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Published on June 30th, 2014 | by Chris Scott

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Watch Dogs: The Right Game at the Right Time

When Ubisoft announced Watch Dogs, the gaming world went coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs as it seemed like it was going to be that first true next gen game. Then it was delayed just weeks before release and pushed over six months to a late May release. When this delay happened, my interest in the project waned significantly and then reports that it was delayed because it wasn’t fun started surfacing and my expectations dropped to near zero and Watch Dogs no longer seemed like it was destined to usher in the new generation of gaming.

Low expectations or not, Watch Dogs was the biggest game to come out on the Xbox One and Playstation 4 since March and like many gamers, I was starved for new content to play on my expensive gaming devices. So I got it, along with everyone else. And when I started playing it, the game seemed to be exactly what I expected it to be, a mediocre GTA clone with a twist.

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I was not impressed. The story was uninteresting. The characters were incredibly unlikeable, with the main character in particular being a tiresome stereotype. The missions were a series of been there done that open-world type missions. And the hacking mechanic, the thing that makes Watch Dogs stand on its own? That was literally nothing more than a button press. At its best it was a hacked together open-world crime game, at its worst it was a big budget blunder.

But then something funny happened.

I stopped playing the game as I usually do (mainlining the campaign) and just set out to explore the Chicago of the Watch Dogs world. I started doing the myriad of tertiary missions and activities that populate the world. I started unlocking the towers and opening up the world. I started checking in on the in-game Four Square type app, solving the CTOS hacking puzzles, investigating murders and weapon runners, finding QR codes in the city, and collecting hidden phones and audio recordings.

For over fifteen hours I ignored the main quest and just wandered the city doing the side content and I was content. Along the way I upgraded my skills in hacking, driving and combat and the gameplay improved dramatically. Driving becomes serviceable, gunfights become less enraging, and hacking, while still mostly just a button press, begins to offer options that make the game far more interesting.

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Despite my relative enjoyment of the game’s open world, my exploration of the game did not come from any aspect of the game being exceptionally outstanding. In fact most of Watch Dogs is extraordinarily mediocre, and what isn’t mediocre is actively bad. If this game came out at any other time in the game release cycle I, and a host of other gamers, would have either tossed to the side in favor of something better, or just ignored outright.

But it didn’t come out at any other time, it came out now when scores of us are willing to settle for a lesser product to provide me any type of experience on my systems. And you know what, it has happened before as well. Games like Saint’s Row and Assassin’s Creed debuted early in a generation full of half baked ideas and poor implementation. And you know what? Those games turned into two of the best franchises to come out of the last generation.

There is no denying as a game, Watch Dogs failed to deliver on the promise of its first reveal but that great untapped potential is still there. Is it a shame that we didn’t get the Watch Dogs we expected? Sure, but we played it anyway because it was the right game at the right time. And while we don’t know what Ubisoft’s plans are for Watch Dogs going forward, there is immense opportunity for them to refine the core and create something wonderful with the next entry. I for one am excited.

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  • Wolf

    Funny, I remember hearing a similar statement about AC1. A reviewer thought the game was generally bad, but when he stopped to smell roses, and just ‘dick around’, he had a much better experience with the game.
    Without Gen 8 at home, I think I’ll wait till this series matures a bit. 🙂

    • Chris Scott

      Exactly and now look at the AC series.

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