Most people's memories of Watch Dogs aren't quite the best. Mostly remembered for being overhyped and under-delivering, the game still had some decent ideas to share. Looking for an Assassin's Creed II styled improvement, Watch Dogs 2 seeks to add to those mechanics while setting up a new world. Does Watch Dogs 2 hack a better future for itself or is it just another hack?
You'll be playing as Marcus Holloway, a hacker who works for the west coast DedSec organization. With San Francisco getting an improved version of Blume's ctOS from the first game, Marcus and his fellow hackers begin a campaign to bring down the Big Brother-esque program. To do this they begin publicity stunts, gather fans, and start up their own little revolution. Along the way, they deal with rival hackers, an overreaching religious organization, a Viking-themed gang, and some more.
If you were to make a list of subtle things, Watch Dogs 2 would not be on that list. Instead, it's extremely in your face about the messages it wants to push. The aforementioned religious group is clearly just Scientology under a different name. A pair of warring tech companies are clearly just Google and Facebook, except now they're called Nudle and !nvite. There are characters that are clearly just Donald Trump, Tom Cruise, and Martin Shkreli but with different names. The game hits up subjects like police corruption, racism, politics, social injustice, and more, but does it with such a heavy hand and in such an obvious way that it's hard to take it very seriously. This may be for the better, as the game carries an over the top tone that makes it feel goofy and fun rather than preachy and annoying more often than not. In the end, there aren't really any surprises from the story. It tells a good tale told well enough to get me to care to see it through, but there's no real shocks or surprises.
This attitude carries to all the characters as well. Those who were put off by Aiden and his "iconic" cap will be pleased with the far more likable Marcus as their new protagonist. Marcus doesn't feel like this weird and contradictory person. Rather he has a good personality, he's witty and smart, and still has flaws of his own, being too quick to jump to action and thinking that anyone who isn't helping has "sold out to the man." Your companions are an equally interesting crew, with each member having a uniquely over the top personality to go with the story. Wrench's love of robots and machinery is useful when he is taking apart and reassembling top-of-the-line robots, and a hindrance when he is refusing to go along with a mission because it requires losing a robot he really cares about. Josh's autism means he's genuinely happy coding all day, but something like an annoying sound on loop throws him off and leaves him in a corner in tears. It helps make these side characters memorable and makes even their silliest lines still entertaining.
Much like the first Watch Dogs, you'll be exploring a city and using your hacking abilities to cause havoc for a citywide monitoring system. To defeat said system, you'll need fans, so a lot of the game involves discovering information to spread the truth and various publicity stunts that would gain fans. The more fans you get the more access you have to fan's computing power and the further you can fight against Blume. As a mechanic, fans basically just work like XP. You'll collect them for stunts and completing missions, then every time you get a certain amount you get research points which you can use to learn new skills. These can include learning how to hack into cars, causing a mass of ringing cell phones, marking someone to be targeted by gangs, and other fun abilities.
Gameplay from the first game has seen some reworking. Hacking was the standout there, and it has been given some new layers. In Watch Dogs, each hackable object only had one option. Fuse boxes, for example, exploded and nothing else. Watch Dogs 2 gives each object several functions. Fuse boxes can still be blown up to knock out enemies, but now they can also spark to attract nearby enemies or be turned into proximity mines that go off when enemies are nearby. Traffic lights can still be turned green to cause accidents, or you can turn them all red to get through an intersection safely. You can now either steal money from people, cause their phones to go off to distract them, mark them as a "cop killer" and put a heads up to all nearby cops, or mark them as a gang target. There are options now, and that's more than enough to make the hacking feel like it has seen a huge improvement.
Likewise, stealth feels like it has been overhauled. A sneaky approach is definitely the game's preference. Marcus has been given some neat tools that give him better stealth options than Aiden had. He now has both an RC car and a drone that he can deploy at any time and implement in unique ways. The RC drone can replace Marcus in physically hacking things for example. Using both tools, I was able to successfully sneak around areas without entering them. If nothing else, they served as a good way to ping all the enemies in an area, or give me a birds eye view of a situation to see where some good opportunities were.
For all the work done on the game's stealth, gunplay hasn't really been improved. The strange and out of place slow motion from the original Watch Dogs has been removed, but now there's really no oomph to the firefights. Maybe this is to further encourage stealth, but I started to actively ignore gunplay because it just doesn't feel good. Guns feel more like they were just plinking, and there's no real standout mechanics that change the firefights in any way. You can take cover, but it's all just basically the same gameplay that most other entries in the open world genre have executed on.
Driving has gotten some work, overall feeling improved enough that I felt like I had more control over my vehicle than in the original game but not noticeably enough that I saw anything new beyond that. That said, part of this is because there's not much driving to do. Most missions won't even have you use a car and the few that do require little more than getting from point A to point B. A few side missions expanded on this, with one side mission that saw the "drive close to another car to download stuff from it" mechanic return. As for the main missions, I saw only one major use of driving, with an early task involving stealing a smart car and doing some silly stunts with it. Even if you're just going to explore San Francisco, Watch Dogs 2 starts with a bunch of fast travel spots unlocked to make getting around easy. Overall, there's not much driving around to be done.
