Modernizing its near-future sci-fi tale with themes that have cropped up over the last four years, Ubisoft has officially announced that it will release a follow-up to 2012's Watch Dogs this fall with a sequel set in the heart of the tech world's wild west.
It may seem that Ubisoft just couldn't wait until E3 to show off Watch Dogs 2 and its take on the San Francisco Bay Area, as the official reveal was held just days before one of the biggest video game conferences of the year.
Ubisoft would likely blame a set of seemingly requisite leaks for its Watch Dogs 2 reveal. Whatever the real reason may be, it's hard to ignore the benefit of revealing the game away from the crowd of E3 - it gives the game time in the spotlight before a fall showdown with the likes of Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
Downgrade aside, the first Watch Dogs game let many gamers down because its hacking often felt superficial and it lacked the dynamism needed to trigger those emergent events depicted in all the trailers leading up to the game's eventual release.
Hacking is at the heart of the franchise's premise, which explores the perils of an increasingly connected society where privacy has become an illusion. With Watch Dogs 2, big brother network ctOS returns to the game. But it has its fiber optic tentacles embedded in the San Francisco Bay Area instead of Chicago this time around.
"From the lush lawns of Silicon Valley, to the cultured streets of San Francisco and the gorgeous views of Marin County, each neighborhood has its own vibe and feel," Ubisoft said in a blog post. "We've packed the game with a lot of content and there will always be something for you to do or see in this massive world."
While Ubisoft boasted a living, breathing Chicago in the first game, Dominic Guay, senior producer for Watch Dogs 2, asserts that the sequel almost feels like a simulation. When the player stops moving, non-playable characters (NPCs) and the rest of the game world carry on.
"This is the promise of what an open-world game is," Guay said. "We broke the feeling that the game is centered on you, the player. So characters shouldn't only react to you. They should react to each other."
NPCs may start fights, they may call the cops on each other or a dog might chase one of them down the street, Guay said as he offered examples of the depth of activity Ubisoft is building for Silicon Valley.
"You need to feel the city is alive, even if you do nothing," Guay said. "And then if you start doing things, if you start playing in the world, the city should react to what you're doing. It should feel normal. It should surprise you also in how it reacts."
Ubisoft is hoping that, along with the change in venue, a new hero will help to expand the range of the game's emotion from the Windy City and moody protagonist Aiden Pierce.
Replacing Pierce is Marcus Holloway, a member of hacker collective DedSec. DedSec is society's best hope for shutting down the overreaching ctOS system and Holloway spearheads that effort, after false charges lead him to fight back against the game's police state.
Holloway will be versed in parkour, adding a new layer to help players explore the world Ubisoft is building. And his hacking skills are either way better than those of his predecessor or he's benefiting from four years of advancements in computing technology.
"Everything is a target that can be hacked in multiple ways," says Ubisoft. "Hacking traffic signals not enough? Take control of a vehicle's steering wheel or overload the engine. We want to empower you with even greater control and possibilities with hacking, and we're really excited to see how players creatively use these tools."
Watch Dogs 2 launches on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Nov. 15. For those who preorder the game, Ubisoft is throwing in the Zodiac Killer bonus mission and an additional outfit. The deluxe and collector's editions of the game adds the season pass and a pair of customization packs to the other perks offered in the base game.