As mentioned in yesterday’s first impressions, online multiplayer in Watch Dogs is easily one of the game’s stand-out features. It’s a secret weapon that will no doubt take many by surprise, despite being oft-touted by publisher, Ubisoft. However, it’s also something that feels shrouded in mystery as to how it actually works.
Keeping in line with core themes from the game, multiplayer brings together “Fixers” from all over Chicago. Either working alone or in tight-knit squads, these are rogue agents with a penchant for two things: hacking and Notoriety. Think of this as your rank or experience bar. As it goes up, players will be able to access unique online perks such as a nitrous boost for vehicles. The higher you climb, the more powerful these skills get.
This isn’t your average progression system, however. Performing poorly in any of the online game modes will incur penalties, each one sapping away at your Notoriety. What this means is that only skilled and consistent players will reach their way to the top.
Another interesting aspect is how players will always have Aidan Pearce as their avatar. Everyone else will appear as generic, gun-wielding NPCs – it’s a nice, albeit odd design choice though one that ensures continuity.
Matchmaking is a fairly straight forward in Watch Dogs and introduce part-way into the game’s first act. All players need to do is bring up an online menu and choose one of the six modes available at launch. As you wait in the server queue you are free to roam idly until teleported to a designated district of Chicago.
When playing Intrusion or Tailing, these one-on-one faceoffs will have the invading player spawn close to where their target is. Decryption, which can host up to eight fixers, will section off areas of the city into smaller arenas while, finally, Online Races transform roadways into pre-set courses.
One last point worth mentioning before we run through each game mode is that players can opt out of hacking invasions if they so choose. An option in the online menu allows you prevent other players from hacking your game session, but at a cost. First off, you won’t be able to invade enemy fixers and, more importantly, you’re Notoriety will go right down to zero. In other words, there is no “cut and run” option – if you fancy yourself Chicago’s finest hacker, be prepared to defend that title.
Intrusion is perhaps the one game mode Ubisoft has publicised most, and with good reason. It’s a unique approach to adversarial multiplayer and one that focuses on more than just sharp reflexes.
When circulating between missions, players will often find themselves invaded by other fixers looking to bag some Notoriety. When such instances occur it’s up to your to find who’s hacking your data and put them down for good. Each of these encounters starts with the invading player getting a bead on their target.
As mentioned before, you’ll spawn straight into their game session, after which you need to highlight them with Aidan’s Profiler. This will cause a ring to appear on the mini-map, effectively showing the target player where their enemy is hiding. To start off, the radius is fairly big, shrinking down as the clock ticks until the invader is either killed or they manage to successfully hack their target.
As soon as the process is initiated, two things happen: invaders will likely scramble to an ideal hiding spot as the other player begins to profile every single NPC. What Ubisoft has done with Intrusion is successfully replicate hide and seek within a video game, where the penalty for losing is a bullet to the face. It’s intense and evokes a unmatch sense of paranoia, regardless of whether you’re the hacker or their intended target.
Chicago’s verticality and glut of parks, alleyways, and other buildings give rise to some truly momentous faceoffs. On top of that, hacking introduces even more advanced strategies. Hid in a particularly dark spot? In that case wait until your pursuer comes close and activate the ctOS Blackout. Need help reaching a ledge? Hack a forklift to create a viable platform. There are loads of creative options available with no two games of Intrusion ever being the same.
Tailing adopts a similar premise, though requires more legwork of the invading player. Instead of simply tracing your target and hiding, you will need to keep them in your line of sight as a observation gage starts to fill.
With the option to simply run or drive away from your invader, Tailing relieves some of the pressure found in Watch Dogs’ flagship game mode. However, this also works in favour of the other player, giving them more freedom to move without being traced on the mini-map.
It’s hard to say which is better. Intrusion truly has its nail-biting moments, though Tailing puts the invading in a position that requires more skill. Either way, they’re both plenty of fun and should be looked into straight off the bat.
Searching further afield, Decryption is only other game mode in Watch Dogs’ arsenal which has something unique up its sleeve. Hosting up to eight players, Decryption can be played with two teams or in free-for-all, both as hectic as the other.
The main objective here is to locate a file and then keep hold of it until it can be decrypted. Imagine it as a game of hot potato with the winner being the player(s) with the file as the decryption gauge hits one hundred percent. It’s a smart game mode and one that makes sense considering how poorly capture the flag would suit such big, diverse environments.
One of the great things about Decryption, and all of Watch Dogs’ online modes, is that they take place in the same open world, populated with pedestrians and motorists. Similar to what’s already been said about Intrusion and Tailing, this means that no two rounds are ever likely to be the same. Players will constantly be on the move, either on-foot or in a vehicle, occasionally switching things up with heated gunfights.
Another nice touch is that the file doesn’t have to be retrieved from a player’s dead body. Instead it can be stolen wirelessly, as long as an enemy player stays close to the carrier. Again, this introduces another bonus tactical element, keeping everyone on their toes.
For Online Races, they are almost exactly what you’d expect. Instead of being as free-form as the likes of Need for Speed: Rivals, they are structured with predefined routes.
How much you enjoy these will hinge on how much you rate Watch Dogs’ vehicle handling. It feels a bit lighter compared to other open world games, though it’s also far more forgiving, despite the awkward drifting.
Free Roam, again, does what it says on the tin. A maximum of eight players can jump into a server and cause all sorts of shenanigans as they tear up Chicago. An adversarial mode can be toggled to enable player versus player encounters, though most will likely just want to mess around in the world.
To me, Free Roam seems like the go-to mode for groups of friends. For randoms, there isn’t much on offer considering how the game removes all side content, bar a spread of mini games.
It’s safe to say that multiplayer is certainly worth checking out in Watch Dogs. A few added modes and additional options would have been nice but, as it stands, it’s still unique and refreshing, making a perfect change from your everyday modern military shooter.
Watch Dogs’ sixth online game mode isn’t covered in this article, as the official ctOS Watch Dogs iOS and Android app was not released at the time of writing. It’s set to go live some time today alongside the game’s release.