When the original Watch Dogs was revealed, it sold us on a digital fantasy of hack any and everything. You would be given the power over the environment to take control back from Big Brother. The concept was promising, yet the execution lacked the bravado needed to live up to the vision. But like any good software update, Watch Dogs 2 delivers and refines where the first installment failed. Read on to see what we think, in our Watch Dogs 2 Review.
Watch Dogs 2 takes place in modern-day San Francisco, and being the digital Mecca of the planet, it’s the perfect place for protagonist Marcus Holloway to make a name for himself. As a top-notch hacker, Marcus seeks out to join the hacker association known as DedSec. Together, they topple cooperate giants, raise societal awareness, and strive to take down Blume and their ctOS 2.0, which is the ultimate system for motoring and controlling the masses. The story is delivered in a joyride fashion, yet raises serious questions about how our world is run in today’s age and what will happen if we stay the course. At its heart it is a cautionary tale with deep undertones of the dangers of the information age.
The game keeps the open world environment and unlike Watch Dog’s Chicago imagining, Watch Dogs 2 completely captures the look and feel of the Bay Area. In terms of pure scope and size, it would give Grand Theft Auto V a run for its money. You can explore everything from Silicon Valley to the streets of Oakland with a varied collection of activates to distract you from point A to B. I’ll talk a bit more about the exploration and activities, further down in this Watch Dogs 2 review.
The premise of “hack anything” is implemented wonderfully and in creative ways. There is a bit of a learning curve before you get the hang of hacking the world around you, but once you understand the basics, almost anything can be tweaked for your benefit. Even while driving, which by the way has seen great improvements in its mechanics, you can still get a sense of what’s going on around you. And yes, you can effectively trigger turnstiles and other barriers during a chase this time around.
The game eases you into each tool in your tool belt, but leaves you to choose how to tackle most situations. I found that throughout my Watch Dogs 2 review experience, I leaned on some skills and tools which I personally favored, but was free to use anything in the arsenal; you will quickly find that there is almost always a better way to tackle most challenges. And chances are, you will continuously use whichever method you personally prefer. With that said, you’re given a skill tree that begs to be upgraded, this will allow for more fun and exciting ways to fight your foes even, if they prove to be ineffective at times – this truly is one of the highlights of Watch Dogs 2 (review the skill tree, and get familiar with all of the tools and abilities, this will prove to be useful towards the end of the game).
The game can get repetitive fast, but only if you play it as such. Like I said, there is a “better way” to tackle challenges but far from only one way. Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t demand creativity, but it highly encourages it.
As I powered through the Watch Dogs 2 review, I realized that the main quest will take at least 30 hours from start to finish, but if you take the time to smell the carbon-based roses, you can expect an extended stay in the Bay. From sail boating, fighting rival hackers, building your follower base, taking a selfie with every known landmark, and the occasional drone race, it is guaranteed you will find a side activity that you genuinely enjoy. With all that you can do, when you try doing too many things at once, the game’s framerate takes a noticeable drop. The bigger set pieces go off without a hitch, but when your daily tasks in the open world start to get chaotic and the action picks up, you can expect frames to drop.
The story hits all the right keystrokes, but Marcus and the cast of diverse voices make it a great memorable journey. Marcus is a modern-day young black man and the game isn’t afraid to address that. Without awkwardly forcing his ethnic identity onto you, Ubisoft showcases him as a person who is proud of who he is. The same goes for the majority of people you meet in-game like the Sitara, the leader of DedSec, who was born and raised in Kolkata. Beyond race, you meet leading characters that are part of the LGBT community, and instead of defining them by stereotypical troupes, these aspects are used to further deepen them as a well-rounded individuals instead of a diversity check mark. Making the world not only realistic, but also culturally aware on a level I’ve never seen in gaming.
From the ashes of Chicago, the Watch Dogs franchise has received the processing power to deliver a game that is a true sum of its parts. From the smallest USB to the biggest data farm, a tech savvy hand has graced every aspect of the finished product. At the center of the machine beats a heart that bleeds humanity and some of the best characterization of 2016. The system isn’t without its glitches and shortcomings, but Watch Dogs 2 gives new meaning to the term “life hacks.”