Watch Dogs: Well past the narrative and still enjoying myself

Plenty of parking on the roofI’m STILL playing Watch Dogs. I finished the storyline a LONG time ago. It’s pretty rare that I “finish” games and it’s unheard of for me to keep playing past the end of the narrative. But here I am.


First, timing. A few weekends ago I played The Division beta and loved it and I can’t wait for that game to launch in early March. I think my anticipation for The Division is casting a pall on the rest of my backlog. Watch Dogs is what I was playing when I started to get really hyped for The Division so I continue to play it out of inertia. It doesn’t hurt that in some ways the two games feel the same (both rely on cover and 3rd person shooting in a modern setting.)

Second, the progression wheel. Watch Dogs, like every other modern game, has a lot of Achievements (well in my case Trophies, technically, since I’m playing on PS4). But unlike some games, many of them are bound to clearly quantifiable objectives that the game tracks for you. Complete X instances of Mission Type Y and earn Trophy Z. There’s an in-game interface showing your progress. What this boils down to is a checklist. If you’re a checklist lover, you can understand the satisfaction of working through that list checking things off. If not, well you’ll have to trust me. Some of us have brains that love ticking off checkboxes!

Third and most importantly, the game is just plain fun. Does it live up to that initial reveal oh so many years ago? Maybe not. Is it a little janky in spots? Sure. But I just love racing through the streets of Chicago, yanking the emergency brake to send my car into a slide, then jumping out with machine gun drawn, spitting lead everywhere. Or other times, creeping into a gangster base with a silenced pistol and taking out guards one by one. Or yet again, jumping into one of the online modes, which are super fun, with the caveat that they don’t use a central server so there’s some host advantage and at times lag.

For a long time I hated Achievements but I’ve come around to seeing them as a way to kind of nudge you towards getting more gameplay out of a title you’re enjoying. Now I finally see why I can ‘finish’ a game and only earn 30-50% of the achievements. The whole point is to give you more goals to work towards once the ending credits roll.

Anyway, yeah I love Watch Dogs. I think it’s a shame that it never got the recognition it deserved. I’ve just recently heard a rumor that we’re going to learn more about Watch Dogs 2 at E3. I sure hope it’s true. I want more!

How important is the (pre-defined) character you play?

I have a lot of RPG and MMO players who read this blog (well… “a lot” is a relative term) so first to clarify: in this post I’m talking about ‘pre-packaged’ characters like Lara Croft or Master Chief, as opposed to characters you create and are kind of a vessel that you can mold as you see fit.

Back at Gamescom Microsoft showed us a little more of a game called Scalebound. It was about a young man and his dragon companion. Here’s some footage:

After that aired, some friends mentioned they wouldn’t be playing because they didn’t like the protagonist. I thought that was kind of harsh at the time, but now I think I understand where they were coming from.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve finished two games: Watch Dogs and Infamous: Second Son. In broad terms they’re kind of similar. They’re both open world games that take place in a city. Both offer lots of side quests and both are generally about a lone wolf going up against an organization. I really liked Watch Dogs but I feel pretty “meh” about Infamous: Second Son.

Much of the reason I really liked one game and not the other comes down to the main characters. Aiden Pearce (Watch Dogs) is an adult. He’s also a criminal, and during a heist he unintentionally runs afoul of the local crime syndicate. They put a hit on him, but the hit goes wrong and Pearce’s 6 year old niece is killed while he survives. He is a character driven my anger, guilt and frustration. While I’ve seen players of the game complain about him being emotionless, to me his attitude is that of someone kind of suppressing emotions in order to get a job done.

Delsin Rowe (Infamous: Second Son) is in his early 20s. He is a Conduit, meaning he has what are essentially magical powers that he gets early in the game. He delights in these (I probably would too). In theory he is driven by a desire to help the people of the small town he is from, but we see that at the very start of the game and the very end, and nothing in between. Honestly I’d forgotten about them by the time he returned to them. More immediately he wants to free other Conduits who are imprisoned, but there’s no passion behind that desire. It boils down to “He wants to beat the final boss” really. He’s sarcastic, flippant and a punk. His big brother is in the game, trying to look after him, and Delsin just mouths off to him over and over again.

