Watch Dogs 2 Review – A New Beginning
With its predecessor failing to impress, Ubisoft had a huge mountain to climb with the release of Watch Dogs 2. This open world title packs a new cast, a new city, and a new direction, but does this IP deserve a second chance? Check out our Watch Dogs 2 review for the lowdown.
I’m going to cut straight to the point. Though I may be one of the few souls out there to enjoy the original Watch Dogs, the game was far from flawless. Looking back, Chicago was a disappointing open-world experience. As for the driving? Well, I can’t describe it without using some choice words. As such, my first objective when diving into Watch Dogs 2 was to see if these two elements got the attention they needed.
I’m happy to report that both the driving and new open-world city of San Francisco are a generation apart from the original Watch Dogs – literally. San Francisco and the surrounding area is a true pleasure to explore. From the technically fueled streets of Silicon Valley, to the violent, gang-driven mentality of Oakland, each area has its own personality and varying levels of distress when dealing with the big brother-style ctOS operating system. After climbing the Golden Gate Bridge and sitting atop some of the highest points of the game world, the views available were spectacular and a true credit to the artists behind the title.
If my recent time with Mafia 3 proved anything, it was that a game world needs to be not just attractive, but functional. This is another vital element to an open-world experience that Ubisoft absolutely nailed. Unless you’ve got a picture-perfect memory, you’ll often be hurtling down the streets at lightning speeds in locations you don’t recognize, trying to evade arrest or reach an objective in a speedy fashion. Very rarely will you encounter an unexpected dead end, a fence that cannot be climbed or smashed, or any other annoying obstructions that hinder the flow and pace of the experience. As far as open-world creations in an urban setting go, Ubisoft’s rendition San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2 is up there with the very best.
Although my initial goal was to spend some time exploring and testing the driving, I quickly found that my first six hours of Watch Dogs 2 saw me completely ignore the main story objectives (apart from the introduction). Major credit to the team behind this title, for creating a game world that allows for such freedom. It took some discipline, but I was finally able to pry myself away from my OCD nature to collect every collectible and dive into the narrative elements of Watch Dogs 2.
Watch Dogs 2’s main star is Marcus Holloway, a young man with excellent hacking skills and an attitude to match. Engulfed in the tech sphere, he joins forces with a team of hackers known as DedSec. The main objective of the team is to gain social media followers with the hopes of encouraging members of the public to download an app. This app would provide a huge botnet of processing power that can aid in the disassembly of corrupt corporations and governments that attempt to manipulate politics, economics, and social drives through the abuse of technology and privacy encroachment.
Joining Marcus and his attempts to take down big brother are a host of other brilliantly crafted personalities in the form of Wrench, Sitara, and Josh. Each of the characters play their own role within DedSec, and each approach social situations and technical situations in their own fashion. The socially awkward Josh hardly looks at you when you’re talking to him, but his uncomfortable and uneasy nature quickly grows on you. The same can be said for Sitara and Wrench, each bringing something unique and engaging to the narrated elements of the story.
The story itself unfolds at a good pace, offering varying objective types to ensure it remains fresh, exciting, and immersive every step of the way. A couple of Ubisoft’s iconic elements make a welcome appearance, with the traditional “trippy” and “cause massive carnage with a kick-ass soundtrack” scenes blasting into the game in great fashion. Those with a finger on the pulse of current happenings the last couple of years will instantly recognize many headline-based missions, such as dealing with an individual that likes to swat Twitch streams and even a dig at Scientology.
There’s a hidden gem to be discovered with the storytelling in Watch Dogs 2. It manages to create a more relaxed, and at times, comical approach to rather serious situations, but it’s not afraid to turn up the feels when it really needs to. Heavy undertones highlight how reliant we’ve become on technical living in today’s society, and how easily our thoughts, opinions, and actions can be manipulated if that technical ability was abused. Ubisoft was not so blunt to use Facebook and Google (for obvious reasons) as the powers attempting to control politics and society through social media manipulation, but the San Francisco equivalents of “Nudle” and “The Invite Corporation” make it obvious enough. Have we come to rely on technology too much? Does social media influence hugely important decisions on our lives without us knowing to what extent? Would you really know if someone had complete access to your phone and computer? Watch Dogs 2’s leaves many lingering questions that are often overlooked in modern storytelling.
By the time I got to the end of the story, I was invested in the characters, developed a hatred for the powers-at-be, and felt like I could run a hacking masterclass – objectives I’m sure Ubisoft would be proud to have achieved. I was even left a little sad that my journey with Marcus and the DedSec crew had come to an end, something very few games can achieve these days.
