It’s not often, after more than 15 years and hundreds of hours of accumulated playtime, that the world of gaming offers me up something new. From indie to AAA, co-op to versus to single-player campaigns, there are very few genres and experiences that I have yet to come across. So today I was pleasantly surprised to experience what I think might be one of my gaming firsts: I spent an afternoon teaming up with a stranger in Watch Dogs 2.
I’ve been playing multiplayer games for almost as long as I’ve been playing games at all. Very early memories conjure up some sort of toy-box themed RTS that I used to play at a friends’ house. My first big online venture must have been Runescape, a game which swept my school when I was about 10, and which I still remember fondly. But despite the MMO nature of that game, and others like it, I don’t think I ever managed to properly coordinate the multiplayer aspect of them. I feared Runescape‘s infamous PvP area, the ‘Wilderness’. Only once, purely by chance, did I ever bump into someone I knew in real life. Often I wandered around, leveling skills and completing quests, barely ever interacting with anybody else other than to trade my meager wares with them.
I started playing LoL in the summer of 2011, and it was there that I gained my first taste of real online coop. I’ve written before about my group of League friends, some of whom remain from those first games, but there are many who have come and gone since then. It’s not every game that we can get a team of 5 together, and so usually we resort to groups of 3 or 4, plus a couple of random internet people. These are, of course, a lottery, and while sometimes they have rolled over their lane opponents, carved up the rest of the team, and carried us to victory, on just as many occasions they’ve single-handedly lost us the game. Refusing to group, getting picked off, chasing kills instead of taking objectives. The ‘coop’ aspect of MOBAs is often so fraught that I’ve heard I’ve heard them described in terms akin to ‘double versus’, where you’re battling with your own team while simultaneously attempting to take on the enemies.
While I’ve played a lot of online coop, I’ve never really played a game before Watch Dogs 2 that allows other people into your game. It’s done seamlessly, with my coop partner for this afternoon dropping in quietly and easily, with no awkward loading screens or obnoxious announcements. It was honestly one of the most enjoyable few hours I’ve spent in a big open world.
Sadly, I’ve already forgotten my companion’s name, but he was a particularly dapper version of Watch Dogs’ Marcus, sporting a very fitting white jacket when he first spawned in. He was a significantly higher level than me, and so did a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of hacking, but we were able to trundle happily around the world, ticking off side quests. Due to the lack of voice chat, we largely had to guess at the others’ intentions, and I don’t think there was a single mission that I would describe as having gone off anything other than ‘clumsily’, but having an extra player to plan missions around added a lot to a game in which preparation is such an important part.
I think though, as much as having a coop partner added to my appreciation of the games’ systems, I also really liked the companionship. I don’t play games on my own as often as I play them with friends, and largely that’s because I want to hang out with people. I used to creep through Skyrim‘s dungeons with my friends on the other end of a Skype call, because it chilled out an experience that I had otherwise made thrillingly immersive. I remember having a stealth suit that spoke to me in Fallout: New Vegas, which I really enjoyed because it made me feel like someone else was around. And I suppose at the end of the day, this idea harks back to a lot of what I’ve heard about Ghost Recon: Wildlands: “It’s a great game with friends, but crap if you’re on your own – any game is better with friends”.