I got hands-on with Watch Dogs 2 at Gamescom and had a pretty good experience overall. You play as Marcus Holloway, a hacker living in San Francisco and you work with Dedsec, a notorious group of hackers to expose the hidden dangers of ctOS 2.0, which is an advanced operating system networking city infrastructure designed to create a safer, more efficient metropolis.
So basically, the ctOS 2.0 is being used to monitor and manipulate citizens on a massive scale so you have to use various hacking skills, along with Dedsec, to take down ctOS 2.0, and liberate the people. So far it’s ramping up to be pretty action-packed, right?
Marcus, the main character, was identified by crime prediction software as being responsible for a nearby high-tech burglary that required the technical expertise he possessed. The evidence fit him, he had no alibi, and the crime prediction was the nail in the coffin that allowed the cops to press charges and close another case. It was only because of a sympathetic judge that Marcus escaped a harsh sentence, and this is where Marcus stands with the law as the game begins.
The hacker group DedSec is made up of talented individuals, three of which will have key roles in Watch Dogs 2
As the group’s self-proclaimed anarchist, Wrench excels at breaking things: the law, the system, or anything vulnerable to a sledgehammer. The Wrench hides his face behind a bizarre electronic mask, his emotions expressed only through digital emoticons and a distorted voice. He may be vulgar and crude, but he’s always entertaining. He’s also an absolute adrenaline junkie.
The closest thing DedSec has to a leader, Sitara’s focused on their public face. Her propaganda videos and rebellious art style have put the group on the map and she is easily the most politically motivated member. Sitara has taken full advantage of the educational system, focusing on marketing, PR, and just about everything related to art. Hoping for a change, she relocated to the Bay Area from LA but found hollow celebrities replaced by soulless tech giants. She believes culture is being crushed by cold industry, which creates the perfect opportunity for her brand of artistic rebellion.
Josh is DedSec’s strongest programmer as well as the groups biggest activist, preferring to view things through a positive lens and assuming the best in people. While some might call him naïve, he’s a much-needed counterbalance for DedSec’s wilder elements. Despite his drive to help people, Josh comes across as antisocial and distant. He finds his rare moments of comfort behind a keyboard, digging through code, spotting patterns in social media, or solving complex cryptography. He was a perfect candidate for DedSec’s meritocracy of skilled social misfits and they were ecstatic when he agreed to join them.
Each time you successfully complete a mission DedSec is rewarded with followers. Gaining followers is the central goal of the whole game. Having more followers essentially allows more power to be used to hack. Every new follower gained provides the player with more “botnets” which can be seen as the equivalent of firepower. As the player receives more followers, the player and DedSec gains more hacking abilities. The player can then decide which hack they want to unlock for the group. Also, more operations (story missions) will be uncovered as DedSec gains followers, it allows them more power to dig deeper and reveal hidden secrets.
You also get an extensive range of equipment to play with. The main character Marcus is equipped with a phone capable of downloading apps, taking photo’s or selfies, contacting friends, joining events and doing taxi-like activities with the Driver SF app. You can also use his phone to hack people. Everyone can be hacked in Watch Dogs 2, which is a big improvement. This lets you be more creative and select which hack you can do on any AI. You can distract an AI, create a fake profile to alert the police, trigger gang wars or find anyone’s secrets hidden in their data. The situations that can arise out of this are incredibly rich, leading to some pretty unpredictable gameplay.
You also have access to two remote-control devices. The jumper is a ground-based device, while the drone has the capacity to fly. These are both an extension of Marcus’ hacking abilities and he can project himself, using these devices, to explore layouts and cause all sorts of havoc in the city. In many ways, the jumper is a mobile extension of Marcus’s abilities since it can distract AI and interact with objects.
Marcus has a special homemade weapon called the Thunderball. It’s made from a billiard ball that is threaded onto a lanyard made from a 550 paracord. The weapon looks rather inconspicuous until Marcus starts swinging it in wide arcs, and at that speed, the Thunderball can knock someone out cold in a single blow.
To craft this weapon, Marcus did some research, and after an afternoon of watching videos and reading various self-defence blogs, he crafted a very powerful weapon. In true hacker style, Marcus can see how to take different objects and combine them into something new. Marcus shows his natural prowess for movement and combat when he swings the Thunderball in devastating arcs, combining raw force and poetic movement.
Finally, Marcus has the ability to 3D print and wield a wide variety of weapons to suit his playstyle. From the non-lethal taser to the powerful grenade launcher, every single player will find a weapon to suit their style and mood.
Net Hack is the ability that Marcus has to see and understand the “code.” It is a player perspective we have added to the hacking toolkit allowing the player to toggle a digital filter to visualise everything that is connected in the game and better understand the technology around them. This allows the player to see their hacking opportunities and flagged Information to discover hidden operations or research points in the world. By using the Net Hack view, the player becomes a much more efficient hacker.
