Watch Dogs 2 Is Lighthearted and Friendly, Unlike Its Predecessor [Hands-On Preview]

The original Watch Dogs could have been a great game. Instead, it was a monotonous trek through a depressing depiction of Chicago with dull characters that barely stood out from other open world titles.

While I’m unsure if Watch Dogs 2 provides a better experience than other titles in the saturated open world genre, it does vastly improve on aspects where its predecessor failed. From what I’ve been able to play, Ubisoft Montreal has created a great example of how developers should learn from their mistakes and use that knowledge to shape a better sequel.

From retooling the driving mechanics to adding more depth to the games hallmark feature, hacking, Watch Dogs 2 feels like a complete upgrade over its predecessor. The biggest improvement I’ve experienced is how the sequel has used the multifaceted culture of San Francisco to set a completely new tone for the franchise.

“We needed a more balanced tone, the first Watch Dogs was really dark” said Dominic Guay, Senior Producer at Ubisoft Montreal. “If you’re going to spend upwards of a hundred hours in an open world game, that type of dark tone can take its toll on you.”

The change between Chicago and San Francisco has given Watch Dogs 2 a completely new flavor with a more desirable world and witty plot. I wasn’t tempted to explore Chicago, but looking at all of the beautiful vistas in the Bay Area makes driving around a pleasure on its own.

“San Francisco and the whole Bay Area brought a lot of color and light to the game, and we wanted to reflect that with the characters,” said Game Director Danny Belanger. “They needed to match the tech culture of the city, something fun and optimistic.”

The colorful tonal change didn’t stop at San Francisco. The main character, Marcus Holloway, is a significant deviation from the the first game’s protagonist, Aiden. He’s optimistic, friendly, and loud—an easily likable dude with a ton of integrity.

The story follows Marcus after he’s unjustly profiled for a crime he didn’t commit by the same corporation, ctOS (Central Operating System), that turned Chicago into a surveillance state. After discovering the corrupt nature of the system, he joins the hacker group DedSec to try and take down ctOS.

Even though I only sat down with the game for a few hours, the light dialogue between Marcus and other DedSec members, the bright visuals of the city, and the fun side missions immediately told me that I would enjoy following along with Marcus more than I did Aiden. Every major component of the game feels reworked, it’s all stemmed from the change of location.


The main character is optimistic, friendly, and loud—an easily likable dude with a ton of integrity.

“The tone of the first game was a vengeance story, Chicago has a beautiful dark history of crime,” Belanger said. “That same type of story wouldn’t apply in San Francisco, so we focused on a story of injustice.”

The tonal change extends out into the game’s side quests, many of which are based on events from the Bay Area. “Every story we had in the game we tried to be inspired by real newspaper articles, things that happened in the world.” said Guay. “There were so many insanely interesting things happening around the world it was pointless to make up our own shit.”

Those missions ranged from stealing a famous movie car for a parody movie trailer to a hunt for a Zodiac Killer imitator. These missions provide more opportunities to try out the range of mechanics in Watch Dogs 2 while adding some unique memories to some of San Francisco’s fictional landmarks.

One mission I encountered specifically was based off Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli and his two million dollar purchase of an exclusive Wu Tang Album. The same situation plays out the game with fictional characters based off the Shkreli and the Wu Tang Clan.

But, instead of the album getting bought plain and simple, Marcus has the chance to steal one of the unreleased tracks and call the CEO pretending to be the famous hip hop artist. After tracking down the CEO’s address, hacking into his tablet and PC, you’re able to convince him to cough up millions that’ll go towards taking down ctOS.

What better way to get back at Shkreli for all of his heartless antics? It added a nice bit of charm to the game; every time I drove by the Shkreli double’s virtual home I remembered how I single handedly knocked a member of the 1% down a notch using my extraordinary hacking abilities.

Ubisoft Montreal’s decision to set their sequel in San Francisco has completely changed the flavor of the Watch Dogs franchise, the light hearted tone is a thousand times better for a a world you’re meant to spend hours exploring. Their adjustments to gameplay mechanics, character personalities, and side missions all vastly improve on the original, creating the game we all thought the original Watch Dogs could be.