At this year’s Fan Expo Canada, which takes place every year in Toronto, Ubisoft had a very strong presence. There were kiosks set up to play upcoming games from them such as Steep and For Honor. But taking up a sizable portion of their booth was a walled off area. Inside they were showcasing Watch Dogs 2, the highly-anticipated sequel to 2014’s Watch Dogs. No, I didn’t get to play it, but I got a good look at some of the mechanics driving the game and left thinking that Watch Dogs 2 might be able to make you forget about the mediocre initial entry in the series.
The demo was being played in front of us, but was largely similar to the demo shown at E3 2016. However, they spent a bit more time demonstrating the variety of hacking options available to players. For example, how often do you get annoyed that NPCs driving in the game just keep getting in your way? Any traffic that you come across seems to be able to be removed from the road with ease, as players can control other people’s cars remotely. This makes it so you don’t have to worry about fitting into tight corners or driving off-road as much. Instead, with just a press of a button, cars in your way can veer right or left while you’re flying down the street.
One of my concerns with this was whether police cars could be affected, and unfortunately, the demo didn’t showcase any answers to the question. The potential to control police cars would make police chases far less annoying, but at the same time, I feel like it might remove a lot of the risk/reward that is inherent in doing evil deeds in the game. There are already new tools like mass hacks that can infest NPCs with viruses, causing massive distractions, so I’m curious if there will be some sort of preventative measures from abusing abilities like that too much.
Driving will be getting a pretty big spotlight shone on it though, as new features are implemented and the world becomes much bigger. Set in San Francisco, players will have four large cities to explore right from the beginning of the game: Alcatraz, Marin, Silicon Valley and Oakland. That’s a lot of exploring to do, but you’ll be able to do lots while earning money through the Drive SF app on your in-game phone. Essentially a knock-off Uber, players will be able to pick up fares and take them where they need to go on their off-time. All of this will likely feed into the game’s popularity-centric hierarchy as the protagonist Marcus Holloway receives more followers the more famous he gets.
What makes Watch Dogs 2 exciting to me is how all of this comes together in missions. I got to see them play through the same mission they did at E3, but this time there was more of a showcase of gadgets at Marcus’s disposal. You can access missions in the game through the DEDSEC app, which essentially acts as a mission hub. The mission played, which was called “Power to the Sheeple”, introduced us to two of Marcus’s friends in DEDSEC: Wrench and Sitara. Both seemed more interesting than the people Aiden came across in the original game, so that’s a promising start. The chemistry between the characters feels far more realistic and fun than the previous game’s relationships.
The mission itself saw Marcus infiltrating a very large house, outfitted with plenty of security. First, the demo showcased the effectiveness of Marcus’s drone as it looked around the area. An RC car was also used to lure guards and set traps, which seemed like a handy device to have. But the new tools we got to see were melee ones. Marcus carries a taser which will shock anyone it comes into contact with. More importantly, he was wielding a “Thunder Ball” melee weapon which seemed to be extremely destructive just in its bluntness, let alone the fact that it’s electrified.
You’re going to need these melee weapons because no matter how stealthy you are, guards seem to pay attention to their surroundings a bit more. If they see your drone, they will definitely shoot it down. But you’ll likely want to deploy your drone at some point and risk that just because of the NetHack feature which allows players to see everything that is hackable in the area. Plus, you can hack cameras through walls which will be a big help during missions where you don’t want things to go sour. Despite guards seeming to be more attentive, they also still seemed pretty dumb at times, but this is a larger issue with stealth games as a whole I think.
While this was a vertical slice of the game, and one that has also been retreaded multiple times by Ubisoft when showcasing the game, I still think Watch Dogs 2 could be a very, very good game. I’m still worried the DEDSEC characters will get annoying with how anti-establishment they are, but there’s no real way to know until the game comes out. One of the defining things the demo didn’t show is any real humanity or emotional moments. Marcus seems fairly grounded while still able to have a blast, but we’re gonna need more than just a “let’s fight the system” attitude from the supporting cast. I do enjoy the notion that DEDSEC is trying to fight political corruption, but we’ll need more motivation to really get behind that, I think.
Beyond that, the mechanics all seem great and this truly feels like a step up from the previous game. Comparisons were already being thrown around that it would be the Assassin’s Creed 2 of the Watch Dogs series, where the sequel markedly improves upon a core idea.
Watch Dogs 2 releases on November 15, 2016 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.