Hacking the Future: A Watch Dogs 2 Wish List

While Watch Dogs carries a somewhat negative reputation, most of that is the result of it not meeting the expectations of many gamers rather than being a poor game. Looking back, it had a lot of bright ideas, some of which just weren't fully realized, but that's what a sequel is for.

If yesterday's leak is to be believed, Watch Dogs 2's development is well underway and Ubisoft is just waiting for the right moment to announce its existence. That got me thinking about what it can do to substantiate itself as a killer IP in today's gaming climate. Below I'll share what I hope Watch Dogs 2 improves upon from the first game.


This world needs a proper hero

Despite Aiden Pearce not only being the playable protagonist of Watch Dogs but his face having been plastered everywhere on the game's marketing material, he sure wasn't an interesting character. Really, he stands as one of the most boring leads in recent AAA video game history.

It'd be unfair to say that Noam Jenkins' performance as Pearce was the culprit, though. It's more an issue of writing. What Pearce says and does throughout the game, and specifically during the second half doesn't sell him as a lovable character that players want to watch during cutscenes and more importantly play as. What Ubisoft Montreal was going for felt a lot like The Matrix, with Aiden Pearce carrying the vibe of Neo played by Keanu Reeves. Execution fell well short, though.

This shortcoming posed problems for the narrative. Many players weren't interested in seeing what happened to Pearce next, and instead either relied on solely enjoying the gameplay or finding interest in other key characters.

Watch Dogs 2 can try to remedy Pearce's character design, but I believe it'd be better off if a new protagonist was brought in. Alternatively, a create a player option similar to that of Saints Row and Sunset Overdrive might not be a bad idea.


Car physics shouldn't be an obstacle

Watch Dogs may not have been a racing game, but the fact remains that players spent a great deal of time behind the wheel of its vehicles throughout the journey. Its sloppy car handling physics didn't do it any favors. While in games like Grand Theft Auto 3 players usually found a few cars that they preferred to drive around in, just about every vehicle in Watch Dogs suffered from the game's poor handling model.

A bad handling model in an open-world game has several consequences. For one, it makes traveling from point to point less enjoyable than it should be. Secondly, it impacts the quality of missions that involve car chases, which are usually intended to be climactic moments.

Watch Dogs 2 will benefit greatly from having time spent on its car physics. Sticking to an arcade-style model is okay, but it shouldn't feel like a chore to drive around.


Graphical overhaul and optimization

We can all agree by now that the final build of Watch Dogs was nowhere near as impressive as its E3 2012 demonstration. Ubisoft clearly knows that players want a beautiful world, and at some level is capable of delivering it, but ran across hurdles during development that prevented it from realizing its vision. Watch Dogs 2 provides a second go.

To achieve full potential, Watch Dogs 2 should not be rushed to market. This is an IP that has tremendous potential and currently stands on shaky ground with gamers, so the second game needs to strike a home run if Ubisoft wants it to have lasting appeal like the Assassin's Creed and Far Cry series. 

There are a few things that Ubisoft Montreal can do beyond simply spending more time on development, one of which is to forego releases on last-gen platforms. While the extra revenue from hitting more platforms may sound enticing, the time spent on development of these versions is time spent away from where it matters most. Word of mouth is too powerful these days for developers to expect sloppy ports to sell like hotcakes anyway.

Also, PC gamers have a bad taste in their mouth from Watch Dogs. The game's PC port was unspectacular, dense with performance issues and glitches. With PC game sales standing strong in 2015, it is well worth producing a version that PC gamers are impressed by.


A quest for freedom

For a game that advertised itself as being the first big open-world game on current-generation consoles Watch Dogs sure struggled with feeling like a proper sandbox game. While its Chicago-based world was promising before release, it left a lot to be desired. Most buildings couldn't be entered, and every way you could interact with the world and its inhabitants felt limited. Its atmosphere, or lack thereof, made immersion difficult to achieve.

Some of the issue of Watch Dogs' disappointing world design was the result of its inability to understand what makes a game fun. It took itself too seriously, and didn't offer much in the way of options for players to entertain themselves. 

Watch Dogs 2 should find ways to make its world fun to explore. Watch Dogs' Online Hacking mode was a great idea that demonstrates how the series can utilize its hacker-oriented nature to do something new and exciting in the open-world action-adventure space.