It all seems like so long ago now, that fateful day when Ubisoft not only announced their brand new IP Watch Dogs but openly claimed it would be their new big franchise. The more sceptical of us may have thought this move somewhat…bold. Perhaps even arrogant for them to assume Watch Dogs would take off to such rousing success.
Regardless, the initial Watch Dogs trailers and gameplay videos hit and sent people into a frenzy of excitement. Watch Dogs Pre-orders went through the roof despite the labyrinthine rewards system that forced people to literally map out how it was even possible to get all the extra content given its vast money grubbing network to squeeze out every dollar. Despite all this, people were genuinely excited for Watch Dogs, because honestly, Watch Dogs did look pretty amazing. That is to say, the carefully tailored view of Watch Dogs shown to us did indeed look amazing at the time. That is until Watch Dogs was actually released in one of the biggest backlashes in recent gaming history.
The result of Watch Dogs release was practically worth it for the resulting cynicism, the justifiable doubt of any new release ever since. It also gave us such phrases like “Ubisofted it” or “Unless it goes full Watch Dogs” or even my personal favourite, “an iconic failure”. For upon release Watch Dogs was found to be vastly downgraded from the previews, parts of Watch Dogs to be completely different and even lacking much of that character and personality shown from the people and world. This only got worse as people began to uncover simple changes locked behind code for the PC version which gave modders easy access to a much nicer version of what was on the market. Between the poor graphics, comparatively, dips in framerate and general lack of polish despite push backs, Watch Dogs came out to such anger, Ubisoft couldn’t buy back my trust if they had a dollar for every time someone said iconic.
Behind the soured promises and bitter disappointment, perhaps the worst failing was how simply mediocre Watch Dogs was. Now criticism aside, Watch Dogs is not actually a bad game. It is not a great game, but it’s decent enough to pass the time. The main protagonist lacked any personality or reason to care about him, the plot was just there enough to keep you going, and Watch Dogs was rolled fresh of the Ubisoft production line. Barring some interesting touches like the multiplayer mechanic, everything else was just “a Ubisoft game”, complete with towers and open world grinding. The driving was also horrid for what it’s worth, driving a car felt like sliding in those hover boots from Ocarina of Time but at higher speeds. The main promise of the game lay in hacking however, the idea of controlling the world around you to suit your needs. While some interactions were decent enough, it amounted to little more than press square to move cover or see through camera. Even without the hype grave they dug themselves, nothing about Watch Dogs made it iconic in the gaming landscape, and it became another forgettable experience.
Despite everything though, Ubisoft had decided this was a new franchise, and they wouldn’t let go of their modern day Assassin’s Creed. So the question become what can redeem the series if anything even can? What does Watch Dogs 2 need to accomplish to win back the people? Well, for one thing, Watch Dogs 2 needs a story worth caring about. As I finished the main plot of the first Watch Dogs game, it felt like I just finished a really long prologue. As if the story itself was that thirty odd minutes before the game kicks off, but over hours and hours. If I was a more positive person I might say that could even work out for them. If Watch Dogs was basically a test run of this new franchise, maybe with the prologue out of the way they can make a proper game with Watch Dogs 2. I’m not going to pretend like I remember beyond the gist of the plot, but Watch Dogs 2 is clearly focusing on Deadsec, a hacker group who hopefully expand on the actual hacking element of the gameplay. With a fresh set of characters, a new location and hopefully a completely different story direction, Ubisoft has a chance to play their cards right and swing this world onto a new set of tracks that leads it somewhere far more promising.
Once again, Watch Dogs was not a bad game, it simply sours the mind to even think of the name after the massive mess that the release became. If anything there is a lot of potential in that world, but it depends on how stubborn Ubisoft are about changing what didn’t work. It even had a lot going for it if you accept it for the game it is. While Watch Dogs was the standard Ubisoft open world game in every way, it did have that undeniably enjoyable gameplay loop. The world contained some very promising ideas but never quite pushed hard enough on any of them to sustain proper focus. It also helps that none of the characters were remotely worth caring for. Watch Dogs 2 may have a support character who literally has changing emoji’s for eyes, but at least that’s some character. I’ll take silly fun cranked into a kind of cheesy over the grouchy and moody protagonist. Even the new main seems to have fun with the game at least. If you can control most of the city as a hacker group from some 80’s movie, you might as well have a good time with it.
More than anything Watch Dogs 2 needs to work on that promised freedom and interact to set it apart from of open world titles. When you’re promised control of all technology and you only get to set off a car alarm or two, the world becomes underwhelming. Now if you handed me Watch Dogs 2 with a true focus on manipulation and control over the city as you ran freeform around this slick environment with better narrative, a stronger focus and an enjoyable character. One who was more a hacker and less a perfect soldier, I might almost buy into hope. Almost.