Watch Dogs 2 Hands-on Preview

What a difference a couple of years can make. When Watch Dogs was first shown off in 2008, the game had massive buzz surrounding it. At the time we didn’t know it, but it was one of the first “next-gen” games shown off. After a couple delays, Watch Dogs came out to record breaking sales but middling critical response. Now a couple of years later and we have a much shorter lead-up to Watch Dogs 2; a game I got a chance to go hands-on with last week up in San Francisco.

Although many of my contemporaries in the video game media didn’t have a lot of love for Watch Dogs, I was a big fan. In typical Ubisoft fashion I thought they did a great job of recreating the city of Chicago while implementing some engaging hacking mechanics in what was otherwise a familiar third person open-world action game. The one thing I found lacking from the original Watch Dogs was a relatable or engaging protagonist. Aiden Pearce was a dry, uninspired choice for a world that I found incredibly interesting.

After a brief panel discussion with some of the developers of Watch Dogs 2, I was given the controller for the Playstation 4 version of the game and told to have fun for four hours. The preview started out at the very beginning of the game where you’re introduced to Marcus Holloway the polar opposite of Aiden. There’s no doubt that Ubisoft heard the complaints and made a far more engaging protagonist. Without giving any story beats away, you learn about Marcus, his past and his plight. The story looks like it wants to hit some interesting places, although I'm still a little leery on whether or not the game will be bold enough to see them all through to completion.

Once I got through the opening hour or so, I was left to explore the open-world, tackle a mission or two, and engage with Ubisoft's beautiful recreation of San Francisco. As I mentioned earlier, the event took place in the heart of San Francisco and as someone who has been to the city a handful of times, it was pretty incredible to drive through Ubisoft’s interpretation. From San Francisco proper to their recreation of Silicon Valley, Marin County and Oakland, the game is both vast and yet enthralling. One thing to note is that although there are tons of different activities to do the map, it isn’t as littered with things to do as we saw in a game like Asssassin’s Creed: Unity, though there is still a fair amount to sink your teeth into.

What makes Watch Dogs 2 exciting to me is the combination of a traditional open-world third person action game and hacking mechanics. In Watch Dogs, that left you doing things like changing stoplights and blowing manholes to escape pursuers. Some of the first story missions I played used an RC Car to scout and hack areas before I ever engaged with one enemy. Similar to Far Cry, I found that the early missions in Watch Dogs 2 offered up the same ability to either choose to go in guns blazing or be far more tactical and non-lethal. Taking a page from Assassin’s Creed, Marcus can maneuver over walls and jump off ledges with far more finesse then Aiden ever could.

After two hours of play time, one of the Watch Dogs 2 developers pushed my game forward to much later into the experience where my skill tree was mostly filled out and Marcus was far more lethal than at the beginning. Once I had my bearings, I was able to try and go through a couple of missions later in the game, though granted, I had some major stumbling blocks trying to figure out what I was doing with all these new abilities. Had I gotten to these missions organically, I'm sure the difficulty spike would have been far less severe, but in a controlled preview event I didn't have that luxury. You do however have so many more options to take out bad guys and get through missions. I for one loved using the drone to scout out enemies before going in.

Like Watch Dogs, the second game also feature synchronous multiplayer. The map has purple items which represent multiplayer type missions. At the preview event I had no issues jumping into various missions with other critics and taking on different missions. One in particular had me infiltrating a communications tower and after nearly a half dozen tries and some strategic changes we finally were able to accomplish it. The entire experience was seamless and I was able to jump right back into my game immediately. We will have to wait and see if that translates as well when thousands of people are playing in November.

When I left the preview event I was left with a very positive outlook for the imminent release of Watch Dogs 2 on November 15th. The game is shaping up really nicely. From a pure mechanics stand point, the game seems great. My one concern, and I think the area that Watch Dogs 2 will live or die by is how well the game develops Marcus as a character and the story around him. There are some interesting characters and worlds to explore here and if they’re able to provide that with a compelling narrative, Watch Dogs 2 might be one of the better games of this holiday season.

This preview was at an Ubisoft held preview event in San Francisco. The editor's flights and lunch were provided by Ubisoft.

The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.