After the completely underwhelming release of the first game, Ubisoft is back trying to revive the Watch Dogs franchise. With a whole new setting, characters, protagonist and villain it’s easy to see how hard Ubisoft is working to revamp the series as a whole, to gain back the initial hype the first game had online.
In a world where major corporations are constantly watching and privacy is no longer a commodity, Watch Dogs 2 puts the rebellion back into the modern era. The themes are similar to the first game, i.e. a centralised focus on hacking and surveillance mechanics being a major part of the open world. Here the attempt at a darker and grittier narrative of a not too distant future feels more well rounded, topped-off with some well meaning satire.
Watch Dogs 2 seems to remember that its main purpose is to entertain. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, learning some major pointers from the successful Saints Row series. The writing team has finally realised that they can have fun with the idea of handheld heightened technology, while still filling in the emptiness of the sandbox genre with some semblance of life.
The main narrative and characters feel more dimensional this time around. They have some interesting personalities, though they are perhaps pushed into our faces repeatedly. With backstories, character arcs and motivations, the introduction of these characters is a nice change from the blandness of the first game. Gender, race and sexual diversity also brightens up the game from its repetitive gameplay and boring over-world mechanics.
The core of Watch Dogs has remained in its second iteration, with the mechanics of driving, hacking, stealth, combat returning for good reason (don’t fix what isn’t broken). However, it would have been advisable for Watch Dogs 2 to have built on these core mechanics rather than just copy-pasting them from the previous game.
Ubisoft has arranged gameplay alongside these core elements to allow for some level of personalisation, but along the way it becomes clear that most of the missions have been written with the primary mechanics in mind. For some players this will prove boring, but with the distraction of side missions within the San Francisco sandbox it can be forgiven.
As an open world game Watch Dogs should work well, following the success of GTA 5 and Saints Row 4. A modern sandbox setting is a no-brainer after all. However, unlike the two successful aforementioned sandboxes, Watch Dogs 2 forgets to fill the world with interesting gameplay. San Francisco has never felt so empty. The collectables and events around the map are few and far between. This world lacks personality and comes across just as boring as the real world. Without the wacky antics of GTA and Saints Row, San Francisco is just a flat space.
The hacking mechanic, which is the main selling point of both games, has thankfully been improved. Being able to control vehicles remotely as a distraction or to create platforms was useful. The best improvement by far was the ability to summon cops or gangs onto unsuspecting targets is highly amusing.
The addition of drones allows for more customization of gameplay experiences, as well as giving the players a new way to see the world. From high above or underfoot, small drones can be driven remotely to carry out hacking tasks. This addition was a saving grace for the series.
As a sequel, Watch Dogs 2 is a step in the right direction. It’s not the biggest step but nonetheless an improvement. Bringing fun and brightness to what was a serious series frees up the game to actually be, well, fun. Watch Dogs 2 takes the basics from the first game and fixes them with fresh ideas. It’s fair to say that Watch Dogs 2 can stand on its own two feet.