I really did not like the look of Watch Dogs 2 when it was first shown. The not-so-subtle dive into what fiction likes to romanticise as hacker culture, mixed with the undertones of modern social media and cultural trends of the millennial era was a bold new direction for the sequel after the overbearingly depressing first attempt. It was different, but it was an edgy tone that didn’t sit right with me. As it turns out, it doesn’t take long to grow on you once you start playing.
But probably more importantly, it makes a whole lot more sense in the context of this (so far) exciting sequel.
You’ll step into the sneakers of Marcus, an infamous internet wizard how soon finds himself at home with Dedsec – the underground hacking group that was a little too serious for its own good in the first game. Just like the change in overall appearance, Marcus is the night to Aiden Pearce’s day. Not in attitude or personality mind you, which oozes from this immediately likable persona from the second he starts talking. Marcus is smart, relatable and funny – and I was able to connect to him through in a far more natural way than Pearce ever came close to.
That sort of personality extends to the other members of Dedsec, which you may or may not be familiar with. There’s the snarky but otherwise composed leader, the reserved and almost sarcastically inept brains, the guy that can fix anything with everything else, and some dude with emotes for a face. They’re weird in their own sort of way, but bring a large dose of variety to the ominous underground movement. They’re certainly serious about bringing down Blume and their encompassing internet of things network, cTOS. But they’re going to have fun doing it.
Fun is the operative word in this sequel though, because it feels drastically more so than I ever remember its predecessor being. This fresh coat of sometimes overly busy paint breathes new life into the otherwise rather concerning message the game is conveying. The idea that information is very quickly being tapped from every facet of our daily lives, with the ability of “little brothers” to sell your digital lives off to whomever they please. It’s a grounded to an extent, but still finds more than enough room to take things over the top for entertainment’s sake.
Those tweaks come primarily in the form of Marcus’ more expansive set of hacking tools, which feature a lot more in standard gameplay now. Line of sight is the goal here, with you as the player having to directly point at objects you wish to wirelessly interact with. This alone makes hacking feel more purposeful already, but the extended control over the world pushes it over the edge. Instead of just changing street lights, I was remotely driving vehicles, setting up electrical traps and even taking down entire criminal operations without stepping foot inside the premises.
As an example, one mission tasked me with hacking a storage device on the second floor of a heavily guarded building. Using my remote drone, I used vents to access the building undetected to steal a digital access key from one of the guards. Back outside, I remotely controlled a scissor lift to give me a boost to the second floor, where I used the key to enter a door almost on top of my objective. Before I knew it I was out – no alarms, no guards, just me and my smartphone.
Watch Dogs 2 lays a greater emphasis on stealth play like this, and gives you a myriad of ways to approach missions that, fundamentally, don’t really feel all that different already. But my approaches injected some necessary variety into them, especially when going with the flow. Being caught in the middle of a restricted area let me bring out my close range stun gun and 3D printed handgun for some decent cover-based shooting, but it never offered the same rush as outsmarting my foes without a bullet needed.
Watch Dogs 2 never forgets to be entertaining though, and it’s a design tenet that permeates almost every facet of the game now. It’s also a very socially aware game, using its setting to make comment about real world events. One such occurrence involved a particularly hilarious parody of Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli, with Marcus tricking his in-game doppelganger to donate $20 million to leukemia research. Conversations you eavesdrop on satirise social media and the effects of an inter-connected world – and while they’re often hilarious, they’re incredible self-aware of the message they’re really trying to send.
But if the first few hours are any good indication, it’s self awareness that isn’t shoved down the throats of players in a condescending way. Instead, Watch Dogs 2 makes light of its subject matter to make its more tonally dark moments stand out more, and resonate with the player in a more significant way. But outside of that, it’s just a delight to play. Marcus and his abilities make for a much more fluid, deep gameplay experience, and it’s one I wanted to continue unfolding immediately after my session.
And if it manages to maintain the high bar the opening kept up, Watch Dogs 2 could certainly be the game we really deserved when the series first debuted.
Last Updated: October 28, 2016