After the PR trainwreck that was the original Watch Dogs, Ubisoft has certainly cleaned their act up for the sequel bringing in some desperately needed humour and colour into the series.
I was one of the very few people who enjoyed the first Watch Dogs. To be honest, I didn’t even know of the game’s existence until a couple of months before its release, making me miss all of its grandiose advertising. So, unlike others who became too wrapped up in their own fantasies of what the game could have been (and being disappointed as a result), I ended up enjoying the game for what it was. It wasn’t spectacular nor disastrous, just … average, for me at least. So along comes Watch Dogs 2 and people are suspicious about it; rightly so! Sales for the game have so far completely bombed in comparison to the original, but is that justified? Have they done/changed enough in Watch Dogs 2 to wipe the awful memories of the first game from people’s minds?
The first and biggest change they’ve made is the complete 180 flip in its tone. In Watch Dogs 1, you took on the role of Aiden Pearce — an emotionless vigilante out for revenge in the dark, gritty city of Chicago after the murder of his niece. In Watch Dogs 2, you play Marcus Holloway — a complete and utter geek who, alongside his friends in hacking group Dedsec (whose main base is underneath a board game shop), aims to take down the corrupt, corporate evil that is Blume and its worldwide electronics management system CToS 2.0 in the bright and vibrant city of San Fransisco. See what I mean? Watch Dogs 1 was just dark, dreary and frankly boring as a result. Whereas Watch Dogs 2 is colourful, endearing and at many points, hilarious with LOTS of geeky humour. Sure, the sequel possesses a lot of dark elements like its predecessor, but it sugarcoats this with the ridiculousness and comedy ladened throughout it. Look at it this way, the wackiest thing you did in Watch Dogs 1 was hacking a man’s pacemaker to make it stop working. In Watch Dogs 2, one of the missions has you take control of a giant spider tank (yep, you read that correctly) which can climb walls and ceilings, possesses a deadly stomp which makes everything in its vicinity explode and is near-invincible. So would you rather have pacemaker hacking or a GIANT SPIDER TANK? I think I know which I would pick.
The story of Watch Dogs 2 is also far superior. Whilst it does have some flaws and plot holes, particularly at the end-game, it’s certainly a lot better than Watch Dogs 1’s story where the niece of Aiden Pearce, whose death kick-starts the whole story, appears on-screen for 17 frames. 17 frames: the amount of time it takes for a phone to respond to you clicking a button on it which, needless to say, is not enough time to establish a character and make the player care about their death.
Luckily, Watch Dogs 2 does not feature such a clear plot overview (although they don’t 100 pre cent learn their lesson with the significant character death in the sequel …) and takes care in mixing the slightly absurd side of the game with the grounded and serious side, finding a decent balance that the original Watch Dogs just failed to find at all. The leap between the two different sides can be somewhat jarring, though. There are times in the story where you go from the end of the spectrum of one straight to the other end of the other. This took me out of the seriousness of certain situations in the game at times, which could have very easily been avoided had the switching between the two spectrums been slowed down somewhat.
It’s with Watch Dogs 2’s characters, however, that the game truly shines at its brightest. When the first trailer for the game released, Wrench (a character who wears a mask which displays various different emojis) caused a slight amount of controversy. Many thought that he would be the typical comic relief character with almost no development, indicating to fans that the sequel might just go the way of its predecessor in terms of its characters. However, everyone was sorely mistaken. Wrench is quite possibly one of, if not the, best supporting character(s) in video games in 2016. At first, he does come across as something many people were terrified of but as the story goes on, slowly but surely, you learn little details about Wrench which humanises him. Things like him having a crush on a waitress in a coffee shop and Marcus subsequently hooking him up with her, which all lead up to one of the main story missions in the game involving him entirely and why he wears the mask. The other characters are all very memorable too. Sitara came from a high-class background but wanted to rebel against the soulless corporate evils instead. Josh is a hacking genius but is also extremely socially awkward because of having Asperger’s Syndrome. All of the characters featured in the game are perfectly fleshed out throughout the story (and side missions); something which encourages the player to do more of the missions in order to try and find out more about them.
Ultimately, Watch Dogs 2 is a million times better than its disaster of a prequel. The game just feels energetic, colourful and full of life in the face of its soulless, dark and damn near-depressing counterpart. References to Diablo, Star Trek and even Alien Vs. Predator greatly aid the viewer’s interest — especially during the game’s more serious moments. Its witty and memorable characters keep the player pushing through the game’s fun and wacky story. This is exactly what the first Watch Dogs should have been but they’ve finally got the formula for the series right.