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SummaryDedSec has given you the truth. Do what you will.
The Good* Hacking, parkour, puzzles, and driving are majorly improved.
* San Fransisco is a vibrant and colorful place to explore
* Drones are a lot of fun to use
* Multiple paths for completing missions
* Fun online multiplayer elements
The Bad* Story is uninteresting and far too long
* Stealth is frustrating
* Smaller mission and side activity variety compared to the original
The Bottom LineThe original Watch Dogs was a fascinating game with many good ideas and a unique take on the open-world crime genre, being less focused on traditional crime and more about vigilanteism and hacking. It suffered from an unfocused narrative, a main character that was difficult to like, and a general lack of gameplay options. Nevertheless, it was a huge commercial hit, and it was obvious from the week one sales that a sequel was going to be greenlit. After a surprisingly short amount of time (just 2 years and 6 months from the original) Watch Dogs 2 finally arrived in November of 2016, just in time for the holiday blockbuster season. Watch Dogs 2 follows an entirely different set of hackers from the first game, this time in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. You play as Marcus Holloway, a young hacker who was blamed by ctOS 2.0 for crimes he never committed thanks to inaccurate profiling. After breaking into a datacenter to reset his profile, Marcus is recruited by DedSec, the same hacktivist group that Aiden Pearce crossed paths with in the first game. DedSec’s goal is to earn enough followers to take down the technology megacorporation Blume, which built ctOS. Along the way, you’ll use your hacking and sneaking skills to infiltrate corporations and gangs, exposing their corruption and lies to the public.
The first Watch Dogs was a violent revenge tale dealing with the dark, seedy underbelly of society, By contrast, Watch Dogs 2 is much more cartoonish and comic, with a satirical approach to the trappings of modern life. There are definitely some serious moments to be sure, but for much of the time, the game has fun just skewering everything California from Google and Facebook to Hollywood and Scientology. Even Ubisoft gets to poke fun at themselves during a small side mission where you hack into their San Francisco offices.
I can’t really say if I’m the biggest fan of this overall shift in tone. While I certainly don’t mind a more lighthearted game after how heavy Watch Dogs was, Watch Dogs 2 comes across as oversteering in the opposite direction. Ubisoft is also trying way too hard to prove that they are “down and with it”, seemingly pandering to the subset of the millennial generation who see themselves as edgy and cool. WD2’s anarcho-punk/hip-hop aesthetic is entirely at odds with the corporate, AAA game that it actually is. I almost get the feeling that none of the characters would actually want to play Watch Dogs 2 if it were a video game in their world, with its very unrealistic, stylized, “Hollywood” portrayal of hacking that they ironically protest against in an early main mission. Nevertheless, the main crew of DedSec are mostly likable apart from their need to swear in seemingly every other sentence. In general, the storytelling is more episodic than the first game. There’s even less of a through-thread connecting each of the missions compared to the first, which makes the game seem tedious as you can never really see a clear ending or goal in sight. None of the story really makes any kind of impression, despite the numerous cutscenes and the actually quite good voice acting - it’s too busy trying to be cool and hip to let things like emotional resonance or thoughtful moments get in the way. it all simply flows from one mission to the next, which is disappointing.
Watch Dogs 2’s world map is much larger then the first, and it is fully open to explore from the beginning of the game. As with the original game, San Francisco is not exactly a 1-1 recreation, but it’s mostly close enough to give you the sense of being there. For one thing, the streets are much emptier than the real city, however, though this was likely more for hardware and gameplay purposes more than anything. Nevertheless, I was actually able to locate the building where I stayed for several months in San Francisco, which was a very neat touch. Many famous landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and Pier 39 are all present and accounted for in Watch Dogs 2, though a few areas have been slightly altered for this alternate-history universe.
The best things about Watch Dogs 2 are the gameplay improvements over the original. For one thing, there is now a selection of non-lethal weapons available to use, making stealth a much more viable option compared to the first game. The developers even said that it’s possible to play the entire game without killing anyone. This greatly benefits the game’s more lighthearted tone, though there are still plenty of lethal options available for those who wish to go that route. The only issue with stealth is that bodies still cannot be moved, and this time, stunned enemies don’t stay down for long and can be woken up by fellow guards, so you’ll have to be even smarter when choosing exactly where and when you take down guards. In fact, I generally found that it was better to simply not touch guards at all unless it was absolutely necessary to get into an area, as this usually tends to create more chaos than you might intend. For example, I would hack something on one side of a building to distract guards, then climb in on another. Annoyingly, missing a shot with your stun-gun can mean the difference between staying undetected and having all the alarms go off.
There are also more options for hacking and manipulating the environment compared to the first game. You can set traps in the environment which will stun or kill an enemy when they walk near it. When hacking objects, you have several options, including distract, shutdown, and trigger. A new feature called “NetHack” allows Marcus to see hackable objects and enemies through solid walls to a certain extent, making it much easier to get your bearings when hacking cameras compared to the first game. You can send gangs or cops to kill or arrest specific targets. You can also hack cars and drive them without actually sitting in the driver’s seat. Other objects, such as lifts and cranes, can be hacked to create pathways for Marcus to climb up over ledges or jump over gaps. All told, the puzzle-platforming and parkour elements are even better here than the original, and hacking to accomplish objectives in creative ways is much more fun. In one side mission, I had to destroy a bunch of devices holding important data.sitting in a garage. Rather than go in myself, I remotely hacked a construction platform and simply bashed it into the servers. To my surprise, it actually worked! This kind of creativity simply wasn’t allowed with the hacking in the first game.
