A quick glance at how the world and story of Watch Dogs 2 are connected; it’s all about making an impression
There was a moment playing Watch Dogs 2 when I wrestled with the god-awful handling of a tiny car and audibly questioned whether it needed to be an open-world game. The appeal of the series was originally its go-anywhere, hack-anything premise, but the apex of the latest game is its characters and off-kilter story.
All I wanted was to experience this without the drudge of getting from A to B. It doesn’t help that this recreation of San Francisco, while competently colourful and far from terrible, just doesn’t have the polish I’d come to expect from AAA open-world games since GTA V. Plus, I’d played enough of them recently to know I didn’t care about the cluttered icons on the map.
So I decided to spice up the tedium by donning a fedora and leather jacket on my top half and pink boxer shorts and cowboy boots on my bottom half. It was the perfect pairing, like whisky and chocolate.
Suddenly, passersby began reacting to me. Some applauded my audacity, some jeered, and some simply broke down in laughter. The latter eventually continued on their route, rubbernecking as their laugh trailed off with them.
This made me realise why it makes perfect sense Watch Dogs 2 is an open world.
You see, nearly all of the missions, side quests and distractions relate to Marcus Holloway’s calling to ‘wake up’ those around him and take down the big bad, Blume Corporation. What else did you expect in a game about a hacker collective called DedSec?
In this pursuit, Marcus must help DedSec build its reputation and brand. Instead of XP, there’s a counter for followers. Marcus is encouraged to take pictures of landmarks, to which the DedSec team responds with silly comments. It’s all about social interaction and connections. In short, Marcus channels the Instagrammers, YouTubers and Twitchers. He’s compelled to make an impression.
If Marcus takes selfies with random people, they’ll flex in jest or sneer at your rudeness. Snap a picture of a busker, and they’ll stop playing to pretentiously scoff. Coupled with the brief details available for all pedestrians, such as job and income, it goes a long way to breathing life into what is fundamentally furniture. It compensates for the sometimes stilted animations and anything it lacks in graphical prowess.
Even the puppies can draw a crowd
We’re social creatures and Watch Dogs 2 takes advantage of this. The rise of social media has made it easier for us to respond, comment and make an impression. Watch Dogs 2 recognises the power of an audience and adopts these characteristically human reactions. We’ve seen similar before with the reactions to Geralt in the Witcher 3. But reactions to selfies, people blocking traffic and silly clothes are much more recognisable and convincing. This doesn’t completely absolve Watch Dogs 2 of its sins but does help create a world in which you can make an impression. That in itself is impressive in what many thought would be a by-the-numbers open-world game.