Watchdogs 2 is out and it’s safe to say that many had doubts about Ubisoft‘s sequel after the tepid response to the first Watchdogs. Due to the massive graphical downgrade players received post release. Still, that didn’t keep Ubisoft from announcing a sequel and trying again. Let’s step into San Francisco as you’ve never seen it before.
Set in San Francisco, California, Watchdogs 2 delivers a new playground for gamers to traverse & discover. There’s lots to see in Ubisoft‘s recreation of San Francisco from the lush hills, famous landmarks, different styles of buildings & roads, as well as the San Francisco bay that separates everything.
Ubisoft have always put a great deal of effort into their recreation of city architecture, with previous games like Assassin’s Creed & they’ve created a detailed version of San Francisco albeit on a smaller scale. They’ve also improved on the size of the map but there’s no point in creating a larger map, if there’s nothing for you to do. Thankfully, Watchdogs 2 mostly delivers on that aspect.
Pinned across the 3 locations of San Francisco, Marin & Oakland are different activities & quests for you to complete. You can compete in boat races, become a driver in Watchdogs 2 version of Uber, discover popular landmarks & take cool photos, or complete side missions – receiving more followers if you win.
As with other open world games, the amount of immersion that the game can create for the player, can depend on how well the AI interacts with the game world or character. In Watchdogs 2, I found the AI a mixed affair.
The majority of the NPC’s would react fairly well if you fired a weapon or tried to run them over and in some situations, the enemy AI were aggressive and flanked you. Other times, you could find enemy AI stuck in a location, spinning out of control or request for backup when they couldn’t even see you. There was countless times where I felt there could have been a larger number of NPC‘s populating San Francisco.
Although it doesn’t feel as lonely as Chicago, there are definitely certain levels and areas where it feels slightly empty. Since Watchdogs 2 has a day and night cycle, the population never seems to increase or decrease based on this. Perhaps, this was a technical decision to help keep the framerate stable at the cost of game immersion.
— Shauno (@shaunuol) November 25, 2016
The main protagonist of this game is Marcus Holloway, a young and skillful hacker/parkourer. He’s a lot more expressive compared to Aiden Pierce but is also a bit more arrogant than Aiden. He’s definitely not shy about showing off his talents.
Supporting Marcus, are a group of hackers who make up the hacker group Dedsec and have their own distinct personalities. Rather than forcing a relationship to the players, the dynamic within Dedsec works well and they come across as a young, dysfunctional family.
- Wrench a leather biker gear wearing engineer, is skilled in building gadgets, weapons & breaking down parts. He wears a mask & goggles to cover his face, which alters his voice & LED lights to animate his emotions. He is a wild & comedic character who often acts as the joker in the group; especially with Marcus.
- Sitara is a hacker & designer. She is the brand artist of Dedsec and helps to design the visuals & record their hacker videos which get released to the public.
- Josh is probably the most talented hacker in Dedsec and can break through the strongest security systems. Compared to the other members who have a very social personalities, Josh is more socially awkward but fits in well with the dynamic of the group.
- Lastly, we have Horatio, who is the team’s operations leader. He helps to oversee all of Dedsec‘s activities and plan their next most effective attack.
This time, you play as Marcus and after hacking into Blume Corporation to erase your profile from CTOS, prove yourself enough to Dedsec and shortly get picked up by them. Offended with what they find out about CTOS 2.0 and how Blume are planning to use it in their city, Dedsec take it upon themselves to wage war against Blume and expose them as an evil corporation.
Heading as the main antagonist is Dusan Nemec, Chief Technology Officer of Blume and Yoga-enthusiast. Believing that Dedsec does not pose any real threat and in his own confidence to handle them. He allows Dedsec to roam free until he is forced to take action. There is a definite shift of mood in the story from the first half being very lighthearted in its’ missions & comedic elements.
Whereas, the second half of the story develops into a more serious tone, as the mission difficulty ramps up. Whilst I felt the scripting was a bit cringy in some places, by the end of the game I enjoyed each of the different character’s performances.
The progression of the story develops as you take on missions that require you to invade different locations and hack into their servers to download information and use it expose their secrets to the public; in order to grow Dedsec‘s popularity.
This is all done through Dedsec‘s own app which displays all available missions. Your team supports you by providing intel for new missions & does a good job of keeping the game flowing. Each mission will usually include a puzzle where you have to connect a series of cables to form a connected network; think of them as the retro pipe games. Although the puzzles were not terribly difficult, they proved to be enjoyable. After completing each mission, you earn a number of followers, which helps you to reach your end goal to unlock the final mission.
