote hacking, there are numerous ways to take down any mission in the game. Just like in the previous game, you’ll be able to hack pretty much anything digital in the world. By following an upgrade tree, you’ll be able to unlock additional tech that suits whatever playstyle you prefer. I favored health/survivability over everything else, but I also put some points into guns and the hacking tech. That’s one of the overarching themes in Watch Dogs 2 – play the game the way you want to play it.
Depending on how you spec your character will define how you play out missions. One thing that is common across the game though is that Marcus is not a guns blazing character. Sure, he can whip out some gunplay when it’s needed, but to survive you’re going to need to use stealth and your gadgets. As you enter a mission area, you’ll typically see a number of guards patrolling an area. Using stealth and your gadgets, you’ll be able to remotely set off explosives, ring guards phones to distract them, and do other nefarious things to mess with the opposition. Sneaking up behind an otherwise unknowing enemy and choking them out never stops being satisfying. Be careful though, one downside to Watch Dogs 2 combat is it’s cover system that sometimes gets finicky at times. You may mean to stick a cover to hide but vault over it, alerting a bunch of guards. When this happens, it’s time to bring out the big guns. Gunplay is one of the weaker aspects of Watch Dogs 2. I always preferred the more stealthy approach, but when in a pinch you can unleash some hell. As you continue to level up Marcus, you’ll always find new and inventive ways to take down missions and when you do a perfect run of an area without alerting any guards is when Watch Dogs 2 really shows what it has going for it.
Watch Dogs 2 also has a multiplayer component but depending on your playstyle will either be a welcome addition or a tedious intrusion. This feature basically allows other players to jump into your world and interrupt your play by hacking objectives. Your goal is to stop what you’re doing, chase them down, and eliminate them. Finding them is the tricky bit though as they look like everyone else in your world. This is a neat feature, but I found that I got tired of the interruptions and turned it off after a couple invasions. If you want to enjoy the PvP on your own time, turn it off, and then re-enable when you’re ready. If you’re more into co-op, there is a co-op mode, but it’s not very broad in it’s approach. The missions are very similar to single player, and while a couple jaunts with friends can be fun, the overall experience left me wanting to play more on my own in the silly world Ubisoft created.
Overall, Watch Dogs 2 is a giant step in the right direction for a franchise I had honestly written off two years ago. It wasn’t that Aidan Pearce’s story was bad, it just didn’t live up to expectations and the overall experience felt very mediocre. By choosing to go a different route and focus more on player freedom and silly internet culture, Ubisoft has tapped into something that I haven’t felt since Saints Row 3, playing a game the way you want, in as weird a way as you want it to be. As long as you don’t take the game too seriously, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of Marcus and his friends battle against the system that is monitoring them. If, on the other hand, millennials drive you nuts and you can’t look past their general apathy and strange hairstyles, you may have some trouble getting into the world. Bottom line though, if you enjoy an open world game that doesn’t take itself too serious while allowing you to play in a variety of ways, Watch Dogs 2 will be the perfect game to relax and unwind with after a long day of working for the man.