Game Review: Watch Dogs 2

This world is dynamic and vibrant, characters are actually interesting, and the strategies for hacking your way through the game have been completely upgraded. Ubisoft gives players such good new and improved tools for solving problems that you may never need to take the violence approach.

Watch Dogs 2 is a game that captures the modern world’s affair with technology perfectly. It is a game whose primary mechanics include relying on your phone for just about everything: using rideshare apps, taking selfies, and harnessing the power of social media. This is all while simultaneously preaching the dangers of invasive technology. The world is dynamic and vibrant, characters are actually interesting, and the strategies for hacking your way through the game have been completely upgraded.

Reviving the theme of aggressive surveillance, Watch Dogs increases the threat by including a number of mission objectives that were practically ripped from the headlines. Players will hack everyone from greedy pharmaceutical CEOs to internet trolls. They will investigate social networking platforms that manipulate their users feeds, smart homes that feed data back to third parties, and how invasive surveillance has become. While the act of hacking may be oversimplified, the world of Watch Dogs 2 reflects our real world.

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Narrative

Watch Dogs 2 has migrated from gloomy Chicago to beautiful San Francisco. Players have a massive section of The Bay area to explore, from the port of San Francisco to the neighboring areas of Oakland, Marin, and Silicon Valley. This city is brighter than Chicago, even when it rains, and offers a range of backdrops for missions and exploring. Its citizens are dynamic and react to your exploits with everything from snapping pics to picking a fight.

Ubisoft insists right from the beginning this is a work of fiction, but it is not hard to see their inspiration for most things in their fictional San Francisco. From the colorful search engine giant to the various side missions including talking cars and cult-like churches for the rich and famous. In fact, many side missions echo real-life news both in and out of the technology sector. The core story, however, is over the villainous cTOS 2.0. You may recall it from the original Watch Dogs as the super surveillance technology.

Aiden Piece has been replaced with a diverse and interest crew of vigilante hackers. Players step into the shoes of young hacker Marcus Holloway, the newest member of the Dedsec. Each member was written to be more human than Aiden ever could have been. They party, they get frustrated and they even seem relatable as the game progresses (even if they are a hyperbole of hacker stereotypes).

The group’s goal is to undermine the cTOS 2.0 system. Yes, apparently being exploited to the point that a madman blowing up steam pipes under city streets was not enough to make people think twice about this system.  Your old faceless corporate nemesis Blume has been replaced by man-bun sporting sociopath Dusan, Blume’s CTO.  Dusan is taking a supervillain approach to his companies invasive surveillance

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As evil as he is I can’t help but respect his very hands-on approach to this problem.

There are a lot of things to keep this story grounded. From the unpredictable NPCs to the offbeat and often nerdy conversations, you will find yourself leaving that this world could very well be real. Ubisoft has managed to do what they failed to do in Watch Dogs even though it was equally true then: convey the realism of the dangers of aggressive surveillance and how they affect all of us. 

Gameplay

The game focuses heavily on its hacking mechanics. From the seven skill trees you can build, all except one focus on interacting and manipulating the world around you. Ubisoft has done a good job expanding Dedsec’s toys and abilities to the point where players can avoid conflict altogether and, in many cases, solve objectives without even entering a hostile zone. While there are some objectives that require Marcus to be in the same vicinity as a particular computer, most problems can be solved with your gadgets or manipulating the environment (which is pretty cool).

You often have to assess your obstacles to find the most effective solution, such as slipping your jumper through a hole in the fence, setting traps or distractions, or moving platforms until you can find what you are looking for.

At its core, Watch Dogs is actually a puzzle game. Players solve problems ranging from hard to reach locations to actual puzzles using the game’s new tools. It took a while before I accepted that Marcus did not have to always be in the middle of the potential conflict. You can sit well outside the hostile territory while your jumper and drone manipulate the obstacles between you and your target computer.

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Sometimes the best strategy is to take a VERY big step back.

Watch Dogs does have a combat mode as well. Dedsec has an entire arsenal of deadly guns at their disposal. However, there is no real need to get into a gunfight, as many scenarios can be solved with your hacking tools. That is probably a good thing because the one area of the game Ubisoft forgot to upgrade was the gun combat. It is lackluster and usually doesn’t end well for the player anyway. Marcus moves a lot more fluidly than Aiden. He can mantle and leap obstacles quickly and smoothly with a cover system that, while not perfect, works effectively enough to slip through environments. His takedowns are fun but are not always stealthy and not always permanent. Enemies who are knocked out can easily be revived by allies or just by time, which is rather frustrating.

