I remember watching the first Watch Dogs trailer that displayed what this generation could do. It had so much potential and it seemed like it was Ubisoft’s next big IP. When it released, most people could see the potential of the game, but it ultimately over-promised and under-delivered. Ubisoft decided to give it another shot and released the sequel, Watch Dogs 2, in 2016.
Ubisoft used user feedback to gauge what the fans wanted in the next game, and it paid off for the most part. While the controls remained largely the same, the game was a lot more about hacking than the first one. It also scrapped the first protagonist and introduced us to Marcus. His character arc in cut-scenes is a fun loving guy that seems to want to stand up to corporations stealing people’s data. So like most of other reviewers, I also felt it a bit odd when I would go in a mow down every enemy in a given area.
Another major change is the location. While I thought Chicago was a good place for the first game, San Francisco is an even better location. I caught myself just stopping and looking around at how awesome everything looked and felt. I’m telling you, if you don’t end up just staring at the San Francisco skyline at night, you are playing it wrong. I’ve never been to California, but it felt like Ubisoft put a lot of effort into recreating the area. Being a civil engineer, I also appreciated some of the minor details most people don’t tend to notice such as the curb ramps for sidewalks. It’s one of the best sceneries in a video game, and it’s what I love most about the game.
Watch Dogs 2 also feels denser with people in the game, and while there are “cloned” people walking around, it felt diverse and lively. You’ll see people holding a meeting, trying to sell donuts, gossiping, or even puking outside of the bar. I like that people have their own little side thing going on when you hack them and that it makes you feel a little more immersed in the world. However, the AI can be ridiculously dumb at times. They often don’t react well when you get close to them in a vehicle and it often led to me having to evade the police for a couple of minutes. It’s not a major problem, but their reactions would distract me from the game.
Compared to the first game, the gameplay felt a lot more focused in this one. This game does not want you to go in guns blazing or use cameras to detonate everyone’s grenades. Instead, it mostly relies on using the RC car to navigate through the guards. The RC car can be used to infiltrate enemy areas and unlock doors that would be inaccessible otherwise. I didn’t personally love the control of the RC car, but it works for the most part. One of my favorite skills in the game involves getting the police or gang members to come and do most of the dirty work for you. I got myself out of jams just by calling it in and waiting for them to arrive and start a turf war. It’s kind of overpowered, but if you don’t use it all the time, you can find the fun in it. The rest of the hacks are pretty standard: blow up a manhole during a car chase, distract and blow up electrical terminals, and buzz into NPCs phones to distract them. However, these skills do need to be unlocked from the skill tree. You can get unlock points by either simply leveling up or finding points scattered throughout the city.
Now the gunplay is nothing amazing, but it also doesn’t feel terrible. It does a good job of snapping to your targets and is often a little too easy to kill someone. However, you can tell that the devs didn’t want the player to focus on shooting over using all the other gadgets, because Marcus doesn’t have a whole lot of health. I liked that Marcus can’t take many shots, and it definitely swayed me to be a little more stealth driven.
Watch Dogs 2 also offers environmental puzzles that make the player rotate the power grid lines to the power source. These puzzles can be fun when they get a little trickier, but the for the most part it’s way too easy to solve. It’s pretty much start from the beginning and rotate the lines in the only way possible to get them to work. I felt like Ubisoft really could have done more with this section of the game.
Like most of the game, the driving also feels better than the original Watch Dogs. It’s far from perfect and you won’t end up thinking the driving mechanics are solid, but you’ll have no problem wandering around the city. However, I did find it difficult to shoot and drive in the game. Luckily, you won’t have to do that all that often. It mainly happens when multiplayer events come up.
One thing that still really bothers me is getting rid of the cops. It’s not extremely difficult to lose them, but they always seem to appear everywhere you plan on going. The game knows where you are headed, and they made the cops know it as well. You really have to pay attention to the mini map to help make a quick turn in the opposite direction of the cops. Also, things like hiding in a car never seem to work, and they might as well get rid of that option.
The story in the game is focused on hacker culture, and it often feels a bit much and over the top. Not that this game takes itself extremely serious, but it seems to include hacker tropes for the sake of adding them. There are also plenty of antagonists to go around in the game, and none of them ever feel fleshed out. It actually distracts to the main plot, because you are constantly trying to keep up with who you are hacking against. Dušan is the main villain that is aware of everything Marcus is doing in the city. He wants to take Marcus down methodically, but fails at every step. It’s pretty easy to guess how things pan out in the game, but you really don’t end up getting to appreciate taking down all of the people and corporations in the game.
I also wanted to touch on the multiplayer. Watch Dogs 2 offers PvP and co-op missions. People are able to team up and roam freely around the city. This made getting the collectibles a little bit more fun in my opinion, but there isn’t much depth to it. There are online co-op missions that feel like they were just quickly drawn up and only certain side missions are able to be played together. I was hoping for a lot more than what is offered when it came to co-op gameplay.
You’ll quickly find out that the PvP has potential to be fun, but it’s a hit or miss. There are random events that can occur in the game without you searching for them, but they don’t happen too often. There were times I liked it, but also times I was frustrated when someone would start hacking me when I was on my way to a main mission. Getting hacked and seeing the countdown to “getting hacked” can get stressful, but there is a sense of accomplishment when you find the bastard hacking your character. There is another mode called bounty hunter, and I did not feel like it was given much thought. It’s literally hunt *insert random players name* until they escape or die. It’s not very imaginative, and I disliked that there was a trophy tied to it.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the trophies. For the most part, the trophy list is fine and not all that much of a time waster. Sure you have to get collectibles, but you can do it with a friend and it’s only certain collectibles. There are some weird miscellaneous trophies like riding on a hacked car for a certain length or jumping a vehicle a certain distance. The trophies I did not like involved a couple of luck based trophies. One involves finding someone who is about to vomit and take a picture of it. For me, it didn’t take very long but one of my friends had it take about a couple of hours to trigger. I don’t understand why it was a trophy, because it’s not like the animation was anything to write home about. Also, you have to complete dedsec events, which are random encounters in the game that you have no control over when they appear. It’s very possible you get this without even trying for it, but it took me a couple of hours after the game to get it to pop. It was just an annoying thing to have to stick around for. The last trophy I was extremely frustrated with was getting 5 bounty hunter kills. It’s not a bad idea to have that as a trophy, but so many things can go wrong. You can put every bullet in the bounty target, but the cop gets the last shot in and kills the bounty. This unfortunately does not count towards the trophy for the player. Another player can also jump in and take the kill from you as well. Also, when you matchmake into a bounty match, it more often than not puts you in an armored car event. The armored car events are not bounty targets and don’t count towards the progress. Why not just make that it its own separate mode? Outside of those 3 trophies, I felt the rest of the list was very fair and solid. The trophy list is an 8 out of 10 in my book.
Overall, Ubisoft did improve on the first game, but it still didn’t wow me like I thought it would. This series has so much potential, and I’m excited to see what the third one has in store. I’m definitely hoping there is a bigger role with co-op, and if the recent leak is true, the title makes it sounds like it will be a bit more multiplayer focused. It would make sense, since this game ends with the game saying there are more hacktivist groups forming. The gunplay, hacking, driving, multiplayer, and story all have their moments, but each of these game elements ends up being just good not great. I hope they focus more on the puzzle/hacking aspects of the game and actually make it somewhat difficult to hack into the network. There is enormous potential for this series, and I’m excited to see what’s next for the franchise. I did enjoy my time with Watch Dogs 2, but it’s ultimately an experience I won’t remember much about.