The first games in a franchise have it bad. Open-world free-running vigilante games from Ubisoft especially so. Both Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs began their respective franchises with games based on solid, fresh gameplay framework. And while both were fine as they were, they were lacking in narrative and certain gameplay flair.
Luckily for us, Ubisoft clearly takes notes from players' feedback, as Watch Dogs 2 seems to be following in the footsteps of Assassin's Creed 2, with densely packed locations, plenty of interesting activities, and, first of all, fun and approachable main character.
Before we talk about how Watch Dogs 2 improves on its predecessor formula, let us briefly discuss why and where exactly did this formula need improvement.
Solid But Unpolished
The main problem of Watch Dogs was its protagonist. Aiden Pearce was a rather uninteresting character, much like Altair in Assassin's Creed, before the AC sequels fleshed him out greatly. Hell-bent on getting revenge, with military training, with a grim trench coat and uninterested attitude, Aidan was too much of a stereotypical video game protagonist for the players to connect with him, despite a quite personal story pushing him to do what he did.
The game's version of Chicago did little to balance these issues out. Much like the protagonist, it felt rather standard. If functioned well with the gameplay framework, but never felt quite alive. Much like the protagonist himself it could have been perfect for a stronger narrative, but fell short of becoming memorable with what we were given.
Welcome to San Francisco
Ubisoft apparently acknowledged the criticism of its new IP and made it their goal to avoid the same mistakes in the sequel. Everything we know of Watch Dogs 2 so far signals a definite change of approach. It appears the developers were guided by a simple question: is it going to be fun?
The choice of San Francisco for setting was crucial and became the basis for everything else. And it can be easily seen why. The city is bright, colorful, fundamentally full of life and activity, with several locations making San Francisco a perfect setting for some solid hacking gameplay Watch Dogs 2 prides itself on. It is after all in San Francisco where the Silicon Valley is located, the iconic paradise of technology. More than that, the Stanford university campus is the meeting point for students from all over the country and the world, while the Nudle complex is Watch Dogs 2's version of Google and is as much of a tech Mecca as the Silicon Valley. All of these places are essential for Watch Dogs 2, and have been recreated with care and ingenuity. Ever since the first Watch Dogs 2 trailer it has been clear that the Watch Dogs 2 version of San Francisco is no WD version of Chicago. Full of life, activity, and people, the Paris of the West is a perfect setting for new, more fun-focused Watch Dogs 2 gameplay experience.
The attention to detail and authenticity reached even the missions. One of the bonuses included in the pre order version of Watch Dogs 2 is a chance to pursue to infamous Zodiac Killer who terrorized the streets of San Fran back in the day. If you want to be the one who finally solves the mystery of his identity, the pre order gives you this opportunity.
Say Hello to Marcus Holloway
The essence of fun also influenced the concept and design of Marcus Holloway, the Watch Dogs 2 protagonist. Instead of an adult man, slowly reaching the mid-point of his life, Marcus is a student at a university. Rather than being driven by a personal vendetta, Marcus' motivations are more altruistic. True, he had been wronged by the system, but this only drove him to the realization the system is flawed and abused, so he joined forces with DedSec, an Anonymous-like organization known from the first Watch Dogs, to take it down.
He is more optimistic, jokes more, he is much more approachable and, well, more fun than Aiden could ever have managed, despite what his introduction trailer shows.
An Improved Gameplay Experience
The changes extend to the Watch Dogs 2 gameplay too, of course. Everything about Marcus shows his energy and agility. His weapon is a blazing-fast thunderball (a billiard ball on a strong string, essentially), he is very adept at parkour, much more so than Aiden ever was, or any of the assassins, for that matter. This is due to the much improved and expanded animations. Marcus' moves look very slick, chaining one into another with fluidity and momentum seen in real-life parkour experts.
Hacking 2.0 for ctOS 2.0
Hacking was the big selling point of the first Watch Dogs. And the game largely delivered, with numerous elements of the game world being possible to manipulate at a single tap of a button on Aiden's smartphone, casual uncovering the secrets of passers-by, and more. Watch Dogs 2 hacking improves even on that. The hacking system in the previous game was broad in application, but not very deep. Most hackable elements worked mostly on an onoff basis. In Watch Dogs 2 hacking goes deeper.
Now the phones of NPCs open several options, from siphoning their battery life to your own phone, to sending false alerts to police of gangs, creating a very good distraction. Junction boxes can be overloaded, turned into proximity mines or simply turned off. Even cars and dog collars can be hacked and controlled. In time you will gain access to mass hacks allowing you to cause widespread chaos at ease.
Finally comes the brand new addition in the form or drones and other gadgets. In a true 21st century fashion Marcus can 3D print a number of items. Two of his most basic gadgets is a quadcopter he can use to scan area ahead of him and remotely acces otherwise unseen ports. RC car, the other of his tools, can travel through air dicts and physically access ports impossible to hack into remotely. Oh, and Marcus' gun is 3D printed as well, suggesting 3D printing is going to be the main source of new items in the game.
Watch Dogs 2 gameplay and story features make it a definitive improvement on the previous game's faults and unexplored possibilities. New and more fun main character, brighter and more alive locations, expanded and deepened hacking. The full scope of improvements will only be seen after the Watch Dogs 2 release date on 15 November 2016, but from all available sources one thing becomes clear. The franchise is going to make the same leap Assassin's Creed made between its first and second installment. Watch Dogs 2 will be the game Watch Dogs was supposed to be.
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