There's a pretty good variety of missions available in the game, most of them focusing on stealth and puzzle solving. To give an example, one mission had me sneaking aboard a boat to destroy some cocaine shipments. Now, I could just pull out an assault rifle and start shooting, or sneak around the back and plant some bombs, but I decided on a different approach. I threw my drone into the air and scouted the area out. I called a rival gang and marked some targets to create some chaos, the result of which destroyed one of the crates. I noticed another crate was right across from a car and was able to send the car full speed ahead into it. One crate was out of reach for a while, at least until I found a forklift I could hack into and drive around, allowing me to pick it up and literally throw it overboard. I left without having fired a shot or even stepping foot on the ship, only needing some creative use of the hacking mechanics to finish the mission.
If you ever get tired of the main quest, you can always jump into side quests instead. Don't worry, there are no radio towers to climb (the entire map starts out discovered with all the important points highlighted) and no copy and pasted assignments. Every side quest in Watch Dogs 2 is a unique mission. One task had me sneaking into a rapper's party to record some lines of him talking so I could make a soundboard to pretend to be him over the phone. Another had me revisiting Marcus' college to partake in go-kart races against other colleges. A rather silly one simply saw me humiliating a CEO of a big company by speeding up his treadmill at the gym. One particularly interesting side quest saw me hacking into a camera into some guy's garage only to find him dying in his car. After hacking into his phone I actually found out he was trying to kill himself. At this point, I had to jump between a few cameras to figure out how to alert people outside while prolonging the man's life for as long as possible. Side quests like these really had me searching the map for more, impressed with how each one was a well-made addition to the game.
While there are plenty of unique side quests, there's also your repeatable assignments as well. There's various races using motorcycles, sailboats, drones, and go-karts that you can repeat, earning more fans and money for getting better times or positions. You can also pick up passengers using a driver app, allowing you to earn some extra money driving them to locations while performing specific tasks. Simple stuff that you ultimately don't need to do, but exist if you're interested.
Co-op missions are also available, although I didn't find them as enjoyable as other side quests. The few I played felt rather stale in comparison, not having the same sort of unique details the regular side missions had, nor the same opportunities in how to clear them. Many felt like cut and pasted afterthoughts, and they're meant to be repeated rather than being a one and done thing. Most of them either had to be brute forced or using basic stealth, and didn't involve being able to use my tools to creatively hack my way through. For example, a mission involving saving a prisoner could only be solved by me physically getting to and untying that prisoner, something that didn't allow me or my partner much leeway in hacking around for that unexpected solution.
On the other hand, the seamless multiplayer from the original Watch Dogs is back, with players able to hop into and out of other people's games randomly. Like the first game, your goal is to find the player and try to steal data from them without getting caught. This is really exciting, with the intense cat and mouse games leading to creative thinking and trying to find the best hiding spot. You also now have a chance to break into someone's co-op game as well, pitting you against multiple targets or getting extra back up. A new mode sees you sometimes getting bounty hunters on your tail, players assisting cops or gangs take you down, offering a fun direct PvP alternative to the hacking.
There are also collectibles to find if you're into that sort of thing. Research Points and Key Data are the important two. Finding research points help, the only way to get more points to spend on skills without leveling up. Key Data, on the other hand, unlocks new skills for Marcus to learn. If you want to max Marcus out and make the most of him then you're going to need to find as many of both as you can. You can also find valuables that earn you money, take pictures of famous and interesting locations around San Francisco to earn fans and find new paint jobs for your cars, guns, and drones.
Watch Dogs 2 also has a certain style to it that's entertaining to watch. I enjoyed watching cutscenes that involved DedSec broadcasting, as they would feature a glitchy stuttering style as the spokesman talk, interlacing various graphical cutaways and animations on top of him. It was always interesting to watch, keeping my attention better than some games could manage. Wandering around the city of San Francisco was also fun, and I usually found some interesting little events happening. Whether it be someone smacking a cheating spouse's car with a bat, to a gang war between two gangs, to just someone playing some VR phone game in the park, the city always felt alive and buzzing with activity. The game also has a good soundtrack, featuring songs from all sorts of genres. Nothing that really stands out, but all good background music that I would be able to tap along to easily.
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When I had finished Watch Dogs 2 I did it with a huge smile on my face. It's always nice to see a series completely turn around from something decent that needs work to something genuinely impressive. If you're looking for a game to scratch that open world itch, then you shouldn't look much further as Watch Dogs 2 can easily scratch that itch. Plus, you get to actually pet dogs, so that's a definite improvement.
A massive improvement over the first game in nearly every way, Watch Dogs 2 is an extremely successful entry into the open world genre that should not be missed by fans. Hopefully future entries into the series can knock it out of the park.(Review Policy)
- Likeable Characters and Story
- Stealth Mechanics
- Side Missions Fun To Solve
- Multiplayer is Still Fun
- Shooting Feels Weak
- Co-Op Missions Are Lame
- Theming Too In Your Face