I hated being in Delsin’s skin. Even though Aiden Pearce is a bad person, I actually didn’t mind playing as him because I could identify with his motivations. Really Delsin is a nicer guy (the way I played him). He can use his powers to directly save lives, for instance. Aiden can stop crimes to get the populace to like him but he does tend to leave quite a body count behind.

But I think it boils down to two things. First, Aiden Pearce feels like a real person while Delsin Rowe feels like a video game character. Second, as an older person I could identify with Aiden’s motivations while Delsin just reminded me of all those damned kids that I’m always trying to keep off my yard.

So yeah, now I’m a little worried about Scalebound too.

Working on a motion (simulator) sickness theory

A few weeks ago I decided to go back and finish Infamous: Second Son. It was a game I’d played and enjoyed early in the PS4’s life span but as so often happens at some point I got distracted and drifted away.

Almost immediately I ran into a problem that I don’t remember having back then: “motion” sickness (which I guess more technically is simulator sickness since of course I wasn’t moving). Second Son was making me physically ill, and not just a little bit. I’m talking about breaking out into a cold sweat and needing to lie down for a while. There was a mid-game boss battle in particular that I just couldn’t get through because I’d get to where I felt like I was going to vomit if I didn’t put down the controller and walk away.

I wrote it all off to old age and uninstalled Infamous: Second Son so I wouldn’t be tempted by it.

Fast-forward a month or two and I started playing Watch Dogs, and having a ball. Then one night, Watch Dogs started making me sick! I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t doing anything differently, so why all of a sudden was it having this impact on me?

Uncharacteristically, I stopped and thought about it, and two things occurred to me. One was that I was really tired that night. Second was that I had no lights on. And let me explain that.

Not too long ago (but after my Infamous experience) I was finding that by the end of the day my eyes were so tired that they’d start watering to the point that I couldn’t do much more than go to bed. Through some sequence of events that I don’t recall, I discovered that it was my habit of sitting in a dark room staring at a big-screen TV that was causing the fatigue. By turning on a lamp in the room my eye fatigue went away. I guess my mom was right when she’d always scold me for sitting in the dark!

Anyway since then I’ve been leaving a light on while gaming, usually. But that night playing Watch Dogs I hadn’t bothered turning it on. And that was the only night Watch Dogs made me feel ill.

I finished the main story of Watch Dogs a few nights ago, though there is still plenty to be done in terms of side quests and such. But I was ready for a break, and I thought about Infamous: Second Son again. And I thought about the light. So I re-downloaded the game.

Last night I fired it up, with my light on, and beat that boss battle. I still did get a little woozy after some time playing but nothing close to how I’d been feeling when I tried playing just a month or two ago.

[One sure-fire trigger to get me sick is when the camera moves unexpectedly without me moving it, which happens in Infamous because the character is really ‘sticky’ when it comes to surfaces he can jump onto, often grabbing things I didn’t intend for him to grab. I think it’s the same reason I sometimes get car sick (IRL) when I’m a passenger but never when I’m driving.]

I don’t have enough data to state any facts here; this is just a theory for now. Still, I thought it was worth sharing my story just in case anyone else struggles with ‘motion sickness’ while gaming. If you happen to sit in a dark room, try turning on some lights. It really seems to help me, and maybe it’ll help you too!

A bit more on Watch Dogs

Well the holidays are just about over, and before I throw myself into my least favorite time of the year (I detest the Jan-May part of the year with no breaks from work to look forward to) I figured I’d sneak in a final blog post.

Since Watch Dogs has its hooks in me and it is the only thing I’ve been playing, I’ll talk more about it. In my last post I mentioned some of the reasons gamers were down on Watch Dogs when it first came out. Now that I have a lot more hours into the game I wanted to revisit them.

