Unlike a lot of people out there, I actually liked the first Watch Dogs. Even though the game took place in a generic open world setting and had a protagonist who was as interesting as a cardboard box, its central mechanic that allowed you to hack into the infrastructure of an entire city was something that was unique. Thankfully, Ubisoft took note of what did and didn’t work when creating Watch Dogs 2. In nearly every way possible, Watch Dogs 2 is what the first game should have been. Not only that, but it is also one of the best games of 2016.
Watch Dogs 2 is set in modern day San Francisco and stars a group of hackers whose mission is to expose the evils of the Blume corporation — the same one that created the CTOS program that has made it possible to have “smart” cities. With nearly every major city in America now connected to one massive network, it is easy for Blume and other companies to monitor people’s behavior and indirectly control their lives. Playing as Marcus Holloway, players must use all of the hacking knowledge at their disposal to take down these corporate giants and give power back to the folks.
Despite how serious the main mission of the game is, Watch Dogs 2 is decidedly a more relaxed and carefree endeavor compared to its predecessor. This is a game set in San Francisco so it naturally has a more chilled out vibe than a title set in Chicago would. The main characters reflect the spirit of their home city with own laid back attitudes. No matter how grave things get, the characters always have something qwippy and funny to say. Though there are some who may not appreciate the tone here, I found it refreshing compared to the overly serious nature of the original.
The game’s versions of San Francisco and Oakland gives players a lot to explore. The overall map isn’t overtly huge but it is quite dense. From urban centers filled with block after block of steep streets, to lush forests, and the large San Francisco bay, Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t lack in visual diversity. No matter where you travel, you will always find something interesting to look at — whether that be nature, man made constructions, or even just the people going about their daily lives.
Like any good open world game, there are a good variety of side missions to partake in. The most interesting sidequests involve you having to use your hacking skills to complete objectives, but ones where you have to drive folks around to various locales or participate in different types of races are enjoyable too. The most fun optional content comes with finding and grabbing collectibles. For many of these, you will have to employ some brain power to figure out how to disable alarms or open doors so that you can nab your treasure. These puzzles are a nice diversion and are welcome.
Though you can use firearms in the game, it is best to avoid combat and use your hacking abilities to disable security devices, distract guards, and use cameras to figure out the best way to get through a section. Outside of missions, it is clear that Marcus and crew aren’t murderers so going on a killing spree does create ludonarrative dissonance. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s best to avoid combat since Marcus can be easily killed and there is no way to upgrade him so that he can survive prolonged firefights. While the gunplay itself is serviceable, you’re better off using your hacking robots and wits rather than get into a gun fight you’re going to lose.
Much like the first game, Watch Dogs 2 has an always-online multiplayer that allows users to enter another’s game in order to hack or hunt them. This multiplayer portion isn’t mandatory so those who don’t wish to participate can simply go offline. However, I did find it exhilarating when someone invaded my game and I had to hunt them down. The multiplayer here isn’t all that different from Watch Dogs but it doesn’t feel as intrusive as it did before.
Much like the journey between Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2, Watch Dogs 2 improves upon its predecessor in every single way. Ubisoft has delivered one of the very best open world games of this generation and one that will no doubt inspire other developers. If you were turned off the franchise because of the original game, please rest assured in knowing that Watch Dogs 2 thoroughly delivers. You’re doing yourself a disservice by missing out on this gem so make sure to give it a try if you can.
This review of Watch Dogs 2 is based on a digital copy for the PlayStation 4 Pro which was provided by Ubisoft.