Watch Dogs 2 already seems to be a different beast compared to its predecessor: its light-hearted protagonist and vibrant setting evoke a stronger personality, and its expanded hacking options create far more creative, emergent gameplay moments. For those who felt disappointed by the first game, these new changes directly address many of the shortcomings that plagued it, but the rationale and background behind implementing them paint a much more interesting picture.
We recently got the chance to sit down with Watch Dogs 2 director Danny Belanger to briefly discuss the new direction of the sequel and address the concerns that have followed it, such as the misplaced hype surrounding the first game and the aging structure of Ubisoft's past open world games.
For more on our impressions of Watch Dogs 2, check out our video preview above.
A major change to Watch Dogs 2 is its lighter tone and setting, which is a welcome change from Watch Dogs 1. But we also saw a similar shift occur in Assassin's Creed 1 to 2, which garnered positive reception among gamers. Why do you think a lighter tone was needed in Watch Dogs 2? And what about using a lighter tone in general do you think makes it more desired, more successful to gamers, especially for an open-world series like Watch Dogs?
Belanger: I'm not sure if it's a formula, but for us it was really important to give something new and fresh, so a lot of things stem from choices we made. For instance, San Francisco is so colorful in its culture and counterculture, so the topics we chose just emerged from that setting. For our new character, Marcus Holloway, we wanted him to be different: he's sociable, he's a part of a group, and he works with a team. Also, having the whole Bay Area with Silicon Valley made it so we can talk more about technology. All of these elements really changed the way the game feels and plays.
The game is not telling you what to do. You're actually finding what you want to do in the game, which is a really different approach for us.
When you play a sequel you want it to feel new and fresh, right? Going from the lone wolf Aiden Pierce to Marcus Holloway, who's funny, brilliant, and sociable, it allows us to do really different things. Like co-op for example: Marcus is a part of a group so it makes sense for him to work with people, which was not necessarily the case with Aiden Pierce.
Do you ever think you'll find yourselves going back to a gritty character like Aiden in a future Watch Dogs game?
I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I definitely think it's great for players to have things that change in a significant way, so you're not playing the same game three or four iterations. For us, it was the city, the character, the story, and even the game structure itself: it's open, it's free, and the way the game plays is free. We want to let players express themselves more, and we're really trying to bring something that feels like a new experience based on everything we did in the first game.
Watch Dogs 2 is more focused on creating emergent gameplay opportunities than its predecessor, which often laid out its activities like other open-world games Ubisoft has made in the past. Why was it necessary to step away from that previous open-world structure?
I think people want to consume an open world filled with creativity and curiosity. For us, exploring the world and finding stuff was really important. When you expose too much and have a set structure, you're not really finding stuff: you're just following the rules of the world. In Watch Dogs 2, when you walk into a room and open nethack, you can find stories, rewards, and guard zones; and all that really changes the way you consume the game. The game is not telling you what to do. You're actually finding what you want to do in the game, which is a really different approach for us.
There were high expectations for Watch Dogs 1 before it launched, mostly as a result of gamers projecting onto it a vision of what they wanted the game to be. Did any of that misplaced hype and dissatisfaction felt by gamers affect or inform the direction that you and your team decided to take with WD 2 in any way?
Well, we definitely listened to the fans and we read all the feedback about the character, the story, the hacking, and the driving. There were some things we wanted to change in order to make sure the game felt different. We wanted the sandbox to feel more like a toy and less predictable, and we wanted to make it a creative game. Now things can happen and you're not exactly sure how it'll play out, so you know how it starts but not how it ends. It was also important to bring in that lighter tone to make it feel different. After all, it's a sequel; it has to bring something new.