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"Watch Dogs" Skills: How They Work and What You Should Get First

Ben has been a geek all of his life, so his expertise tends to fall into gaming and technology.


Not all skills in Watch Dogs are created equal. In this guide, I'll take you through what all the different skills are, how to get them, and which ones you should get first to make your playthrough a little easier.


Driving Skills

Although pretty self-explanatory, the Driving section of your skill tree is designed to improve your experience with vehicles. You can spend up to 19 skill points to get all of these skills

  • Car Unlock - 1 Point - This is your first skill available and is one of the first you should pick up. This skill will automatically disable any alarms on a vehicle and unlock the doors as soon as you attempt to enter. Without this skill, there's a good chance you'll raise the alarm of either nearby enemies or simply someone nearby who's willing to report a stolen vehicle while you're breaking the window and setting off the alarm. With this skill no one will look twice under normal circumstances, enabling you to rifle through all the glove boxes in a parking lot without issue.
  • Defensive Driver - 2 Points - Requires Car Unlock. This skill improves the base damage resistance of any vehicle you drive by 25%, enabling you to keep on driving well past the point of breakdown before. This is a very valuable skill when taking on Fixer or Convoy contracts where you'll be taking down an enemy vehicle. This skill also helps you out when riding a motorcycle, as collisions that would once have killed you before can be walked away from.
  • Precision Driver - 3 Points - Requires Defensive Driver. This skill greatly reduces the chance that your tires will blowout. While your tires are far from invulnerable, the first couple of times that your tires would be destroyed the damage is reduced enabling you to continue driving. When you hit your third tire blowout obstacle, your resistance is eliminated and tires will act as normal.
  • Escape Artist - 5 Points - Requires Precision Driver. This skill greatly improves the stealth capabilities of Hide-In-Car. Normally you would be discovered by enemies that spot you and are within 20 meters. This reduces that to around 5 meters instead and enables you to hide from helicopters. While this might seem very useful, the point cost is quite expensive and might be better used elsewhere given that a Jam Coms can replicate a lot of the usefulness of this ability.
  • Off-Road Driver - 3 Points - Requires Defensive Driver. This skill improves off-road handling of vehicles by adding additional friction to the tires. You'll never get perfect handling out of a streetcar when riding through the mud, but your handling will be much improved. When driving vehicles that are meant to be off-road, you'll find your control greatly increased.
  • Offensive Driver - 5 Points - Requires Off-Road Driver. This skill increases the damage that you do to enemies via collision by about 25%. This works better with larger and tougher vehicles, but anything you drive now becomes a lot better at dealing damage and has a higher chance of instantly disabling a vehicle. This is most useful when dealing with the multi target convoy missions.

Hacking Skills

This is pretty much the reason most of us got this game, to hack all sorts of things and cause mayhem with it. It's no surprise that there are more hacking skills than anything else. To get them all will cost you a total of 45 points. Although there are a lot of skills to get, there are a large number of things you can do without investing points in anything. Things like hacking into cameras, lifts, protectors, and an assortment of other objects in the environment. Your normal hacking skills can cause distractions and let you view places and things without no one being the wiser. Unless you hack explosives of course... that will get a lot of attention. You can hack nearly anything... except for the things that require points to unlock.