First, the driving model. I thought complaints about that were fairly valid but I’m not so sure any more. Yes it took some time to adjust to driving in Watch Dogs but you could say the same for any arcade racer. I’m pretty comfortable driving now and have pulled off some truly hair-raising sequences where my car is on the ragged edge of control but I actually pull it together and make it out intact. In a game like Watch Dogs that’s really the kind of model you want. You want a certain amount of chaos in there since chaos breeds interesting and unexpected conditions.

Second, the boring side missions. I think part of this complaint is really due to difficulty. Since this is an open world where you can take on the side missions in pretty much any order, the difficulty of the side missions doesn’t ramp up smoothly (if at all). Worse, they tend to be harder earlier in the game. As you progress you level up and get skill points that you spend on tools that can make many of the side missions easier. For me the side missions have gone from pretty difficult to ‘just right’ and now they’ve gotten easy enough that I tend not to use finesse; I just go in with guns blazing, either literally or figuratively depending on the mission.

Early in the game I was primarily playing side missions; now I’m focusing on the main story and just do the side missions to break things up. If I was a person who tried to get all the Achievements/Trophies then I’d have a lot more side missions to do and I guess I might feel like they grew boring over time.

Third is the online stuff. I’m really torn on this. Sometimes when I’m hacked I have a great time trying to track down the other player. Other times I’m just about to start an activity and I get invaded, and that, I have to admit, can be annoying. You travel across the map, get to the “Start Mission” marker, click on it and get “Mission Unavailable” and suddenly you’re being invaded. This has happened to me 4 or 5 times. If I run off to fight the hacker then I need to once again travel back to the mission start. Or I can just walk away from the game and wait for the other person to win the invasion and then go back to what I was doing. Suggestion for Watch Dogs 2: Just let us Forfeit an invasion and have it end quickly.

As for other complaints (graphics and story), I just don’t agree. The story is pretty convoluted… the main driving force is that you need to rescue someone from the hands of another hacker. But to save the person you have to do the hacker’s bidding, which is kind of a plot within the plot. But overall I’m fine with the story so far. It provides motivation for the protagonist and exposes him to some very evil people that you don’t mind having to take out.

And I think the graphics are quite good. The weather system in particular deserves mention. When it rains, it doesn’t just start raining. You can actually see the clouds start to gather and blow in. And sometimes it rains a little, other times it rains a lot with thunder and lightning and all that.

Explosions and clouds of smoke look great too. I have to admit there are times when I’ll go to a busy intersection and flip the traffic light to Green in all directions and just watch the mayhem that ensues. Cars charge through the light in all directions, resulting in a huge accident, and one or more will catch fire and eventually explode, creating even more chaos.

I’d also like to give a shout out to the ambiance of the city. Now that I’m a notorious vigilante people recognize me and I hear whispers as I move around. If your ‘street cred’ is good they’ll be less likely to report you and I’ve had people whisper to me “I know who you are but don’t worry, I won’t tell the cops!” But I’ve also had the opposite happen. When a brawl with a gang spilled out onto the streets and caused mayhem and civilians to be hurt or killed I’ve had an NPC shout “You aren’t a hero! You’re a sociopath! Look at what you have done!”

It’s enough to make this version of Chicago feel real enough that I find myself not car-jacking to get a ride (though parked cars are fair game, I admit) and stopping to prevent crimes or chase down a criminal just because if ‘feels right.’ When I hear a conversation where a man and a woman are fighting and the man is getting threatening, I’ll put myself in the middle of it to break it up, even though it’s not a “gamified” occurrence, just kind of an ambient conversation.

