I loved the premise and potential of the first Watch Dogs. I think we all did, right? Ubisoft showed off a stunning game, and they wound up releasing one that underwhelmed more than it pleased.
They know that, of course. The IP had strength, though, so the developer and publisher put some serious time and resources into Watch Dogs 2. We have a new game in a new setting with a new hero, a new angle on hacking, vastly improved performance and an experience that, in the few times I’ve played the game at random events, feels much better than what we got with Watch Dogs.
All of that remains true so far, and I played Watch Dogs 2 again earlier this week. This demo was longer and unguided, and I left surprised by a few features and how they work to complete this package.
Now, remember, Watch Dogs 2 could wind up being a not so hot game. Don’t take this as my endorsement of the product as much as it is simply what I walked away from the demo really excited about.
These are the things that stood out as potentially awesome to me in Watch Dogs 2.
You can pet dogs!
It sounds stupid, so I’m asking that you bear with me here. The original Watch Dogs felt bare and shallow, and the world of Chicago that our then-hero Aiden explored was more of a facade of life than it was a living world. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that Watch Dogs 2 finally feels alive, but I point towards the ability to pet dogs as part of a larger promise.
Ubisoft cares about this world. They’re aiming to make it feel more lived in than what we got in Watch Dogs, and that means adding dumb little nuanced features like petting dogs.
No, I’m not excited to play this as a pet dog simulator, but the simple fact that I can pet all the pups I see gives me the distinct impression that Ubisoft is trying to develop a complete city here. It’ll have its short comings, no doubt about it, but San Francisco already feels more lived in than Ubisoft’s take on Chicago.
Social network-based challenges flesh out the world
Right, so this is a lot like petting dogs. There’s an Instagram-like app called ScoutX (I believe that’s how it’s said, though it’s written “Scxut”) that will reward Marcus with followers, the sort of experience points in Watch Dogs 2, for taking pictures of specific locales in the city. You’ll fire up the app, select a landmark painting or feature, cruise out to it, take a selfie in front of it and reap the rewards.
I love side activities that actually task players with paying special attention to the world around the game and not just moving an object from point to point. These activities are ultimately frivolous, but, just like petting dogs, they make the city feel more alive and dense in a natural way.
These special activities add content to the game without standing as shimmering chests in Assassin’s Creed Unity. They point to a culture change at Ubisoft, one that seems to highlight the company’s new-found directive to make their game worlds feel more real and less connected to companion apps.
I applaud these things.
The art direction and soundtrack are on point.
If you haven’t been paying attention to Watch Dogs 2’s art direction and soundtrack yet, you should. The game looks amazing, and the art that accompanies the world, the character design and even the UI elements has really delivered an interesting take on Deadsec and hacking culture.
The music? Any game that let’s me listen to “Don’t Sweat The Technique” by Eric B. & Rakim is alright in my book.
Crazy Taxi-esque mini-missions? Yes, of course!
I got a chance to try yet another nifty thing during my demo that wasn’t related to the campaign mission we were meant to play. That something is an in-game app called Driver San Francisco. Yes, video game fans with a nose for release history will likely recognize that name. Driver: San Francisco was a game developed by Ubisoft Reflections, and this app’s name is an obvious nod to that game.
What is it? You’ll open up the app, select a customer, pick them up and then complete objectives. The customer I grabbed during my preview had me drive around the immediate area with an objective of achieving the most air time possible. I managed five stars on the mission and was rewarded with followers.
This mix between Uber and Crazy Taxi was neat, and, again, it was a feature I was surprised to see.
A protagonist with character.
Good grief, Aiden was boring. Marcus? Marcus has personality.
From the motion capture work that went into making his movement more fluid and natural to the vocal performance behind him and the art direction that went into creating him, Marcus has more flair than Aiden could even aspire to achieve.
Here’s some gameplay I captured during Ubisoft’s recent preview event for Watch Dogs 2. Pay attention to Marcus (and even the other characters he interacts with) throughout the clip, and you’ll notice a vast improvement over what we had with Aiden.
Aiden felt like angst, while Marcus feels like a youth movement, and that energy and character make him dynamic enough to be enjoyable. It’s hard to slog through an open world game with someone you don’t really care for. Marcus is the type of protagonist that has the chance to be a fan-favorite, and that’s something Ubisoft’s really lacked since, well, Ezio. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s twins were decent, for what it’s worth, but Marcus seems even better.
Watch Dogs 2 will sell for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC platforms on November 15, 2016. We’ll have more on the game as it comes.