After previous teasers and numerous leaks, Ubisoft Montreal officially revealed more of Watch Dogs 2 during a live stream today, shedding light on the game's setting, characters, and "fully hackable" world.
As the follow-up to 2014's title focused on an open-world laced with surveillance technology and mobile phones, Watch Dogs 2 will once again place us in the shoes of a hacker. The focus of this title, however, is less on mass surveillance, and more on predictive algorithms that dictate what advertisements the game's inhabitants see, how likely they are to lead successful careers and even what healthcare the government deems necessary for each person.
To tell this story, Ubisoft is taking us from the windy alleyways of Chicago to the fog of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area.
This title's protagonist is Marcus Holloway, an African-American from across the Bay in Oakland, where he witnessed profiling and police brutality during much of his young life. As a gifted hacker, he develops his skills with an interest in societal impact, and righting the wrongs he sees as he grows up.
As a member of the burgeoning hacker group DedSec, Holloway finds, assists, and teams up with other hackers in the Bay Area. As director Danny Bélanger told GameSpot during a recent presentation at Ubisoft Montreal, Watch Dogs 2 emphasizes a team effort over the lone-wolf approach of the original Watch Dogs' protagonist Aiden Pierce.
Holloway's outgoing disposition isn't the only thing that sets him apart from Pierce. Holloway is much more athletic and scrappy, using his athleticism to navigate the concrete of San Francisco and Oakland, and wielding DIY weapons against his enemies: his go-to choice is a thin rope wound through a billiard ball.
"Marcus is much more expressive, both in his behavior and in his fighting style," creative director Jonathan Morin said. "He's going to feel completely different than Aiden. There's a different flow to his approach."
Marcus has new gadgets at his disposal as well -- namely a quadcopter scout drone and a remote-controlled car -- along with an acrobatic skill set that allows him to leap over walls and jump between buildings. From the footage Ubisoft showed me at the presentation, Marcus appears to be an athlete, leader and computer whiz all rolled into one.
But these skills are only appealing as long as there are interesting ways to use them. That's where Watch Dogs 2's "fully hackable world" comes in. While only certain mobile phones and machines were accessible in the first Watch Dogs, each and every phone, and every car, can be used to further Holloway's aims in Watch Dogs 2. As the group discovers corruption on increasingly larger levels, Marcus adapts his goals to meet the needs of the Bay Area's innocent inhabitants.
"We have a world that encourages you to explore the Bay Area, and it rewards you for meeting other people in the world, playing cooperatively, and completing quests to gain followers for DedSec," Bélanger said. "We're encouraging the world [building] team to push all of their ingredients farther."
This introduces another of Watch Dogs 2's major new mechanics: cooperative play. By merely exploring San Francisco and surrounding areas, you'll encounter other players who can help with different DedSec quests along the way. As Bélanger said, you can play the entire game in multiplayer. There are hints here of Tom Clancy's The Division, another Ubisoft title that encourages open-world encounters and subsequent multiplayer scenarios.
This is all an effort to make the world of Watch Dogs 2 more interesting than the Chicago of its predecessor, which often felt lifeless and tepid, holding the promise of possibilities but rarely following through. Senior producer Dominic Guay said this was one of the main takeaways the team had from the first project. Guay himself spent countless hours poring over Neogaf forums, looking for player feedback, and in the aftermath, he and the team knew they had to make a more believable environment.
"We looked at high-level things we could address from the first game, but also minor aspects that we could fix," he said. "Driving was one of those things. We're going for less of a simulator feel this time. We want you to want to drive around this massive world."
That's the thing, as Guay, Bélanger and Morin all said: In Watch Dogs 2, it won't be enough to just promise great ideas. This time, Ubisoft needs to follow through with them come the sequel's Nov. 15 release date.
"If we tried to control everything in Watch Dogs 2, we would die," Guay said, laughing. "From the beginning, we wanted to give the player control. We're saying 'Here's the world. It's your plan, your game. Do what you want with it.'"