Story aside, the true standout element of Watch Dogs 2 is the hacking. Introduced in the original game but reimagined and improved in the sequel, it offers new levels of freedom when approaching any situation. There are a number of tools available to encourage the technical approach to overcoming the various scenarios Marcus and company encounter. These run the gamut from a remote control jumper unit to a fully airborne Quadcopter. Combine these new tools with the innovative abilities and you’ve got a near endless amount of potential when it comes to taking down the bad guys. This is where Watch Dogs 2 truly comes into its own. Whether I was inside a mission or taking down an enemy stronghold during open world exploration, taking a quick minute to calculate the possible entry points, strategic options, and tools at my disposal demonstrated the creative freedom on offer in Watch Dogs 2.
The progression system rewards experience points in the form of “followers” and gaining a certain number of followers increases Research Points, the in-game progression currency used to unlock new skills and abilities. Many missions also offer cash rewards that you can use to purchase guns at the 3D printer, new clothing items, and new vehicles. The abilities on offer include everything from controlling vehicles remotely, to causing a complete blackout across multiple city blocks, to even falsifying records to call police on innocent civilians or potential targets. I could attempt to explain the endless variations and combinations on offer but it would take ages. Even after completing the game, every side mission, finding 90% of collectibles, and completing everything on offer in co-op, I’ve still yet to grow tired of running amok in the city of San Francisco.
While Ubisoft did a fantastic job with the hacking elements, the gun play falls a little short in places. During the early hours of the game, the promised freedom of choice between stealth, hacking, and all-out war is true to form, but as you progress, the difficulty scaling of the enemies often completely removes the potential success of a full-frontal assault. Heavily armored enemies and a seemingly never-ending line of reinforcements often forced me to take a much longer, and sometimes more mundane, approach to an otherwise exciting scenario. This only impacts the latter stages of the game, but it still felt I was being tunneled into using specific tactics.
These systems combine with co-operative play to create even more exciting ways to take on the various objectives in the co-op exclusive missions and challenges. Jumping in with a friend is quick and accessible with full co-op support, available with just a couple of button clicks. The entire world of San Francisco and surrounding cities is entirely open during co-op and while all of the single player missions are unavailable, the majority of exploration rewards and exclusive co-op missions are ripe for the taking. I spent several hours playing alongside Johnny Hurricane, and with each situation, we utilized a different approach and abilities, using one another’s skill sets to create new opportunities that would otherwise not be possible in the single player experience. It only took 4-5 hours for us to complete all of the co-op missions currently available, but they are replayable, and the rewards make it a very viable method to level up and unlock more abilities
The story elements, side operations, and bevvy of collectibles will easily rack up 30+ hours of game time, and that’s without the multiplayer (which doesn’t work at of this review). Those familiar with other Ubisoft franchises can expect much of the same in terms of collectibles such as weapon skins, vehicle paint jobs, hidden cars and special missions.
When I originally published this review the online multiplayer was not functioning. As of today (November 22nd) Ubisoft rolled out the first update aimed at addressing the multiplayer issues on the PlayStation 4.
While the co-op adds a lot of depth, variety and replay value to Watch Dogs 2, the multiplayer component felt lacking in comparison. There are two different modes, Bounty Hunter and Hacking Invasion. Bounty Hunter has one player tasked with taking down a wanted opponent while they attempt to escape both the Bounty Hunter and the police. The Hacking Invasion puts two players in a small area with one attempting to hack data from the other while remaining hidden.
The Bounty Hunter mode supports all skills and weaponry that you’ve unlocked in single player and more often than not it’s a race to see who can get the grenade launcher out first. A direct hit on a players car and it’s game over. When that tactic isn’t used it’s a good distraction from the single player campaign but there’s not a lot of depth past a quick 1v1 deathmatch. I had already reached max level at this point so with the exception of a few paint jobs or clothing items, the rewards were not all that enticing. Between each Bounty Hunter mission, as the offensive player, there’s also a loading screen – not quite as seamless as expected. My final gripe with this component of multiplayer is that you’re spawned into someones world in a random vehicle – you cannot bring any of your custom vehicles or paint jobs into the mode with you.
I had a lot of difficulty finding opponents for the Hacking Invasion so there may still be some teething problems with the matchmaking. Again it feels very shallow. I load into a small area and attempt to hack data while remaining out of sight – not an easy thing to do when your opponent has a Quadcopter that can scan targets in seconds. Another fun distraction but I can’t see it carrying the game much past the original content.
One last thing: Something I’m entirely over the moon about is that there isn’t a single bloody tower in sight. You do not have to climb anything to reveal a nearby area or gain access to special segments. Thanks for that Ubisoft.