  • Hackers Tool Kit - 0 Points - This is something you start the game with and is what you use to perform all of your hacks and preform your profiling. Some hacking acts will require you to control the local CTOS tower, like the ability to profile, and some will cost battery charges, like blowing up a guard's grenade.
  • ATM Hack Boost - 3 Points - This upgrade increases the amount of money gained at the ATM after hacking a bank account. The increase is about 250% of what you'd normally get after hacking someone's account. If you're taking your time in getting money and grabbing most of your guns off of your enemies, you might be better putting this off and learning how to craft different tools.
  • Profile Optimization - 4 Points - Requires ATM Hack Boost. Whether your profile is on or off this automatically highlights high value targets in your proximity by highlighting them with a blue box. You can even be driving through the streets and have one of these high profile targets show up, enabling you to stop, scan, and then move on. These high value targets either have Rich Bank Accounts, System Keys, or vehicle unlocks. System keys can't be purchased and are hard to find, making this a very valuable skill even if it is expensive.
  • ATM Hack Boost Plus - 5 Points - Requires Profile Optimization. This skill increases the amount of money you can get from bank accounts to 450%. I've gotten plenty of accounts that have hooked me over $10k each, and with the Profile Optimization they're not all that hard to find. Although it can be tempting to go for this early, you don't really need the cash boost this brings. If you play around and do several of the side missions, scanning people as you go, you'll have more than enough money, and pick up most of the weapons you'd purchase with this anyway.
  • Extra Battery - 1 Point - Requires Hackers Tool Kit. Many of the more destructive abilities in your arsenal use your battery reserves to pull off. This extra battery slot is the cheapest of the three upgrades and you would be wise to get this early.
  • Extra Battery 2 - 3 Points - Requires Extra Battery. Like the previous upgrade, but at a slightly higher cost. Depending on how often you use it you might want to get this relatively soon.
  • Extra Battery 3 - 5 Points - Requires Extra Battery 2. This is your final battery upgrade, and at five points it's quite expensive. There are a lot better upgrades you should go for before you plunk down the five points for this one.
  • Utilities - 0 Points - One of your starting abilities, you can access basic utilities such as power boxes or steam regulation boxes and cause them to explode. In most situations these are non-lethal, while others are quite lethal if used properly, like using the explosive force to knock someone from a ledge. If the utilities are next to certain items like propane tanks their destructive power increases significantly.
  • Disrupt Enemy Coms - 2 Points - Requires Utilities. Certain enemies have either helmet coms, or have ear pieces that allow them to communicate with others. This ability allows you to send feedback through that equipment and severely distract them. This is painful enough to cause them to close their eyes and blind them for the seconds it requires them to recover, allowing you to either take them out or disable them.
  • Disable Reinforcement Calls - 5 Points - Requires Disrupt Enemy Coms. Not only is this ability costly in the amount of points you need to spend to acquire it, but using it uses two bars of your battery. You can use this pre-emptively to disable communications of every Shot-Caller, but if you're in the middle of a fight you're much better off using a Jam Coms device. This is best used if you prefer being stealthy and want added insurance in case things go badly.
  • L-Train Control - 1 Point - Requires Utilities. This skill is of limited use in most circumstances. Although if you can get to a train station your escape is pretty much guaranteed, so it's not without its uses. It can also be helpful if you find yourself driving on the tracks and want one less moving object to deal with. Considering its point cost, it's not a bad skill to get.
  • Transformers - 3 Points - Requires L-Train Control. You can use both CTOS boxes and transformers on poles as overload points to cause large electrical explosions and a local blackout. While useful when it's dark, it's not nearly so when the sun is in the sky. That being said, it can be a viable alternative to crafting Blackout items so it's far from being useless, but you might want other skills first before investing in this one.
  • Traffic Lights - 0 Points - This is your basic skill to hack traffic lights and cause accidents. Given the number of lights in the city this is a very useful skill. Combining this with both focus and looking behind you during chases can enable you to disable vehicles quickly. Although you can cause normal accidents, waiting till there is a flashing blue highlight around the hack prompt will ensure an enemy is taken out.
  • Gates and Garages - 1 Point - Required Story Purchase. This skill gives you the ability to open and close gates and garage doors. This will let you take shortcuts through certain locations and hide from enemies. You'll need to be quick on the draw however, as you need to time the gates so you get through and they're closed before your enemy can follow.
  • Bridges - 1 Point - Requires Gates and Garages. There are three kinds of bridges that you can use this on. Swing Bridges will swing to the side and you can trap your enemies behind you. Drawbridges will rise up and allow you to ramp over them, leaving your enemies behind. Be careful, however, as some of these bridges will actually go all the way vertical.
  • Steam Pipes - 3 Points - Requires Bridges. There are a ton of pipes under the roads and when you get this ability you can cause them to explode. Time your explosion and you can take out vehicles... or yourself if you're not careful. Enemies too close to the eruption will be killed if they're on foot. Although it uses two battery slots, it can be a very good too in your arsenal.
  • Disable Helicopter - 2 Points - Requires Gates and Garages. Rather than taking out the marksman or destroying the helicopter outright, you can now hack it and cause it's systems to malfunction for 15 seconds.
  • Improved Disable Helicopter - 3 Points - Requires Disable Helicopter. Even though you're not chased by them all the time, they can be downright annoying to get rid of in a lot of circumstances. This skill gives you 30 seconds to get out of sight. Personally, if I'm getting rid of a chopper, I prefer the extra breathing room of this skill even at the extra cost.
  • Blockers - 1 Point - Requires Gates and Garages. There are quite a few blockers around and can be used to instantly bring a vehicle to a stop and disabling it. Timing is essential here in not creating your own obstacle. Bikes will fit between the blockers, but it might be risky to thread the needle at speed.
  • Road Spikes - 2 Points - Requires Blockers. Similar to blockers, this raises a static barrier that’s used to blowout tires rather than completely stops the vehicle. If using it on a car ahead of you be sure to lower them fast so you don't get caught without tires yourself.

