From activists to anarchists, it's time to hack the city.

You might remember the shadowy hacker organization from your adventures in Chicago with the original Watch Dogs, but these are not the hackers we're used to. Watch Dogs 2 introduces us to new locations, new members of Deadsec and a new problem. The giant Blume organization took their failures in Chicago, and instead of winding down their operations they amped them up as high as they can go. Now they have access to all of your information from police records to your daily habits, and they're selling them to the highest bidder.

That's where our team of hacking heroes come in. They've decided to deal with this problem themselves, albeit using a somewhat unconventional method. Getting followers on their app to allow them to borrow that processing power in order to deal with Blume once and for all. Watch Dogs 2 delivers a campy, fun, followup that will steal your attention unrepentantly.

Welcome to sunny San Francisco

Drive the golden gate bridge in Watch Dogs 2

The first thing you'll notice when you start up Watch Dogs 2 is just how much time went into the graphics. Attention has been paid to both the world that you are running around in, along with small details like the clothing of other characters and the buildings. Unlike the dreary locales of Chicago, you're attacked with bright colors and sunny skies of San Francisco, California.

It's an extra treat for those of us who have never had the chance to actually visit the Bay Area. You can drive across the Golden Gate bridge, and at times missions will take you iconic areas like Silicon Valley. One of the things I really couldn't get over was just how lovely every location was. It's a completely different palette than what we saw in the original game, and it lends itself well to the lighter storyline we see this go around.

Splashes of color are also absolutely everywhere and each time a Deadsec announcement pops up, you may feel like for a moment you've been transported back to the eighties. Even your weapons have splashes of neon color on them. It sets a much more relaxed and fun tone, which is precisely what this game actually needs.

Time to hack everything

Meet your skill tree

If the thought of being able to hack just about everything in sight fills you with glee, then you're going to have a good time. Hacking is a major component of gameplay here, and as you learn new skills you'll open up more skills used in hacking, as well as get access to new and better environmental hacks. As a Sandbox game though, there is roughly a ton that you can do.

All of the various different kinds of missions that you will play through also aid in your big goal throughout the game: acquiring followers. Much like it's predecessor, Watch Dogs 2 uses your phone as a central hub. It's where you'll get new missions from Deadsec, where you'll order cars when you aren't stealing them, and there are plenty of apps that you'll end up downloading for it to help customize your play style.

Your phone is your life in Watch Dogs 2. It's your source of missions, equipment, and even in-game apps to customize your play style.

While seamless multiplayer was originally one of the core tenants of the game, for the time being it isn't working correctly. You can still pick up multiplayer missions from Deadsec, but until they've fixed the problem you won't be running into anyone else on the street. While there are a few loading games throughout the game, for the most part they are quick and don't eat up your time loading the next section of the game.

Watch Dogs 2 is seriously enjoying poking fun at the real world as well. You'll notice choice tidbits of news briefs that pop across your screen, as well as some missions have been ripped right out of the headlines of today's world. Your second mission in should be noticeable enough to get a chuckle out of just about anybody.

Gone is the super serious tone that permeated the original Watch Dogs. It's a much more laid back and fun-to-play game because it never takes itself too seriously. Even many of the story missions are laced with humor and jokes, even if the main objective does take on a somewhat serious tone.

I also realized very quickly on, that there's much less need for guns in this game. You have so many options available to you, that shooting your gun is often the least effective way to deal with a situation. Since you now have a variety of actions to use on environmental hazards, it's easy to make your enemies think that you are a ghost.

Pick your play style with skills

The game also gives you three distinct play styles to choose from: Aggressor, Ghost and Trickster. I went with a Trickster play through, spending my skill points on things that would give me superior control over hacking the technology located directly around me. However you can opt for Aggressor which is a combat-oriented style, or Ghost which aims for stealth above all over things.

Each time that you have a skill point to use, you'll get to choose from a tree that is broken out into the type of skill. These include perks for hacking in general, getting into people's phones, having an easier time with cars, and more. The great thing is that with each skill you consider, you'll get a full breakdown of what you are getting. It tells you what you'll get out of this skill, as well as letting you know which play style it is attributed to.

It's time to take big data down

Marcus gets inside the belly of the beast

The story of Watch Dogs 2 is a pretty interesting premise, considering the world that we all actually live in. Blume — the evil corporation collecting your data from the original —has doubled down on their surveillance and collection of your data. Now it isn't just Chicago that is a fully plugged in smart city, instead those cities dot the continental US.

CTOS is back and bigger than ever: your online activity, policy records, surveillance… everything in one database. It's bad.