Watch Dogs 2 also rebuilt their vehicle mechanics with help from Ubisoft’s Driver team. I have never played Driver but I am not a fan of cars in Watch Dogs 2. The selection appears to be between slow or difficult to control, with the notable exception being motorcycles. They are the best way to get around the city short of the very user-friendly Fast Travel system the game has included.

Multiplayer

You won’t find the traditional form of online play in Watch Dogs 2. Ubisoft has opted for a seamless bridge between online and single player worlds. By default you are online, and other players can drop into your environment to hack you or be involved in conflicts on the streets on San Francisco with police. You can join other players by activating objectives that are online and join seamlessly into someone else’s world.

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Although it was offline at first, Ubisoft has fixed whatever issues plagued their servers and the system is working well. Depending on your play style, annoyingly well. As someone quite satisfied to play by myself, I found myself annoyed when other players would drop in to steal my data or hunt me. While these online activities range in their invasiveness, most can be ignored (even if triggered) with little repercussions. The most they can do is get in the way of whatever you are trying to get done.

It should be noted that they do not occur during story missions and you can choose to turn the feature off. It is handy if you want to play with friends, as you can easily add them to your game and have them help you complete objectives or just mess around.

For players who enjoy working with or against other players, it is a fantastic system. Players can join and leave games with no interruption to the action. Ubisoft connects players who want to play co-op missions with almost no effort and the game rewards participation in its online mode with the same in-game experience as the single-player game. This means every PvP Hack or Bounty hunt you take part in contributes to your XP.

The system even rewards partial success, for instance, if you are detected during your hack you have the opportunity to escape which still earns you followers.  Ubisoft has also merged it’s Club Ubisoft system. While not as seamless it allows players to take on weekly in-game challenges. This creates a list of in-game activities beyond the game objectives and an achievement system that will keep you very busy.

Performance & Graphics

Initially, the game suffered from issues with Ubisoft’s servers which rendered the game’s seamless multiplayer offline. Those issues have since been resolved, leaving only minor bugs such as the occasional stuck object or graphical glitch, but nothing that really breaks the gameplay or deters from the fun of San Francisco. On consoles, the game appears to be playing very smoothly in turns of graphics and online connectivity.

Audio

The audio from the core characters is all very well acted. Those side quest giving NPCs sometimes sound like they have better things to be doing, but it’s forgiven with the scope of recording audio for an open world game alongside how rarely you actually have to deal with them.

The music selection is outstanding, another clear improvement over Watch Dogs. There are dozens of tracks included within the game’s six radio stations. The stations include Hip Hop, Rock, Classical, Pop, Salsa, and EDM music, so there is probably something for everyone. Watch Dogs 2 has an eclectic selection of music, although often opting for EDM tracks during the story to fit the hacker theme. Players can build their own playlists with the game using the SongSneak and media app on Marcus’s phone.

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Final Thoughts

Watch Dogs wants you to use its gadgets, and why not? They’re great. Players are essentially entering an open world puzzle game in which they must circumvent obstacles with tools rather than always navigating the area. This will seem counter-intuitive compared to other action games at first, but it becomes an interesting challenge once you learn the many ways you can exploit your environment.

As an open world game, it (of course) features side quests, but those that do not utilize the game’s core hacking mechanics don’t feel as well thought out. Direct combat suffers the same lack of focus, but the problem-solving tools are so good you shouldn’t need to be involved in direct combat too often. Players who prefer a GTA “shoot everything “approach will find the game unsatisfying and perhaps a little frustrating. 

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Why tangle with a biker gang if this little guy can get the job done?Enter a caption

The Seamless online works very well, even if sometimes you wish it wouldn’t. The open world is stunning and full of great characters and things to do. Seriously, try people watching on the streets of fictional San Francisco. The world feels alive and supports a narrative that eerily mirrors the real world. Ubisoft fulfilled their promise overhaul and improved the world of Watch Dogs. Even with the original as a comparison, Watch Dogs 2 is a great game. Overall, it’s a fun game that is a welcome change to the violence-first approach of many action titles.

Score: 8

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Oh yeah, and this time there are actual dogs
Watch Dogs 2 is available to PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
This article first appeared on DVSGaming.org
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