Yes, the headline above says Multiplayer Guide. And yes, this post is all about the various ways that multiple players can interact with each other in Watch Dogs. But here’s the thing: Ask anyone on the Ubisoft Montreal dev team about “multiplayer” and they’re likely to (kindly) correct you. It’s seamless online, they’ll say. And y’know what? They’re right. Because in Watch Dogs it’s not multiplayer as we typically know it. It’s not about lobbies and leaderboards. It’s not a separate experience, segmented off from the single-player campaign. It’s a fully integrated way to enjoy online gameplay with other people, while remaining immersed in your own version of Watch Dogs’ Chicago.
“We don’t talk about it in terms of single-player and multiplayer,” explains Lead Gameplay Designer Danny Belanger. “It’s all online. It’s seamless. You continue your game. That aspect, for me, is crucial because otherwise it’s a break in the experience. It all feels like one experience.”
How, exactly, does it work? And what can you enjoy in the seamless online experience? We lay it all out, with insights straight from Belanger. But first, check out this 9-minute walkthrough video narrated by Animation Director Colin Graham…
Ways to Play
Belanger describes this as a “techno high-and-seek where you need to steal data from your opponent and get away. He can actually stop you if he finds you with the profiler.”
Those who want a highly competitive team-based throwdown will find it with this four-against-four PvP mode. It’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s fully integrated into the open-world Chicago. See it in action in the video above. (Note: Decryption is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC.)
If you enter someone’s game, you can follow and observe him. The goal is to gain valuable information before escaping. As Belanger explains, both the tailing and intrusion gameplay are built to “create a neutral-positive dynamic between two players that’s in the universe of Watch Dogs. If someone comes into your game just to kill you, it’s not fun.”
As straightforward as it sounds. Players can use different cars and race on different tracks, all set within the game’s world.
Just to clarify: Yes, you can turn off the online multiplayer options. If you don’t want anyone hacking into your game or tailing you, simply toggle this off in the menu. But before you do that, keep in mind that the game naturally turns off the multiplayer during missions. “If you’re in a narrative experience, that’s your narrative experience you’re living in,” Belanger says. And that’s not the only time when multiplayer is turned off. If you’re in any activity where it’d be intrusive to have someone enter your world, the game doesn’t allow another player to enter. “We try to make sure it’s when you’re available and during your free-roaming and you’re not doing something else that could be disrupted. That’s when we turn it on and allow players to come in and invade you.”
Another important aspect of the seamless online: it adapts to each player. “We have a shield,” Belanger explains. “So if someone comes into your game and hacks you, you’re protected. It can’t happen. The less you partake in the multiplayer, the longer the shield. If you’re not hacking people and you’re not into that gameplay, the game will recognize and acknowledge that you’re not into that. That’s fine. The shield will slowly become many hours because we’re trying to adapt. There are so many different players and we’re trying to adapt to all of them and make an experience that works for them.”
The biggest question we often get: If I’m Aiden Pearce, and I hack into your game, and you’re also Aiden Pearce…are we both Aiden Pearce?
The answer is yes. But also, no. (Stick with us, because it’s actually not confusing at all.)
All players will always see themselves as Aiden Pearce. It’s that simple. So when I hack into your game, I see myself on my screen as Aiden. And when someone else hacks into my game, I continue to be Aiden. The same goes for the other player. However, each of us sees the other as a “fixer” whose appearance is chosen from the pool of NPCs.
That way players always stay in character, always retaining their identity in their own world. “It was better to do that than to create a very complicated system with multiple people,” Belanger says. “You are Aiden Pearce and a fixer is in your game trying to hack you.” Or, conversely, you are Aiden Pearce and you’re trying to hack a fixer. Either way, this system helps support the fantasy and immersion of the game’s world.
Rewards… and Risks
With the seamless online, it’s all about Notoriety. In order to track how well you’re doing with the various multiplayer modes, the game has a Notoriety rating that moves up and down in relation to your activities. “It’s your fame,” Belanger says. “It’s your rank as a hacker. If you are hacked you’ll lose a bit of notoriety.”
As Belanger says, Notoriety works like a thermometer. When it goes up you can gain skills – meaning that the seamless online isn’t just fun but also provides a benefit. There are even specific Notoriety skills in the skill tree.
Belanger is quick to point out that for most players, acquiring the skills gained through the seamless online gameplay should be easily achievable. “We didn’t want it to be frustrating or a punishment,” he says. “The goal was just to create a cool dynamic with something at risk, but not something that will make you upset and angry.”
Where Notoriety becomes a true gauge, though, is when a player really embraces the more competitive aspects of multiplayer. “The more you participate, the further you go – and then Notoriety becomes a leaderboard,” Belanger says. “You can remove some points from people and that will affect the leaderboard. People will be competing to be the best.”
Along with the fully integrated seamless online multiplayer, Watch Dogs also lets another person challenge you via a second screen. The companion app (also shown in the above video) puts players in the role of a ctOS agent controlling the city and trying to stop Aiden Pearce by deploying the police (including a helicopter) and triggering hacks in the world. It’s a lot of fun for both players, and the app is totally free – you don’t even need to own the game to download and enjoy it. While the app isn’t set up to sync with your in-game profile, it does have its own progression; players can gain Notoriety and earn money, skills and experience points using the app. (For more on ctOS Mobile, check out: Watch Dogs – ctOS Mobile App FAQ)
Watch Dogs also includes the ability to free roam with multiple players, which Belanger describes as a more of a “bonus” than a full mode. “We give the city to the players and it’s all about building your own rules. It’s unstructured. You could jump in with a bunch of friends and just have fun with the city and the hacks and the systems.” (Note: Free roam is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC.)
The seamless online gameplay is there for you to enjoy, but how you play is totally up to you. “You can be disconnected and there’s still a very big action-adventure open-world game,” Belanger says. “This just gives you more choice. It’s the same for the companion app. If you’re online there’s more gameplay you can enjoy.”
Having tried out several of the online modes, I’m happy to affirm that the seamless online multiplayer does indeed feel natural to the Watch Dogs experience and fully integrated into the world. What’s more, it created a real push-pull, where I either wanted to protect myself from any threats or strut my stuff by hacking into someone else’s game. And that’s one of the primary goals for the seamless online.
“Someone could come into your game and hack you,” Belanger says. “To me, you feel invaded so there’s this sense of honor. This guy is in your game and you want to track him down. It’s the fantasy of surveillance. Aiden Pearce is a master hacker and he has all these tools, but as a player, if you’re not living the fantasy of someone watching you, there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.”
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