Review: Watch Dogs 2 is an honest if disjointed improvement
Not the robust sequel we were hoping for
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
It wouldn’t be a far cry to say that Watch Dogs was one of the more disappointing games this console generation. After making a big splash at its debut presentation, many had hoped that Ubisoft’s latest IP would be the one to reinvent the formula created by Grand Theft Auto. The idea of being able to not only free roam an open world, but control it via hacks, was a delectable idea. However, it was clear after a prolonged release that the execution was lacking. A relatively straightforward story, bland open world and stunted hacking mechanics prevented Watch Dogs from achieving the goals it set out to reach.
Two and a half years later, and Ubisoft has returned with a sequel, looking to correct all of its mistakes. A flavorful story, vibrant open world, and more analog hacking tools. Whilst all of these things are indeed true, the execution is again lacking, and the game is unable to completely shed what held it back the first time around.
Instead of a brooding protagonist we are introduced to Marcus Holloway, a more hopeful hero who along with his friends in DedSec plans to overthrow Blume, the company behind ctOS. After the events in the first game, Blume has doubled down with their citywide operating system with a 2.0 upgrade, and a host of shady corporations tapping into that terrifying power. The setting of San Francisco was the perfect choice for this game, due to it hosting many of the counterpart tech companies found in this reimagining. Exploring the city by the bay is the game’s biggest highlight, with it faithfully recreating many of its landmarks. We went to a supervised play through during the summer in San Francisco itself, and I am happy to report that the exploration gets more delightful with time.
Whilst the cast of characters are certainly telling a more entertaining story this time around, it is almost completely devoid of any personal ramifications. There are certain aspects to Marcus’ character that hint at such a connection, but the game never really goes beyond the “We have to take down Big Brother!” mantra. It’s a story told countless times before, and Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. Marcus’ interactions with his fellow DedSec-ians are great, with palpable chemistry between each unique member. And the villain is surprisingly compelling, presenting a curious twist on the youthful tech leaders he draws inspiration from. But it all feels a little cookie cutter, and after watching a compelling hacker drama like Mr. Robot, it definitely seems like the team at Ubisoft is a little out of touch.
Due to the more lighthearted nature of the sequel, run and gun feels totally out of place this time around. Which in a lot of ways is good, because it pushes you to hack your way out of a problem. But the enemy AI is at the same time both asinine and tenacious, so shooting your way out is sometimes the only option. In addition, the tools at your disposal are slightly confusing to employ. During my entire run of the game, I never quite mastered the hacking abilities in a way that felt fluid. Especially in the heat of the moment, when enemies are scouring the area for you or raining down gunfire. There’s nothing worse than being in your quadcopter and getting a “Marcus is being detected” notification.
If you want to hone your abilities and completely master hacking, there are a bevy of side quests to tackle. And while the online portion was down and will continue to be down during launch, the game offers a considerable amount of varied content. From eKart races to taking down pharma bros, there’s a mission for every kind of play style. And an Ubisoft game isn’t complete without a metric ton of collectibles.
I truly believe the team at Ubisoft absolutely wanted to create the perfect sequel to Watch Dogs, but this isn’t it. The hacking gameplay still does not feel organic and the characters swing too much in the jovial direction. But there’s still a lot to enjoy in this awesome recreation of San Francisco, so if you’re willing to overlook some of the game’s shortcomings, there’s still a lot to enjoy in Watch Dogs 2.