Combat Skills

You can spend up to 59 skill points in combat, but depending on your play style you might want to leave some of these till later.

  • Focus - 1 Point - This should be the first skill you pick up, as it's invaluable in nearly every conflict situation you find yourself in. The beginning amount of time this lasts is four seconds, with additional time added through skills or purchasing drinks. It's best to get very comfortable with this skill through testing, such as using it while driving or testing it on gang members. You can even use this skill for other challenges like the Shell Game.
  • Stealth Sprint - 4 Points - Requires Focus. Normally when you run you make quite a bit of noise. So much so that you'll be detected somewhere around the 20 meter range. This skill lowers that radius by 90%, so you'll be nearly on top of someone before they'll hear you coming. That being said, it's an expensive skill to take, and if you're playing stealth you likely don't have a need to move all that fast unless things have hit the fan.
  • Critical Focus - 5 Points - Requires Stealth Sprint and Complete One Criminal Convoy. When you're seeing red all around your screen and critically damaged, your focus will suddenly rapidly climb enabling you one last shot to get yourself out of the harry situation you're currently in.
  • Improved Focus - 2 Points - Requires Focus. This increases focus duration from the four seconds, to about five and a half seconds enabling you to use focus for longer.
  • Slowed Focus - 3 Points - Requires Improved Focus. Normally the use of focus slows time down to ten percent of normal. This skill reduces the speed of time down to five percent instead.
  • Maximized Focus - 5 Points - Requires Slowed Focus and Ten Complete Chess Puzzles. This skill increases your focus skill to a total of seven seconds. The 5 skill points required may be a bit much for that extra second and a half, but if you combined this with the four second boost you can get from drinks you'll be nearly unstoppable for eleven seconds.
  • Quick Switch - 1 Point - Required Catch One Criminal detected through CTOS. Each weapon has its own draw time which is generally pretty quick. This skill decreases the time it takes to switch weapons by 75%.
  • Pistol Expert - 2 Points - If you like taking head shots with your silenced pistol, this isn't necessarily the skill for you. This skill reduces the rate of fire of all pistol weapons by 75%, which would allow you to take someone out quickly no matter where you aim.
  • Shotgun Expert - 3 Points - Requires Pistol Expert. This skill increases the damage to vehicles by 25%, enabling you to more easily take out tires, engines, or the people inside those vehicles.
  • Sniper Rifle Expert - 5 Points - Requires Shotgun Expert. The first time I got a sniper rifle in this game, I noticed that the sway wasn't too bad on the weapon, but still nowhere near where I wanted. This skill reduces the way of the scope by 80%, enabling you to more easily track foes.
  • Auto Weapons Expert - 5 Points - Requires Shotgun Expert and Reach Wave 5 of NVZN game. When firing off a burst, your steady aim bonus is no longer applicable as the bullets fire off in an ever widening cone from your gun. This skill reduces the width of that cone by up to 66%, enabling your cluster to be much tighter. This skill also helps reduce the recoil on automatic weapons.
  • Steady Aim - 1 Point - This skill not only helps reduce the kick of your weapons by 75% of normal, it also helps slightly in aiming. You should pick this one up pretty early.
  • Demolitionist - 3 Points - Requires Steady Aim. This is a great skill to grab as it allows you to carry an additional two explosives of each type, as well as an additional five lures. So whether you prefer to go stealth, or create a lot of chaos, this skill is one you should pick up early.
  • Expert Demolitionist - 4 Points - Requires Demolitionist. This adds to the amount of explosives you can carry by another two, and gives you five additional lures. At this point the point cost is getting a little expensive, so you might want to hold off till later for this upgrade. Still, being able to carry 8 explosive devices, 20 lures, and the supplies to make more allows you quite a lot tools to use.
  • Enforcer Combat Takedown - 5 Points - Requires Expert Demolitionist. Normally Enforcers are very tough to take down, with the best option being explosives. This skill gives you a melee option, even if it increases the time it takes to bring one of these guys down. If you prefer being stealthy, when you start running into these guys this is the only option for remaining silent.
  • Bullet Resistance - 2 Points - Requires Steady Aim. This skill reduces damage from bullets by 75%. If you get into combat at all this skill is a must have. Even if you prefer stealth, that doesn't always work, and this skill is a cheap way to make yourself much stronger.
  • Blast Resistance - 3 Points - Requires Bullet Resistance. Similar to Bullet Resistance, this ability reduces damage from explosives by 75%. There are plenty of times you can find yourself in the thick of things and have something explode that you didn't intend to. This ability can change things from being game over to only having to hunker down and recover.
  • Rapid Reload - 5 Points - Requires Blast Resistance and Complete 5 Gang Hideouts. This skill cuts down the time that you'd reload any of your weapons in half, which can be great if you're constantly getting into fights.

