Ubisoft Montreal Talks Hacking, Characters, San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 is a massive undertaking that gives players a new city to explore, new characters to interact with and a host of improvements over its predecessor. We recently got to sit down with game director Danny Belanger to discuss Watch Dogs 2 and what players can expect from the game. Be sure to check out our preview to learn more about what we thought of the game.

[Hardcore Gamer] Set the stage. How much time has passed since the first game? Where’s the world at right now?

[Danny Belanger] Watch Dogs 2 starts right after the first game and continues the narrative. You are playing a new character named Marcus Holloway. He’s part of the hacker group called Dedsec. They’re essentially activists looking to expose crime through technology. The game is set in San Francisco, so the whole Bay area is open for play. On a high level, that’s what’s going on, and the narrative will evolve as you play the game. You’ll discover crimes and abuses of power, and then as a group you’ll expose that.

Going back to the first game, one of the main criticisms was aimed at Aidan Pierce. He didn’t have much of a personality. How does Marcus compare?

Well, what we wanted to do was have a new character. When you choose a new city, particularly San Franciso, which is very different from Chicago, we wanted someone was very social. Also, we wanted him to feel like he’s working for a cause with different people. That’s essentially what we’re trying to bring with the sequel. He’s more focused on hacking, internet culture, and technology, and the story isn’t as dark as the original. It’s more hacktivist. This has really allowed us to tell a very different story.

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So we’re now in San Francisco. What made the city so appealing to use as the setting for Watch Dogs 2?

Honestly, it’s the perfect city for us. It’s so colorful and it’s the birthplace of technology. The culture and counterculture and all these giant tech corporations allows us to tell stories about what we wanted to talk about. It’s a really beautiful city with gorgeous vistas. Landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge creates a really different vibe. For me, having a sequel that looks and feels fresh to play is really important. We changed the game’s structure to work well the new setting. You’re constantly finding content in the world as you’re exploring.

How has mission design changed? Watch Dogs was fairly linear. Has much changed in the sequel?

What we wanted to do was have smaller operations that can be played in any order. It was a very difficult challenge because if you wanted to have narrative continuity you kind of need to know what has already been played. So we have main operations that are open, but at some point we’ve created gates that won’t open until specific requirements are met. This way we know at what point players are in the narrative. In the world, side operations are found and players can decide whether or not to do them. You will get Followers, which will help players continue to advance and unlock the gates. If you’re interested in the side operations then they’re there for you.

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Watch Dogs is built on the idea of hacking. How has that evolved? Is it still “press Square to hack?”

We kept pressing a button because we feel for an action-adventure game it needs to be efficient. What we have done is add hacking to every object in the game. NPCs, cars and the city infrastructure are all hackable. We’re giving you more options, and we call it deep hacking. So, if you hold the button you’ll now have multiple options. You can be very precise on what you want to do rather than just one single thing happening. Once a player understands these systems, they’ll be able to create some really interesting situations through the hacking. We also added gadgets like the RC drone and quadcopter to push the playstyle we call ‘trickster,’ which is all about hacking. A lot of missions can be done without even entering the objective.

So, Watch Dogs 2 is going to cater to different playstyles?

Basically, we identify three. The ‘aggressor’ is someone who uses combat and hacking is optimized to do damage. The ‘ghost’ is all about stealth and using hacking to distract and avoid enemies. Then we have ‘trickster,’ which is more of a pure hacking approach where it’s like you’re not even in there. You send in your toys and solve all your problems that way. We don’t want to judge the player, so there are no points rewarded based on how you play.

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This time around you’re just on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. How has leaving the older generation of consoles behind helped the game?

It’s obvious when you have many SKUs that the pipeline and process is much heavier. You have to take into account the different optimizations and quality of art. If we add a feature we had to ask ourselves if it could be done on the other platforms. So, it’s great to focus on just fewer consoles and take full advantage of their power. It helps us take a step forward and include new features that we want to do rather than having to think about the weaker hardware. It’s been a lot easier.

What about PS4 Pro? It’s already been announced that Watch Dogs 2 will be supporting the platform. What can potential purchasers expect?

That’s going to be announced in the future. Can’t discuss it right now.

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So there’s a popular theory that’s been going around since the first Watch Dogs came out that Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed take place in the same universe. Would you like to comment on this?

I think it’s fantastic that the rumor has stayed alive, because it’s really interesting. I guess I’ll let players explore the world and see if they can find some links.

Well thank you! When can players get their hands on Watch Dogs 2?

The game is out November 15 on PS4 and Xbox One, and November 29 on PC.