Earning followers can also be done through the side activities and the solo & co-op side missions, giving you an incentive to complete them; however the main missions usually reward you with the higher amount of followers. Missions are broken up into 3 or 4 different objectives, which you tackle one at a time and I was pleasantly surprised, as some missions actually lasted quite long.
Ubisoft have improved the hacking system in Watchdogs 2 by making it easier to perform different hacks just by holding the left trigger and selecting one of the options available on the 4 face buttons. For example, one of the more fun hacks allows you to call a police hit or gang attack on enemies or civilians. Which can be pretty interesting to watch. Especially with Watchdogs 2 active gang vs gang vs police rivalry.
The new RC car & Drone are the stars of the show. Most of the levels contained sections where you can sneak through with the gadgets. There is a great sense of satisfaction when you complete a mission from just using your RC Car and Drone, whilst you sit somewhere safe outside the restricted area.
Although a stun weapon is available, which allows you to take a stealthier approach, the game doesn’t reward you for doing this and sometimes it was just easier to take out the enemies; especially with the amount of weapons available and the low chance of running out of ammo.
Apart from the new toys, you can still hack vehicles, gas pipes, power outlets, NPC’s communication devices and pretty much anything else with an electronic current running through it. Gaining new levels in the game, rewards you with research points that you can spend to improve your hacking skills and unlock new features. Scattered throughout the map are also research data that you can collect.
Traversing around the world of San Francisco can be done in all manners of transportation, from walking, driving cars, riding motorbikes or sailing a boat. Whilst the on foot travel & sailing is smooth, the driving however could do with some improvement. Driving a car or riding a bike feels unnatural and requires a bit of time to get used to; movements can sometimes be erratic.
You can also purchase a wide range of fashion to dress up Marcus in any style you desire, from a leather biker, surfer to hipster. Some of the fashion choices are a bit questionable, though I appreciate the wider variety of clothing compared to Watchdogs 1.
I do find it strange in the world of being a hacker, that in order to own items of clothing or specific vehicles, I am required to purchase them with money; even for weapons. It seems that even as a hacker, money is still king of the system.
The Motorbike & Drone races seemed interesting at first, however ended up as being dull solo time-trials. It could have been improved if they had included other AI to race against or even multiplayer. The boat races does include AI to race against, which adds some competitiveness. However the combination of the background music with the boat racing doesn’t fit well together. The only saving grace is the introduction of a wind speed mechanic, which helps to add a bit of difficulty.
It was a strange decision for Ubisoft to make so much off the boat races, considering that it doesn’t feel aligned with the hacker theme. Midway through the game you take part in a hacking competition and it would have been more interesting if there were more of these competitions scattered throughout the city instead.
Immediately after the release of Watchdogs 2, Ubisoft had to disable their seamless multiplayer, as many players were experiencing issues with game crashes and frame-rate issues. It has been over a week since release and Ubisoft have started to re-activate a few of the multiplayer features, such as bounty hunts, co-op missions & hacking other gamers. Since the update went live, I decided to hop back into Watchdogs 2 and see if the multiplayer worked.
I spent a couple of hours and was hacked by 2 gamers; I was able to take down one fairly easily by spotting him with my drone, however the other hacker disconnected. It also wasn’t the smoothest experience, as sometimes the other hacker would lag. I also managed to encounter another neutral player and decided to follow him around, as he drove around randomly ignoring me. Overall, the online multiplayer doesn’t really appeal to me when I think of Watchdogs and prefer the single player element more.
Watchdogs 2 does fairly well in terms of graphics for the PS4. The game does a nice job projecting the different colour palettes of San Francisco and includes some nice details, such as falling leaves or shimmering water. The characters all look pretty good and some of the environmental effects & destruction are decent. For the most part, the framerate also held up and only slowed down just enough to be noticed, in crowded traffic situations or if you set off a manhole and drove through the cloud of steam.
Overall, Watchdogs 2 is a definite improvement over the first Watchdogs. From the gorgeous new location, fun with a more lighthearted story and improved hacking gameplay.
It’s just let down by a few things, such as the hit and miss AI. The loose driving mechanics and the feeling of isolation in some of the casual activities. The ability to hack NPC‘s to steal their money or mark a gang attack on them without much consequence, can feel a bit out of place. Given Dedsec‘s goal to gain as many followers as possible and feels disjointed with the story they’re trying to tell.
Combined with a multiplayer element that’s still not at 100%, all of these issues sadly stop Watchdogs 2 from being a great game.