In addition to hacking cameras like in the first game, Marcus also a couple of drones that he can use. The “jumper” is a two-wheeled RC drone which can access vents and holes under gates, and can reach areas that Marcus cannot. You can also use it to distract enemies by taunting. The quadcopter is able to fly around and can hack objects from the air. There are some hackable objects that are placed so high up that the only way to reach them is by using the quadcopter. This can be frustrating if you’re trying to complete side missions which demand this. The connection puzzles that were often a part of the first game are back in WD2, only this time they have been integrated into the environment instead of being shown on a separate screen. This is a really nice change that makes the connection puzzles feel more distinct and less repetitive than the original. The quadcopter allows you to solve these puzzles much more easily. Together, these devices give you more freedom to work with compared to the original Watch Dogs.
Driving in WD2 is much more responsive than the original, to the point where it feels mildly twitchy. It’s supremely fun to drift around 90-degree corners and move precisely between tight spots. It all works very, very well. Almost too well, in fact. Disappointingly, the enemy driving AI is far easier to evade in Watch Dogs 2. Whereas chases could stretch across the entire map in the first game, in Watch Dogs 2, chases rarely stretch beyond small regions. Driving offload can also be annoying, as small bumps can send vehicles flying in unpredictable directions. In general, there seems to be much less of an emphasis on driving missions compared to the first game, which is strange and actually kind of disappointing as they feel so much better to play here.
The combat is mostly very similar to the original Watch Dogs. The cover system is identical to what was in the first game and works just as well here. Strangely, the Focus mode, which slowed down time, has been removed in favor of NetHack. This was incredibly useful in the past, especially when driving cars in the original. I would have personally liked to have seen it return, as combat situations can sometimes get very intense during certain missions. The auto-aim also seems less sensitive than before. I turned it up to the highest setting and it still wasn’t sensitive enough for what I wanted. Otherwise, it’s essentially unchanged from the original.
One thing that isn’t here is the famous Ubisoft “towers”. In the first game, you had to climb these towers to unveil various activities out in the map. By contrast, you’ll end up finding a lot of activities out in the world instead. You’ll hack phones and talk to correspondents to follow leads on new side quests, while gang hideouts often contain nice loot (such as money or clothing) that you can try to grab. Some buildings also contain research points that you can use to upgrade Marcus’ skills. A few of these are actually pretty challenging to get to, and some require certain skills unlocked in order to access. As an example, one of these involved taking a motorcycle to the top of a building, driving off of a slightly inconspicuous ramp at just the right speed (not too fast or slow) and crashing onto the area below. I do kind of miss the towers, as solving them was often a fun challenge, but what we have here instead are a bunch of “towers” that work similar but are much smaller in scale.
Compared to the original, there aren’t nearly the same amount of mini games and side activities on offer here, at least for the single player. There aren’t any digital trips, chess puzzles, or cup games here. Instead, you’ll find go-kart , motocross, and drone racing, as well as Driver: San Fransisco (yes, you read that right) missions where you pick up passengers similar to Lyft. Multiplayer has more things to do, including bounty hunts, co-op missions, races, and deathmatches. The co-op missions are actually incredibly fun and tense - you and a buddy infiltrate an area together to try and accomplish an objective. The hacking mode from the first game returns in Watch Dogs 2, and it’s way better here for two reasons. First, using NetHack during this mode highlights potential hackers in bright purple, making them much easier to spot. Drones also help a ton, as it was far too easy to hide in a high location in the first Watch Dogs and not be able to see the other hacker, but using drones means that there’s almost nowhere to hide. This can lead to some extremely satisfying cat-and-mouse chases. There have been a few times where I have gotten hacked with no quick way to get to where the hacker is after finding them, which is sometimes rather annoying. Nevertheless, this is still a fun inclusion, and unlike the first game, where I just let everyone win the hacking , I was more than happy to participate in Watch Dogs 2.
Graphically, there is no immediately noticeable improvement over the original Watch Dogs. It’s more-or-less the same looking and feeling game as the original, just in an entirely different setting. Fortunately, San Francisco is a much more vibrant and colorful city compared to Chicago, where it was rainy and gloomy for at least half of the time. As a result of simply changing the setting, the entire game feels more colorful and alive. It’s also a much bigger game than the original, no doubt thanks to it only being on next-gen systems. Performance is a bit sketchy on my rig, as is unfortunately typical with many Ubisoft PC ports, but I still had it playable after tweaking the settings.
Watch Dogs 2 is one of the oddest mainstream blockbuster games I have played in quite some time. It veers wildly between moments of sharp social commentary with highly scripted, gamey set pieces. Hacking is still an incredibly fun mechanic, and it’s in the service of a pretty decent stealth game to boot. San Fransisco is also a wonderful place to explore. While Watch Dogs 2 doubles down on much of what I liked about the original, somehow it still feels like there’s something missing. The story still lacks focus, and it’s even more fragmented here compared to the first. As a result, the game feels overlong and repetitive just like its predecessor - you can never see a clear end in sight. It’s an enjoyable open world time waster, but compared to recent adventures like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild, it probably isn’t something that I’ll remember after a few years.