It’s been two years since Ubisoft’s open world action-adventure third-person shooter, Watch Dogs debuted on all available consoles. It was considered a hit, averaging at least a 7/10 unless you had a Wii U then you were looking at scores of an average of 5/10. As the months went by however glitches and issues started to appear. These included unresponsive battle mechanics, disappearing NPC’s, and continuing problems with the online multiplayer. Worst of all was an element that in my opinion is unforgivable in any game, an unengaging protagonist. Seriously Aiden was as dull as dishwater; you could swap him with Jensen from Deus Ex Machina, and you wouldn’t notice.
With Watch Dogs 2 Ubisoft now has the chance to polish all the blemishes from its predecessor to create a true open world action-adventure. This time around players are newcomer Marcus Holloway, a hacker with a heart of gold (don’t they all) who hopes to bring down the corrupt businesses infecting the world, in particular, his home San Francisco (the playground gamers run around in this time). He is recruited by a hacker group known as DedSec who wish to use his skills to help save the world and free everyone from the grips of all the various insidious corporations. Think of it as a cyber Robin Hood and his merry band, and they are quite the merry band. My particular favourite is Wrench who quips with the best of them and has a fascinating character design.
Now this is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into the specifics of the story, I will, however, go into detail about the gameplay, the graphics and my overall first impressions of Watch Dogs 2.
Watch Dogs 2 promises a lot, and unfortunately at this point does not deliver on all of them. The design of WD2 is decent; the cut scenes are well done, and the dialogue is well written, giving the characters a cinematic flair. Once you leave the cut scenes, however, there is a drop in animation quality that is disappointing. If only the game could keep this cinematic quality throughout the whole experience.
Walking through San Fransisco you feel like you are in a living breathing world, events are occurring all around you. Whether they are vicious muggings, police raids, even domestic disputes San Fransisco is a well-developed character all of its own. As you traverse San Fransisco, you will have a myriad of side quests to choose from given to you by DedSec, film stars and general NPC’s and they are a lot of fun. They usually involve Marcus breaking into a secure area and hacking into the sensitive material to use against WD2’s villains.
Helping the player deal out justice is an assortment of digital hacking goodies, including a quadcopter and jumper which allow you to hack areas without being seen. They add an interesting aesthetic change up from simply getting Marcus from A to B but ultimately feel unnecessary, and focus could have been put more into empowering Marcus further. On that note, the abilities Marcus has available to him are somewhat uninspired. You have all the abilities Aiden had in the previous game, and as you gain research points (upgrade currency), you learn new abilities to mess with the establishment.
I found it hard to spend these points as nothing jumped out at me as fun. You get access to several skill trees which allow you to choose your style of play, social hacking so that you can put a fake APB out on someone, one skill tree to focus on weapons like grenades and guns to improve loading ammo, or you can go the route of hacking vehicles. There’s a lot available to you, but personally, I found social hacking the best because you could watch your actions affect the people around you. Even that, in the end, felt unimpressive.
Worst of all is the issue with the online aspect of WD2, promising a seamless transition into their online world Ubisoft stated this would be something sensational. And how is it? It’s okay, at first I found it fun and harmless but at one point during my playthrough the game started to fall apart. The animation in WD2 became laughable, at one point I was on a motorcycle, and it bounced off the road like a pogo stick. It was infuriating and left a bad taste in my mouth. By the time this review in progress goes out, I can say that this issue has seemingly been resolved.
So what are my first impressions of WD2 after these first initial hours in its world? The world is well developed, the characters fun and interesting and watching chaos spring from your fingertips is hilarious. Unfortunately, the core gameplay feels far too similar to the previous game; there are notable differences which make it fun, but you don’t feel as powerful as you’ve been led to believe.
After games like Grand Theft Auto V, and Just Cause 3 game studios need to up their game to give a new spin on the open world adventure experience and unfortunately Watch Dogs 2 is just not up to scratch. It’s got the story, the characters, and the world, but the gameplay and the online aspect still need work. If you haven’t played the first outing for the Watch Dogs franchise, this might interest you, but be sure to wait for a price drop.