Watch_Dogs. The game that showed the world just how badly the hype train can crash. The game was insanely over-marketed and delayed enough times that fans began wondering whether or not the game would actually be released. Watch_Dog’s E3 demos from both 2012 and 2013 showed a game that was visually stunning, but turned out to be nothing more than average at the time of its release. If there is one thing I can say about Ubisoft during 2012 through 2014, they were really great at overselling their games. It is unfortunate that games which have had their demo footage doctored (so they initially seem to look better than they end up looking) cause fans to aim their anger at the game developers. When in reality, it is the decision of the higher-ups to falsify aspects of the game to entice consumers to pre-order, not the actual developers. It must be hard for developers to hear “You’ve created a bad game“, when the decision to give gamers false expectations was entirely out of their control. It is an unhealthy dynamic that has caused some serious bitterness within the industry.
Fast forward to 2016. Ubisoft has taken a much healthier, and more honest, approach to their marketing. Showing off games like South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Steep, and of course Watch_Dogs 2 with actual in-game footage and demos that correspond more accurately to what the finished product will be. While Watch_Dogs 2 has not been marketed nearly as aggressively as its predecessor, it has still shown enough of the game to excite me. Since Ubisoft has opted to show more gameplay trailers, and other news outlets have been given the opportunity to show-off the game in action, I feel much more confident in my decision to purchase the game. I am hoping that the improvements made going from Watch_Dogs to Watch_Dogs 2 draws parallels between the improvements made going from Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II. Assassin’s Creed II took the original game, which was not at all bad, and gave it much more sustenance in terms of story, gameplay, depth, and replayability. Watch_Dogs is not a bad game either, but it is lacking in a lot of elements. Watch_Dogs 2 has the herculean task of taking the things that make the original game unique, and adding the missing content that stopped it from being great. If Ubisoft can pull this off, there is little doubt in my mind that Watch_Dogs 2 can redeem the franchise.
Watch_Dogs had many of the bits and pieces required to make a game good. There was the redemption story, open world set in the diverse city of Chicago, environmental hacks, and so much more. What it seemed to be missing is that one key ingredient making it memorable. But what is that ingredient? A lot of payers would say the trouble rests with the game’s protagonist: Aiden Pearce. Many called him a generic protagonist, being a white male with a little bit of scruff and nothing that makes him outright unique. Many consumers even started to see a pattern with Ubisoft’s protagonists from that year – white male, unkempt facial hair, female friend/lover who dies, and prefers to maintain an unapproachable outward attitude. In this regard, Arno Dorian (the protagonist from Assassin’s Creed Unity, which released the same year and from the same publisher) was almost a carbon-copy of Aiden Pearce. This made fans feel like Ubisoft was not interested in exploring possible future protagonist with other genders, ethnicity, or other biological diversity. While this likely was not Ubisoft’s intent, unfortunately fan criticism and interpretation has a louder voice than the developer’s authentic intentions.
I speak in unison the minority of players when I say that I think Aiden Pearce was a great protagonist. He had a complex background bolstered by a tragic event, which can effectively explain why his personality lacks a richness that gamers have come to expect. When he is able to be genuine (through his interactions with his other hacker teammates or family) you can see there is a depth to his character that the game, unfortunately, does not explore. Would Watch_Dogs have been better if Aiden’s character had more too it? Definitely! Is Aiden’s outward lack of character the reason why Watch_Dogs was met with such discontent? In my opinion, no. I like that his broody personality hid his genuine character. To me, it makes him feel believable. A person faced with coping from a tragic event isn’t a happy-go-lucky and giddy person, they hurt and they put up an unapproachable barrier. Aiden demonstrates this in a very textbook fashion, and as someone who loves all thing psychology, I can appreciate the dual complexity that this demonstrates.
Another common complaint I have heard about Watch_Dogs was that the open world was not a bustling city filled with endless activities. I can agree with this, for the most part. The game did have enough side missions and collectables to keep you entertained for a little while after the campaign had reached its somber finish. Though these activities became routine very quickly. Luckily, the gang hideout activities and exclusive contracts have enough variety in them that I enjoyed playing them. Side missions like the criminal convoys feel very tedious, and as much as I enjoy putting a bullet in Abstergo Entertainment’s CEO, I decided to spend my time participating in other activities. The game didn’t host the plethora of activities that many of us were anticipating. Compared to more recent open-world games like Mafia III, where one of the biggest critique is that there is not enough to do in the world (and it might have benefited from a linear format), Watch_Dogs has extra content that gives the game a bit of life after the campaign. If Watch_Dogs 2 does increase the amount of open-world activities, it will be a major asset for recuperating the franchise.
In terms of the campaign, I enjoyed playing it on my first time through and I enjoyed it again on my most resent playthrough. Aiden’s progression leading up to the finale are logical, and after each act is over the story leads you into the next group of missions in a sensible fashion. In a lot of games, the main character finds one lone piece of information that explains why they need to partake in the next series of events. In Watch_Dogs, Aiden picks up details as he goes, puts them together, and uses that information to confront the person responsible. From there, the interaction with that person points Aiden to the next part of the game. It all progresses very smoothly and intelligently. It does not follow the Rockstar Games approach where you do errands for people as a means to getting to the next point in the game, and I appreciate that. I want the missions I play to push the plot further instead of just fill time so the developer can boast how long the game’s playtime it. And I am not a huge fan of games with the mission format that has you doing errands for other people. Watch_Dogs excels on that front. There are elements in the game where I wish Ubisoft would have expanded on more. Things like Deadsec’s motives and roles would have been interesting to understand. Why Blume was such a major threat would have been great to know too. I would have also loved to see more about Aiden’s role as the city’s notorious vigilante in the campaign. For these reasons, I cannot say that the game’s plot was one of the best I have played. However it still does a good job at getting the player invested in the conflict and its outcome, even if it had areas where it needed improvement.
Each person who has played Watch_Dogs has reason for why they felt like it was a let down. But the game has a lot of good to it. I have especially enjoyed playing it recently, after all of the original hype has worn off and I can play it for what it is: a decent open-world game with a great concept that was not fully realized. In my opinion, the promises that Ubisoft made about how the Watch_Dogs would look, play, and revolutionary what an open-world game can be is what killed this game. Similar to how No Man’s Sky was astronomically hyped (get it?), but ultimately it did not meet the expectations that Hello Games convinced players to expect. Publishers are under immense pressure by gamers to release high-caliber titles, and that is a tough position to be in lately because social-media fueled consumers can absolutely wreck an otherwise promising title. Look at Call of Duty Infinite Warfare‘s release trailer for instance. The act of pushing the dislike button, performed by a handful of people, destroyed they game’s initial impression. Publishers have to tread carefully, and not promise more than they can deliver. If they can give us an honest presentation about the game, and not inflame our expectations, then we will probably enjoy their games more. Ubisoft has done a much better job marketing Watch_Dogs 2. They showed us an accurate look of the game and how it plays. They have even taken the reasons players disliked the original, and improved them. With these things considered, it is my expectation that Watch_Dogs 2 will be a game worth buying.
What are your thoughts? What elements of Watch_Dogs did you dislike? What was improvements does Watch_Dogs 2 have to incorporate for you to want to play it? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below!