So yeah, I’m still really enjoying Watch Dogs. I’m in Act III now which has gotten a bit more difficult and I hope it doesn’t get too much harder. Last night I did a mission and it took me 5 or 6 attempts to beat and probably an hour or more of real time. I was starting to get a little frustrated. I’ve unlocked pretty much all the skills so my character won’t get much stronger than he is now. If the difficulty goes up much more it’ll be on me as a player to hone my own skills, and at my age I struggle enough with not letting my skills atrophy! 🙂 I guess as a worst case I could turn the difficulty down. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

Watch Dogs

For the past few weeks I’ve been rummaging through my PS4’s hard drive, looking for games I haven’t played in a long time so I can decide if I want to delete them or not (in spite of upgrading to a 1.5 TB drive, the PS4 is full). Most of the time I’ve booted a game up, played for a few minutes and felt OK nuking them. Then I came to Watch Dogs, which my buddy Scott had recently gone back to and finished.

Watch Dogs, which was announced in June 2012 but didn’t come out until May 2014, was one of those games that enjoyed (?) an incredibly huge hype cycle. As with most games where the hype goes into overdrive, it didn’t live up to expectations. My recollection was that it got a lot of hate, but I couldn’t remember why I had stopped playing it.

I started a fresh game and was really enjoying it, so I decided to spend some time googling to see if I could remember why everyone (at least according to my often faulty memory) was unhappy with the game at launch. My first stop was Metacritic where I was surprised to see the PS4 version of the game had an average score of 80. USGamer gave it a perfect score of 100 and Giantbomb gave it a 60 and everyone else was somewhere in-between. So clearly the critics didn’t hate it (though with so much hype an 80 average score might have been seen as failure). Maybe it was just the players who were unhappy. I poked around in GameFaqs for a while and found a few reasons why folks were so down on it:

  • 1) The final game didn’t look as good as the reveal trailer. That seems like something we should almost expect at this point, but maybe things were different back in the good old days of 2014.
  • 2) The driving physics are wonky. This is a legit complaint. The high performance cars have so little traction that they’re comical to try to drive. I’m slowly getting the hang of them but you definitely do have to learn to drive anew here. Or you can do what I usually do and drive a dump truck or something. Those handle fine and are fun as hell.
  • 3) Boring side missions. I’m going to speculate that these complaints came from completionists who feel like they must experience every bit of content in a game even if they’re not fun. So far the side missions are fine, but if they get boring I’ll stop doing them.
  • 4) Dull story. This one I can’t comment on yet since I’m not very far in.
  • 5) The online/mp system. While you’re playing Watch Dogs another player can invade your game and try to hack you. Some folks seemed really bugged by this. Of course you can turn it off, but there is a notoriety level that goes to zero if you turn off the online stuff. See above re: completionists.

I really don’t remember why I stopped playing Watch Dogs, and I didn’t get very far into it when I first played it. Maybe something else came out and distracted me with its shiny new-ness. Whatever the reason I’m glad I came back to it. It’s certainly not a perfect game (my biggest gripe is that missions could use more checkpoints) but I’ve been really enjoying myself. It’s pulled me away from all my newer games!

It’s also actually been fun re-playing content since my experience has been different in some cases. For example there’s an early mission where you have to hack a console that’s pretty deep in a construction site patrolled by enemies. I remember really struggling with this mission when I first played since there are so many guys to get past and so many ways to fail. I eventually beat it, leaving a trail of bodies behind me.

This time around, for whatever reason, I circled the area before taking any action. And I found a break in a fence that let me sneak in far enough to hack a security camera. From there I bounced to another camera (in this game if an object is visible and in range you can hack it, basically), and then to another. I was just scouting the location. Then I noticed a guard with a body camera. I hacked his body camera and I could see the console I needed to hack, but it was out of range. Then I noticed a speaker near the console, so I hacked that to make it play some strange sounds. The guard went over to check out what was going on and and I rode along in his body cam. He got close enough to the console and I hacked it. Mission success! I just snuck back out through the gap in the fence and I was done. Zero combat. No bodies to clean up.

Maybe I’m enjoying it more because I’m not in a rush to finish it? I’m not trying to storm through it as fast as possible to get on to the next thing?