Crafting Skills

This set of skills is unique in that you can get everything in here without having the skill necessary to make them... although it's much more convenient.

  • Lure - 0 Points - Lures are used to distract your enemies and draw them towards the lure to investigate it. Generally you want to use these to get guards either away from you, or move them towards something a bit more dangerous.
  • Jam Coms - 1 Point - Requires Lure. This is so useful you should have it equipped by default. The most useful effect of this item is that it blocks the yellow 'heat' circular scans when they search for you. What might not be immediately known is it also blocks the airwaves for all sorts of things. From witnesses trying to call the cops, to enemies calling in reinforcements, and even blocking television broadcasts about the vigilante are blocked.
  • Blackout - 1 Point - Requires Jam Coms. This is most useful at night when you can take advantage of the darkness a blackout will bring. This disables everything using power in a large radius, and while you see lots of sparks you won't do any damage to anyone with it. Although the benefits are significant, remember that your hacks will no longer work either, so be prepared for the consiquences.
  • CTOS Scan - 3 Points - Requires Blackout. This duplicates what you can do with manual scanning, tagging all enemies in the area but doing it instantly. This is most valuable where there aren't a lot of cameras available and you need to nail down all the pathways the enemies are taking.
  • Focus Boost - 2 Points - Requires Lure. This item instantly gives you maximum focus, making it best used when you've just used your focus completely in combat. This combines with the added focus you get from drinks, allowing you to spend even more time focused and taking care of your enemies.
  • Frag Grenade - 1 Point - Requires Lure. This is a basic explosive device that you throw and will detonate a moment after landing. The timer only starts after you throw, so you can neither blow yourself up, or have it explode before the fixed timer goes off.
  • IED - 2 Points - Requires Frag Grenade. These are thrown explosives that are sticky and will attach to any surface and will stay there till you activate the explosive via hacking, making them ideal for laying traps, or as a failsafe when an enemy is trying to escape. If unexploded, you can put them back in your inventory after a conflict is over.
  • Proximity IED - 3 Points - Requires IED. This functions identically to the IED in all respects except that it detonates on movement instead of being hacked. This is very useful when you don't have a lot of cameras around but still need an explosive distraction to draw the guards to an area, or when used to trap a getaway vehicle you can't always keep track of.

Exclusive Skills

There are some skills you can only get through DLC or by select pre order bonuses.

  • ATM Hack Boost - Requires the Palace Pack. This increases the base amount of cash you get through ATM's by 25%. Far from what you get from the default skills, but more money is never a bad thing.
  • Blume Weapon - Requires the Blume Agent Pack. This skill reduces the recoil on all shots, but is overridden if you take the Steady Aim skill, making this of limited use. It does let you put points in other areas first however.
  • DedSec Battery Boost - Requires the DedSec Shadow Pack. Considering all the hacks that cost battery to use, this is an amazing boost to get.
  • Driving Master - Requires the Club Justice Pack. This is similar to the Defensive Driver skill but instead of giving your car added resistance, this adds 20% to the overall toughness of the vehicle. Either way, your car will last longer.
  • Superior Capacity - Requires the Sony Exclusive Missions. Like the other extra battery skills, an excellent boost if you're working with a PlayStation.
  • Vehicle Expert - Requires the Breakthrough Pack. Makes certain cars free and others are discounted by 50%. If you find yourself itching for select cars, this can let you get them much more often. As more and more cars become free, this becomes less useful, but excellent in the early game.


All images were taken from within the game Watch Dogs, or from the Ubisoft website.

© 2014 Ben Martin