We’ll come right out and say it, we loved Watch Dogs. It was flawed for sure, and the two years of hype before release only served to raise expectation far higher than any game could achieve, but it was an open world game that offered something different.

It even stands up to scrunity today, we feel.

That’s why we were thrilled when we heard, through the rumour mill, that a sequel was on the way and that it would make its debut at E3 2016 next week.

Because of which, we weren’t exactly surprised to be invited to a revelation event immediately prior to the show in Los Angeles. What has surprised us though is the release date. Not only is Watch Dogs 2 coming, it’s coming soon; 15 November, in fact.

That means the development team has been beavering away on it ever since the original was finished. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that leaks didn’t occur sooner.

The team must have been working on it for a while because, from what we’ve seen so far, it looks utterly beautiful.

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Action has switched from the grey, drab streets of Chicago to sunny California and the US home of tech, San Francisco. The entire Bay Area has been lovingly recreated and while we didn’t get to see the game in action as such – rather a long screening of exclusive documentary and gameplay footage – at first we thought we were looking at real footage of the city, its denizens and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Much thought has gone into making this location even more vibrant and realistic than last time. You remember how you felt when you first saw footage of GTA 5? This evokes the same, but with bells on. This could well be the best looking game for this generation of consoles. Full stop.

The plot has somewhat shifted too. A new hero is born in Marcus Holloway, a young, streetwise hacker who has been mistreated by the legal system and has a bone to pick with authority. He therefore joins hacktivist group Dedsec in order to exact revenge and have fun in the process.

Much of the game is therefore focused more on the hacking elements of the first – expanding on them greatly in fact. Hacking now underpins the entire game, with every single person, car and most electronics in the city able to be hacked, snooped upon or controlled to further your aims.

The ctOS system is back, with San Fran hooked into a centralised computer and therefore open for manipulation, but the fact that cars can be remotely controlled adds to the fun enormously, it seems.

Holloway also has additional gadgets at his disposal. There’s a quadcopter drone that you can fly around the city or even use in drone racing events. And there’s an RC jumper, that also has a robotic arm to perform functions where its owner cannot tread.

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We’ve also seen that Holloway is a very different character to Aiden Pearce from the first game. His parkour skills are much better, and he can leap and climb in a more fluid fashion. His combat abilities are more raw too, more pronounced. His favourite weapon, as we saw at the preview event, is a billiard ball on a guide rope, which is both brutal and elegant in equal measure.

He’s similar to Pearce in that he can once again hack normal bystanders in order to provide distractions and more, but this time around multiple people can be hacked at once – setting off all their phones, for example. The possibilities are greater and therefore so is the potential for mission structure and the way you play.

These were areas criticised first time out, but we were told that missions can be played in many different ways. You can blast your way through, just use stealth or just employ the help of the electronic environment. In short, it should prevent the game becoming repetitive – a trait of almost all open-world games, not just the first Watch Dogs.

We’ll wait to see if this works when we actually get to play a bit, but it certainly has potential.

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Another element touched upon was multiplayer. Co-operative play is important in games these days, and in Watch Dogs 2 it will be integrated into the main campaign. Not much has been detailed on how it works, but it seems that servers will host many players during their single-player games, so friends can be found on the same streets of SF. Find a friend and you can decide to take on co-op missions.

We’ll find out more about multiplayer over the coming months, we were told, but that seamless online play is something the developer, and Ubisoft in general, is keen on.

First Impressions

There are also plenty of other features to discover as the release date approaches. What we’ve seen so far though has whetted our appetite enough to suggest that Watch Dogs 2 will be one to watch this year – pun entirely intended.

The San Franciscan landscapes alone hold the wow factor. But perhaps we’d better keep a rein on the hype this time though, eh?