The release of Watch Dogs 2 is only a few weeks away, and last week we got our most comprehensive look at the game to date. At a special event in San Francisco, we started from the very beginning of the game and were then set loose for hours. We explored the open world, teamed up with a partner, and got hacked by rival players. We took on risky missions to expose corrupt entities, discovered new things to do, and took some serious time to see the Bay Area’s sights and figure out creative ways to cause trouble around them. Here’s a look at what we discovered, after the video:
Your First Open-World Task is to Buy Pants
After the introductory mission, your first order of business will be to cover the lower half of Marcus’ body. This nets you 2,200 Followers. Followers let you unlock cool abilities. Everything you do earns you Followers, but don’t expect the bar to ever be quite this low again.
Operations Are Story Arcs, Not Story Missions
Watch Dogs 2 takes an unusual approach to how it presents its missions. When Main Operations and Side Operations are unlocked, they’ll show up in Marcus’ phone under the DedSec app, and activating them tracks them on the world map. You may also notice that each Operation has a progress bar underneath it – that’s because each represents a set of missions that make up a larger, self-contained chapter of the story. In each Main Operation, Marcus and his DedSec crew investigate, expose, and humiliate a different entity, while also advancing the central plot a little further. In Cyber Driver, for example, we took on a series of missions to sneak into a movie studio in the Presidio, hack their servers for sensitive communications, steal a prop smart car, and remote-control it through a dramatic stunt course with police in pursuit. Each Main Operation we played took between an hour and 90 minutes to finish, so don’t expect to chew through these quickly.
New Activities Are Waiting To Be Discovered
Once you’re set loose in the Bay Area, you’ll see bits of Operation Intel scattered across the map. These might be a person to talk to or a device to hack, and interacting with them reveals new activities to pursue. For example, hacking one stranger’s phone infected Marcus’ with a benign virus, and hacking a ringing payphone revealed a spoken litany of DedSec member identities. Each of these opened up new mysteries, along with new Side Operations to pursue across the map.
NetHack Is Insanely Useful
Essentially Eagle Vision for hackers, NetHack is an alternate-vision mode that reveals a blue-gray shadow world around Marcus. Enemies are revealed as glowing red silhouettes, even through walls. Invisible data pathways are revealed, telling you where to hack or tamper if you want to, say, open an electronically locked door. Using NetHack gives you a huge leg up in surviving stealth and combat encounters, and it’s essential for solving puzzles and detecting enemy players.
Unlocking Marcus’ Abilities
Like Aiden Pearce before him, Marcus can unlock new skills and hacks through a skill tree, which is now accessed via the Research app on Marcus’ phone and divided into categories like Vehicle Hacking, Social Engineering, Marksmanship, and so on. As you accomplish Operations and other activities, DedSec gains followers, which in turn unlock Research points, which in turn open up cool new abilities like remote-controlling cars or commanding scissor lifts.
Sometimes, just having enough points to unlock a skill isn’t enough. For the coolest and most powerful abilities – which include unlocking a turbo boost for every car, or dropping bombs from your drones – you’ll need to venture out into the world to grab the relevant Key Data before you can spend the points to unlock them. While Key Data is marked on your map, retrieving it tends to involve an environmental puzzle or combat challenge, like overcoming a couple of guards or redirecting the flow of data through pathways of locks and moving circuits visible only through NetHack.
Drones Are Crucial for Puzzle-Solving
Actually, drones are invaluable for a lot of things. They can scout ahead of you if you’re facing armed opposition, and have a much easier time remaining unseen in restricted areas. But when it comes to solving Watch Dogs 2’s environmental puzzles – which might involve tracing data lines in NetHack, or simply finding the best way up to a rooftop – your aerial drone’s speed and mobility eliminate much of the guesswork, letting you quickly see the surrounding topography and zip to the source of any hidden data paths. In certain puzzles – like one we found in the foundations of the Golden Gate Bridge itself – using a drone is actually necessary, as Marcus can’t easily climb some areas.
Fast Travel Locations Are Everywhere
Watch Dogs 2’s entire open-world map is open to you more or less from the start of the game; there’s no need to unlock areas or to light up chunks of territory in order to see what’s in them. And one of the most useful things you’ll find dotted across the map are shops, landmarks, and other points of interest that Marcus can teleport to, whether you’ve already visited them or not. This cuts down considerably on travel time to remote locations, but be advised that it doesn’t work if you’re in an active mission – sometimes, it’s important to take the scenic route.
Gear Comes From Your 3D Printer
All of Marcus’ weapons and drones come from what Wrench calls “the Arnie of 3D printers,” which DedSec keeps in its headquarters. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily free, however. Printer resin costs money, and new gear can be pretty costly after you’ve created your first drone and pistol. That’s especially true if you’re after high-end tools or exotic implements, like the WTB Stun Launcher, which fires nonlethal grenades.
The Open World Is More Fun With A Buddy
There’s a lot of variation in Watch Dogs 2’s co-op missions. Some are as straightforward as dispatching a few goons and blowing up pallets of illicit goods, while others might push you to sneak through large, guard-infested buildings and hang around long enough to download sensitive files. Tackling these with a buddy and strategizing on the fly is a lot of fun, but that’s just the start of what co-op has to offer.
Watch Dogs 2’s version of the Bay Area is a huge place, filled with side activities and opportunities for random mayhem, and having a friend to share them with adds a lot to the experience. There’s no feeling quite like dancing on top of a car that’s tearing through residential streets at turbo speeds, only to go flying when your friend hits a huge ramp somewhere in the hills. Encountering a potential buddy organically – by, say, spotting their drone hovering around an alley and following its green data trail to its source – is an interesting twist on traditional matchmaking, and the fact that you’re free to continue on your way and ignore them makes the encounter feel a little more real.
Of course, there’s a dark side to multiplayer. If you and your buddy attract enough police attention, for example, you’ll trigger a Bounty Hunter session, and other players will join the hunt for you. You might also find yourself unexpectedly hacked while you’re wandering around, and getting through a Hacking Invasion is a two-step process. First, you’ll need to stop the hack by figuring out which seeming bystander is stealing your data, after which you’ll need to neutralize them before they can escape. (You’ll still technically win if you do the former but not the latter, though.) Interestingly, when you meet up with other hackers in a friendly context, they’re members of DedSec; when they’re your enemies, however, they’re presented as members of rival hacker collective Prime Eight.
Death Is No Escape From Hacking
Even if a civilian or mission target is down, you can still steal a little money or download their files. You may have shut them down, but their phones are still on.
Watch Dogs 2 will be available November 15 on PS4 and Xbox One, and November 29 on PC. For more on the game, check out our previous coverage: