Watch Dogs by Ubisoft had tons of hype leading up to its release in 2014. However, what ended up in our hands was something less then perfect. The main protagonist, Aiden Pierce, was uninteresting, the driving was horrid, and the story takes way to long to kick in. With all of these negatives, I still finished the game and enjoyed most of my time with what made up Watch Dogs. When Watch Dogs 2 came my way for this review, I was filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Did Ubisoft learn their lessons from the critiques of Watch Dogs? Will a change of protagonist and setting help gamers forget the original game? Or is this just more of the same? If you want the short answer, it is better and worth your time. For the long answer, keep reading!
Watch Dogs 2 technically is a sequel to the original, but so much has changed in terms of the plot, setting and character, you do not need to play Watch Dogs before you play Watch Dogs 2. Watch Dogs 2 shifts the story to the city of San Francisco and the emergence of ctOS 2.0. Blume has learned the lessons of what made the system faulty in Watch Dogs, and has ramped up the security and the invasiveness in this new version of their city wide operating system. Along with a shift in city, we also get a new protagonist, Marcus Holloway. Marcus is, in every way, a better protagonist, then Aiden Pierce ever thought of being. Marcus is motivated by what he believes in instead of simple revenge, much more likable in character, and doesn’t take himself too seriously when he screws up.
Watch Dogs 2 begins with Marcus’s “interview” with Deadsec, the hacktivist group that was introduced in the first game. The first mission has Marcus infiltrating a ctOS2.0 server farm to wipe out all traces of his profile in the system. With Marcus successful in his “interview”, he becomes the catalyst for Deadsec to become much more then just some hackers with a dream, they begin to work towards proving that Blume is invading the privacy of every person living in San Francisco and how Deadsec will be the ones to take them down. Deadsec in Watch Dogs 2 is represented by a few more characters then the first game was, and these characters will be the ones that you will interact with the most. The members are Wrench, Horatio, Josh and Sitara, each with their own specialties and character nuisances. For the most part, the members of Deadsec are interesting, if just a little bit annoying at times. The members are all young, and are obviously made to resonant with the younger audience out there. Raymond Kenney, the first person to work against Blume in Watch Dogs, does make a comeback to help out Deadsec in the sequel. His appearance in Deadsec brings about an older view, which I can identify with, while also making that connection so player who did play the first game feels like this is part of a bigger story.
Overall, the story of Watch Dogs 2 is more engrossing, more interesting, and just more fun then Watch Dogs. Marcus makes for a far better protagonist then Aiden did, and I cared much more for the development of Marcus’s character then I ever could for Aiden Pierce. The main story will take you about 13 hours to complete, but with Watch Dogs 2 being more of an open world game, there are plenty of side quests and multi-player quests to keep the story going further. The side quests keep the story interesting, with quests that range from spreading the Deadsec logo all over the city, to teaching Sitara’s younger sister a lesson on internet safety. The multi-player quests delve a bit more deeply into the rivalry between Deadsec and another hacker group, Prime Eight, but don’t expect much narration here.
Ubisoft also tweaked the game play for Watch Dogs 2 based on the critiques of the original game. At it’s core, Watch Dogs 2 is an open world game where the player travels all over the city, completing quests. These missions can be completed in multiple different ways, but stealth and hacking is still the best method to get through with your skin in tact. I also see this as being in character with Marcus, I never saw Marcus as the type of person who would gleefully gun down a group of security guards, unlike Aiden. Sticking to the stealth approach, though, has it’s issues as well as it’s rewards. You are not durable in this game, at all. Just a few shots and you will go down like the Titanic. That means, you will have to rely on your tech and stealth to get through some of the hairier missions, and you have plenty of that at your disposal.
In addition to the standard hacks from the original game, Marcus also has a jumper and a drone that can be used to extend his reach, in addition to using the camera system that is all over the city. You also have access to a tech tree that will grant you more abilities depending on your choice and resources. Some of my favorites is being able to control cars remotely, flagging individuals for arrest by the police department, or having rival gangs show up to cause trouble. These all work great as stealth options, as it draws massive amounts of attention away from where you need to be.
Hacking is still done in the same way as the original Watch Dogs, which uses gates to control the flow of the system until you can unlock all of the areas needed to access the system. You see these through the use of your “hacker vision”, which highlights important things you can interact with. Stealing money, information, or energy is done by the click of a button. Targeting these systems, though, while traveling at high speed is a bit touchy. You still get some prompts to blow up gas mains while being chased, but hitting the right car with the right hack can be tricky while boosting over the Golden Gate Bridge at 100 mph.
Watch Dogs 2 is great when it is trying to be Watch Dogs 2, it only fails when it tries to be Grand Theft Auto. Driving has been improved over the original, and shooting while driving has been added to Marcus’s repertoire of skills, but it still pales in comparison to the cleanliness of the mechanics found in GTA. Overall, Watch Dogs 2 is a vast improvement over the original game, but still ends up feeling not as polished when compared to other open world crime games, like GTA.
Watch Dogs 2 is a great looking game, as well as a great sounding game. I was able to play the game at the Ultra settings with everything turned up and found that that everything looked great and only suffered some frame rate drops while in a vehicle, in a denser area. The city feels as lived in as the last city, which is to say well enough. I found that the city in Watch Dogs 2 felt more like San Francisco, but that might only be because I am more familiar with the city in the sequel then I am with Chicago from the original. The aesthetics follow the similiar design to Watch Dogs, even down to the idea that Marcus does wear a bandana as a mask. Clothes can be purchased to change the looks of the main character, and you will visit different locals during game play. Overall, good looking game that doesn’t really make a huge impression.
Sound design for Watch Dogs 2 is also well done. The voice acting was impressive, to me. I enjoyed the way the characters delivered their lines and interacted with each other. I especially thought the character, Wrench, was interested and well voiced. The soundtrack for Watch Dogs 2 uses licensed music, with more songs that can be found in the world through using the song app on your phone. Artists like the Dead Kennedys, Sublime, Naughty by Nature, N.E.R.D., and Bob Marley all make appearances on different radio stations throughout the game. Once a song is found, you can create your own playlists on your phone and listen to them while outside of vehicles. It’s a neat touch that adds an extra layer to the game.
Watch Dogs 2 is what the first game should have been. If Watch Dogs 2 was released instead of the original, the franchise would have been a bigger hit then it is today. Instead, the reaction to the sequel has been mostly “well, it’s better then the first”. And that is true, Watch Dogs 2 is better then the first, but then again it absolutely had to be. If you played through the first game, you will play through this second game, and you will enjoy it much more. People who didn’t play the first game, should absolutely play the sequel, and don’t worry about getting the original. You don’t need it to understand what is going on in Watch Dogs 2. It’s those of you that didn’t finish the first game that need to be convince to try your luck with Watch Dogs 2, and the best I can tell you is that I truly think you will like this game more. Watch Dogs 2 is hands down the better game, the more interesting game, and the more polished game. While still not perfect, it is indeed worth your time.
Watch Dogs 2 Review Score:(3 out of 5 Stars)