At the onset of the game, our protagonist Marcus is breaking into a CTOS center in order to erase his identity from the servers as a way to prove himself to the San Francisco wing of Deadsec. Once he's inside, and manages to look himself up he is surprised and horrified at what he sees. His online activity, his police record, every shred of information that could be accumulated on him is right there. It's like that for everyone too.

While he manages to delete himself from their servers, and get away from the Blume employees, Marcus is thinking of bigger fish to fry. After an initiation into Deadsec he informs his new hacker brethren that not only does he no longer exist, but that he also managed to install a backdoor into the mainframe. This, is where the story really starts to take off.

Suit Marcus up

In order strike a painful blow to the company, they need processing power, and a lot of it. So the plan becomes getting as many people as possible to become followers, and download the Deadsec app. This will give the hackers the processing power that they are currently lacking. Completing missions, and doing ridiculous and awesome things will net you more followers...and you need those followers to take down big data and their stranglehold on society.

The story is quirky, and a bit wacky, but overall a ton of fun. It never quite jumps the shark to the same degree as the Saints Row franchise managed to do, but it still delivers a great experience. By never taking itself too seriously, the game manages to get you on board for ridiculous hours of fun.

So how does it play

Marcus installs a back door into CTOS

If you haven't played Watch Dogs 2, then you really aren't missing out on anything either. Literally the only hold over from the original in terms of story is the Blume corporation. It follows the same basic premise as most other games in the sandbox genre, like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. There is a main stroyline you can follow that will bring you through the arc of the story. However, along the way you'll also have access to dozens of smaller missions, and a huge rendering of California's Bay Area to explore.

While you will get money when completing certain missions, it isn't required for most of the basic gameplay. You can use it to buy new vehicles, or to outfit yourself in the clothing you like best. When it comes to weapons, you have access to the Hackerspace. This location acts as your base of operations, and the other hackers on your team hang out here. It's here that you have access to a 3D printer which gives you access to new weapons, and hacker-friendly devices.

Smaller remote gadgets, like an RC car or a quadcopter drone, let you hack and surveil from a distance.

Those devices, by the way, are awesome. They include a small surveillance RC car that you can drive around if you're being sneaky, and there is also a quadcopter drone. Both are controlled by you and allow you to hack certain environmental items. You can't hack everything from a distance, but by using your drones and other devices you can make things much, much easier on yourself.

You're also rewarded for playing through a bit sneakier. You'll notice during the tutorial that even if you shoot the guards that come for you, they are merely knocked out, not killed. You won't always be able to move and hide bodies, so it's definitely easier to remain undetected yourself by hiding and using cover to your best advantage.

Watch Dogs 2 launches you into a game that wants you to have fun. It's clear from the characters, and the missions that they are poking fun at even themselves this go round. It works out really well too. By never getting too serious it's able to tackle subjects like data collection with aplomb and humor. All of that really pales in front of the actual gameplay though.

It's easy to do nothing but compare Watch Dogs 2 against the original, but that actually does a disservice. Watch Dogs 2 easily stands on it's own merits, delivering a fun experience no matter what you feel like doing. there is a way to enjoy Watch Dogs 2. You can drive around for car specific missions, deal with rival gangs with your fists, or continue to wreak havoc on the city itself in order to garner more followers for your cause.

At the heart of it all is your Protagonist Marcus. He's smart, funny, and working for a good cause. Having a main character that you can really get behind makes a difference. This is not a villain who has been roped into doing the right thing. This is a guy who has seen a wrong, and has the tools at his disposal to deal with it. It makes a difference, because by the end of the tutorial you are really rooting for this guy. That makes it easier to get you to focus on the main quest, since you want to hit Blume where it hurts.

One of the few complaints that I did have with the game were with it's controls. Many times they felt clunky or like I couldn't always get Marcus to do what I needed him to do. This includes everything from accidentally dropping into or out of cover, to figuring out the correct way to hack someone in order to complete missions. While it was a little bit frustrating, generally after a few minutes I could figure out what was going on.

Conclusion

Watch Dogs 2 on Xbox One

Watch Dogs 2 is a fun, engaging sandbox game that delivers gorgeous graphics, and entertaining gameplay. It makes a decent premise into a great game, especially for fans of the genre.

Pros:

  • Tons of new features
  • Fun gameplay
  • Easy to learn and dive into

Cons:

  • Controls can be a bit wonky, especially when dropping into and out of cover
  • Learning how everything works takes a while
  • Game can seem a bit too campy at times

Great

4/5

Watch Dogs 2 is a fantastically fun sandbox that will hold your attention for more than just a few hours. With expanded skills, gorgeous locations, and a fun storyline, it's an excellent sequel to it's predecessor. While the game does have a few downsides, they are easily eclipsed by what it does well. You can check it out now in the Microsoft Store for $59.99

See at Microsoft Store

This review was conducted using a copy from the publisher