Preview: Watch Dogs 2
We all knew social media is a weapon.
With scant few weeks before Watch Dogs 2 hits store shelves, Stevivor was invited to San Francisco to preview Ubisoft’s latest. With Aiden Pearce’s story (and general lack of personality) in the first Watch Dogs being fairly divisive amongst players, this sequel has the opportunity to really turn players around on the franchise. On the back of a recent turn behind the wheel just before EB Expo, this opportunity provided an extended session with new DedSec recruit Marcus Holloway in the fight against ctOS.
First things first — Marcus himself sets a very different tone as the sequel’s protagonist. While we do have the welcome change of a non-white leading character, his age and lack of a vengeance directive make him a very different tonal anchor. While Ubisoft doesn’t want us to spoil the particulars of how the game’s opening mission sets the scene, suffice to say it leaves the door open for a much more lighthearted main plotline. The DedSec collective of San Francisco is all about collective computing, and need the assistance of the general population to download their app and contribute computing power to the cloud. As such, much of their plans revolve around recruiting more followers through public stunts and media blasts.
One early mission sees the group having a good laugh at a new hacker film — complete with talking car and nonsense jargon — before deciding to liberate said car from the movie studio and recreate the trailer with a DedSec twist. What follows is a mission chain segmented into several distinct tasks, culminating in an epic action sequence that was probably a lot more hardcore than anything the studio had in mind originally. All of this is done with a great soundtrack and feeling of fun – a far cry from the original Watch Dogs’ ultra-sombre missions.
The segmented mission structure used here is great; it allows for longer mission chains without the fatigue of doing them all at once. You can pick and mix how you complete each chunk of simultaneously active mission chains without losing progress by toggling back and forth. This comes in especially handy given Watch Dogs 2‘s renewed dedication to having multiple paths to complete your adjective.
While certain approaches may be easier from one mission to another, you always have the choice. Marketing for the game isn’t kidding when saying that many tasks can be completed without ever having to enter a hot zone in person. Marcus’ land-based hopper drone and aerial quadcopter really broaden your options once you’ve put in the time and cash to unlock them. Being able to branch out like this works great for encouraging you to try new tactics in each situation – if one mission is giving you trouble with your normal approach, taking on a different mission may give you hints about how to try something new. In fact ghosting your way through an area in person or by drone, whilst definitely the most time-consuming, is probably the safest way to go. Enemy takedowns are non-lethal and take a good second or two, opening you up to getting spotted if you’re not careful.
One thing you may only want to try if you’re REALLY SURE of your abilities is the guns blazing approach. Marcus is just a regular guy, so he’s a bullet sponge only in the most literal sense – meaning, the same thing happens to him when he gets shot as what would happen if you shot a bullet through an actual sponge. After only a couple of good shots you’ll go down hard; both a blessing and a curse. It’s true to the nature of Marcus as a character — someone focused on espionage and subterfuge — but it is still frustrating when you get caught out and can’t rely on the stock-standard Rambo approach in modern games.
The only real issue I found in my time with the game so far was the mid-mission checkpointing. One mission I tried from later in the game saw me attempting to infiltrate the office of the Facebook-esque !Nvite to achieve two objectives in different parts of the building. Being chock-full of enemies, it was dicey making my way through to the first objective, and I was caught out on my way to the second. After reloading post-death, I was a little annoyed to find myself at the very beginning of the mission again, not at the point where I’d reached the first objective. For a game that more fully embraced the gung-ho approach this wouldn’t be a problem, but sneaking about takes time… and sneaking the same way twice isn’t the most thrilling thing to do.
The biggest takeaways I had after spending a day in Watch Dogs 2’s version of San Francisco were these: firstly, the in-game traffic is WAY easier to navigate around. Secondly, this is a game that’s all about embracing its location and having fun with it. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco or watched enough entertainment set there, you’ll probably spot something you recognise. The diversity of the city is on full display, and integrated into gameplay with things like the ScoutX app which encourages you to take selfies at citywide landmarks and points of interest. I think this is the game that Watch Dogs wanted to be, but it needed to go through its rebellious, angry teen phase first. Now the series has emerged into its funky twenties in a fresh new city, and I think we’ll all be the better for it.
Watch Dogs 2 will release on PS4 and Xbox One on 15 November, and Windows PC on 29 November.
Stevivor was flown to, and lodged in, San Francisco by Ubisoft in order to preview Watch Dogs 2.