Game Rant was invited to go hands-on with a beta build of Watch Dogs 2, and we recorded some new gameplay footage that explores the game's main missions and world roaming.
While the concept behind the original Watch Dogs is one that is still tantalizing in its video game potency, the now-franchise's first instalment left much to be desired in the eyes of many gamers. While Watch Dogs was a fine action-adventure title, it fell short of capturing the essence of its most promising element. The lack of freedom when it came to hacking choices and a tendency to turn main story missions into a storm of bullets surrounding bland protagonist Aiden Pearce hampered a good game from becoming something great - yet fans were undeniably excited when Ubisoft announced Watch Dogs 2.
That's likely because Ubisoft has a history of turning promising new IPs that fell short on the first attempt into absolute gaming juggernauts. One need look no further than the Assassin's Creed franchise, which saw the reins handed over by an exceedingly dull Altair to franchise poster-boy and fan-favorite Ezio, with sales success soon to follow. After nearly two hours of hands-on gameplay, we're prepared to say that the shift from Aiden Pearce to Watch Dogs 2 protagonist Marcus Halloway is just as dramatic, and Watch Dogs 2 could another second-try slam dunk from Ubisoft.
The emphasis, of course, is on the word "could". The beta build, which we highlighted the most important elements of in the video below, was limited in scope and only demonstrated a handful of the options that Watch Dogs 2 reportedly offers. Much like our first preview of Watch Dogs 2, the sunny San Francisco setting and Marcus' equally sunny disposition were immediately stand-out improvements from the first title, but this time around Ubisoft was able to showcase a chain of missions from the game's main story.
What's immediately striking about the game's main story missions is the depth of choices available to a player in tackling their objectives. The first main mission sees Marcus tasked with stealing a delivery van from Haum, a company that's working with the series' villainous corporation Blume, and finding a chip of the newest security software in order to preemptively hack it before it hits the market. Marcus has to infiltrate a dock that is heavily guarded, and it's here that it becomes apparent that Watch Dogs 2, unlike its predecessor, wants nearly everything in the game to be hackable. Doors, computers, mobile phones, and cars are all easy targets for Marcus, while players can also embrace stealth in a way that was never possible in the original Watch Dogs thanks to the RC Car and Drone toys that Marcus has access to.
That flexibility is compounded in the next mission, which sees Marcus infiltrating a demo smart home in order to understand more of the new security update's features. While most missions seem to need Marcus to be physically present to some degree, most of the levels can be explored and interacted with using the two toy "vehicles". Security doors can be already unlocked by the time Marcus has to sneak through them, and careful planning can see gamers sprint through a level without much hassle as long as they were thorough in their initial exploration.
Of course, Watch Dogs 2 will still give players the option to get into shootouts with enemies, and our preview also demonstrates how fun that can be, especially with some of the same planning skills encouraged and sharpened by use of the RC and Drone. Watch Dogs 2 allows players to spend money at DedSec's homebase and 3D print weapons, and Marcus has some powerful ones available to him, including a sniper rifle that is absolutely brutal when used correctly. During the video, Marcus is able to efficiently take down every member of a guard team while remaining in cover at a distance, even shooting through obstructions thanks to the game's "hacker vision" feature that allows players to more easily mark hackable parts of their environment as well as enemy troops.
The hands-on with these main missions also featured some story content, and it's clear that Marcus isn't the only upgrade in personality that will be present in Watch Dogs 2. Wrench, one of Marcus' compatriots, oozes personality for a man who wears a LED mask and dresses like he takes fashion tips from a porcupine. Their dynamic is the one that is showcased the most in this hands-on experience, and their friendship is immediately more relatable and interesting than any of the relationships exhibited in the first Watch Dogs.
That immediate likability, or at least personality, extends beyond just the main missions as well. Everything about Watch Dogs 2's San Francisco setting evokes a desire for exploration, and the side missions appear to be filled with interesting, at times bizarre, people - a welcome change from the parade of grizzled hackers and paranoid conspiracy theorists that seemed to almost exclusively fill out the cast of the first Watch Dogs. Even something as simple as buying new clothes for Marcus feels interesting because his personality allows him to explore a variety of different styles, and the result is that players might be able to see more of themselves in Marcus than they ever could in Aiden.
There are certainly a few concerns left - every mission felt as though starting with anything except a tandem of Drone exploration and RC sneaking was putting Marcus at a distinct disadvantage, which could lead to stale gameplay, and Watch Dogs 2's improved driving handles better but still feels a little generic overall. Keeping in mind that this hands-on was an ultimately minor sample size of what should be a rather large game, Watch Dogs 2 definitely still looks and feels like a significant upgrade to its predecessor in nearly every way. Whether or not that means Watch Dogs 2 can be another Assassin's Creed 2, however, remains to be seen - but it doesn't feel nearly as bold a prediction as it would've been six months ago, and that's already quite promising.
Watch Dogs 2 will be available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on November 15, 2016.