Watch Dogs 2 comes with the standard Ubisoft character customisation, you can equip and upgrade outfits very much the same way as any Assassins Creed or The Division. There are also a few exclusive outfits that have been announced.
Your visual identity when playing online is entirely controlled by you. While you will always see your avatar as Marcus, other players will see your avatar with a different face. This is something you can either set manually or have as a randomised option. Your online avatar will also wear whatever clothing you’ve chosen for Marcus.
Rival hacker groups
DedSec will face off against different types of hackers working for various factions, but Prime_Eight is their rival hacking group. Where DedSec is driven towards hacktivism and holding the powers that be accountable, Prime_Eight is a destructive force, interested more in personal profit. Where DedSec might steal a company’s dirty secrets to expose them to the world, Prime_Eight would use them to blackmail the company. DedSec finds allies in activists and whistleblowers. Prime_Eight relies on connections to violent criminal gangs. Both groups see the other as a waste of talent: DedSec thinks Prime_Eight is dragging down the reputation of the hacking community, Prime_Eight thinks DedSec are a bunch of pretentious “goody-two-shoes” squandering perfect opportunities to make a dishonest buck. Lenni, Prime_Eight’s leader, only adds more fuel to the fire. She’s an egotistical, abrasive troll and she’s going to do everything she can to drag DedSec through the mud.
Lenni is the relentless leader of Prime_Eight. Her rivalry with DedSec goes beyond loyalty to her group – she wants to personally get under their skin. She is the worst kind of troll, crossing every line to provoke the maximum reaction and backing it all up with technical superiority or (hired) physical violence. Her ego is unmatched, in fact, she’s trying to transcend humanity through body modification and implanted biohacks. But her ego can be a weakness, she’s often tempted to toy with her prey, giving DedSec a window of opportunity.
The online component of Watch Dogs 2 is seamlessly integrated with the single-player experience. The player will meet other friendly DedSec hackers while exploring the city and participating in optional DedSec events. This occurs without a loading screen or matchmaking request. The game does this quietly, under the hood and feeds the player opportunities when they are nearby. If the player chooses to team up with another player he can play cooperative missions located throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Players will also be presented with online hacking opportunities in the world, which has received improvements from the first game. With the introduction of new hacking tools such as vehicle hacking and the flying drone, players now have more ways of manipulating the environment as either a hacker or potential victim. This breathes new life into PVP.
While the online experience is part of the core game, some missions and activities must be played solo. When a player is teamed up with another player, they can play co-op missions, participate in DedSec events throughout the city, help one another completing free-roaming operations and explore the world to collect rewards. The player can even participate in player-versus-player activities while in co-op. Co-op sessions are also limited to one other player at a time.
There are three online modes in Watch Dogs 2:
Hacking Invasion (PVP)
The player’s goal is to download data from a target player while remaining undetected.
Bounty Hunter challenge (PVP)
The Bounty Hunter activity is tied to the police heat system. When the player creates lots of chaos in the city and raises their wanted level, it’ll reach a point where rival hackers can connect to their session and join the police pursuit. A bounty event pits the target of the police against up to three hunter players that try to neutralise the target.
Players can also choose to trigger a bounty on themselves using the Contacts app, which challenges rival players to come in and attempt to take them down. When they have teamed-up for co-op, either player can trigger a bounty. One of the players will be the target of the bounty, while the co-op partner will be the protector. In this case, the target’s objective is to escape while the protector’s duty is to help his partner by any means possible.
By playing Bounty Hunter, players are rewarded with followers and visual customisation items whether they are a target or a hunter. Targets are given bonus rewards for any hunter they neutralise along the way. Followers allow DedSec to unlock additional operations, and for the player to improve their avatar’s skills in the research tree. Hunters are rewarded when the target is neutralised. The target is rewarded for each hunter neutralised, and when they finally escape their pursuers.
The player can use any tool and skill that they have unlocked in their progression. We expect players to get creative and find new ways of catching enemy players.
Online Co-op (PVE + PVP)
Players can team up to explore San Francisco and participate in co-op operations. In co-op, players can also participate in Online Hacking and Bounty Hunter activities.
As players are roaming the city alone they will seamlessly encounter another player in their world and an optional, short co-op event will be proposed. Once the event is completed, players will be encouraged to team up to take on co-op missions.
Each online activity has its own timer under the hood. This means the game will propose online activities every once in a while. However, players that actively want to play online can use the phone’s Contacts app to initiate a pull request. The matchmaking system always tries to find players that are physically close to your position in the world to minimise the time it takes to get players to play together.