Watch_Dogs makes use of a fairly straightforward XP and skill tree system to unlock a series of perks for use in missions and the open world. Each task you complete, be it a major campaign mission or simply collecting the next step in a trail of audio logs, will grant some amount of XP towards your next level, with each new level granting a single skill point. Skill points are also awarded for completing other in-game tasks and achievements such as evading the police a number of times, adding to the pool of resources to spend on perks.
Perks are arraigned in a tree structure with four main branches – Combat, Hacking, Driving and Crafting. Each tree grants access to passive and active benefits such as greater armour for firefights or the ability to hack the Chicago tram system to more easily evade capture, increasing the scope of gameplay. The deeper one goes down a tree the more expensive skills become, but not all skills are created equal.
We found the passive skills to be largely incidental, whilst the value of active ones depended largely on your own style of play. Unsurprisingly the improved handling whilst driving was an immediate benefit, but the most useful were the hacking skills which improved evasion or vehicle takedowns as this was what was typically most difficult to accomplish. The game needed greater dimensions for customisation and certainly gets it, but we're left wondering if Ubisoft really went far enough down this route.
Alongside the XP accumulation is a reputation system gauging how well the citizens of Chicago regard you. Completing certain side-missions such as preventing crimes, apprehending criminals and saving victims will earn you reputation, but killing cops and civilians will harm it.
You reputation level is reflected in the news reports you hear in your travels, whilst CTOS's disquiet over your vigilante activities will also be reflected in opinion pieces. News is also updated as you complete the stages in major and minor missions, reflecting the progression you have made in the story.
Overall it appears to be fairly ancillary, apart from making you extremely frustrated with any failure of civilians to stay out of the way. If there is any deeper meaning to this bar we haven't seen it. There's something troubling about just how minor an impact killing a civilian in full view of the public has to your standing, going deeper than believing all the NPCs to be morons and making you doubt the value which Ubisoft placed on the system as a whole.
Running parallel to the XP system is Notoriety, a progression system for online play. Granted only to those who engage in the online elements of the game – certain mini-games and all open-world multiplayer events – you're rewarded points based on your success and docked points if you fail heinously. Reaching higher levels of Notoriety grants skills specifically for use against online opponents, but is entirely ancillary for completion of the single-player story.