Dishonored 2 review – Blink and you miss it

Dishonored 2 wallpaperIt doesn’t bother me… I swear! I’ve aged, I’ve grown, I’ve matured. I am both wiser and more benevolent for my years, more accepting of the way others do things even if I’d have done it differently.

Except none of this is true, and GODAMMIT BETHESDA, how hard would it have been to release a version of the game with the PROPER GODAMN SPELLING OF “DISHONOURED”?!

Okay… Seriously now. Serious game review. Yes.

I was a big fan of the original Dishonored and believe very firmly that it was somewhat underrated. While it did perform very well and it did review very well, it also seems to be so rarely spoken of. Maybe that’s just in my circles, but it always seemed like it was forgotten very quickly. Whatever the case, I was pretty hyped when I heard about a sequel. And Arkane have not really disappointed.

Dishonored 2 has everything that I loved from the original except now there’s more of it. The maps are bigger and more sprawling, it feels like there is more options in terms of your route through them, the powers are broadly the same but also with improvements here and there to make you more versatile (not to mention that you now have the option of playing as two fairly distinct characters each with different, if slightly interchangeable, powers).

Emily's "Far Reach" ability replaces Corvo's blink and acts more as a grappling hook than a teleport.

Emily’s “Far Reach” ability replaces Corvo’s blink and acts more as a grappling hook than a teleport.

Let me begin with criticism however. While I feel that Arkane did improve what was good about the original and expand upon what was already there, there is an unfortunate feeling permeating the game that they have not improved upon those flaws the original had.

I should point out that these flaws tend to be based on the story, so if you are here hoping for a jolly good time being a stealthy cunt, stabbing people in the butthole with swords and magic, then that’s all excellent.

Honestly the biggest flaw that leaps out at me is how the game is not just a sequel to Dishonored but it is Dishonored. At the start Empress Emily Caldwin, all grown-up and protagonist-y now, gets overthrown in about the time it takes to say “hey, you shouldn’t overthrow me”. Honestly if everyone knew that orchestrating a coup was as easy as just walking up to the Empress and encasing them in carbonite I feel like there wouldn’t ever be much incentive to become ruler in the first place.

How to become Empress 101: just say you are and most people don't question it.

How to become Empress 101: just say you are and most people don’t question it.

So, much like the original, Corvo or Emily are now on the run to regain their honour… for the second time (the title seems so clever now doesn’t it). This they will do by travelling between a hub and various missions by boat, where they are given the option to either slaughter or somehow deliver comeuppance to all the major allies of new Empress Delilah.

The game feels, arguably, like it is more Emily’s game. Not only does it perhaps make more sense in terms of narrative, but Emily also is the one with the newer and exciting powers. This said I personally chose Corvo for my playthrough due to some small loyalty to the character and also because of the knowledge that your choice will not change anything significantly in the actual story which, again, is only what we had in the first game.

So the formula for the story of the game remains extremely similar to the original, and the similarities do not stop there. Like in the first game there is a “plague” infesting the city. Even if this time it is not quite as omnipresent as the rat plague, the bloodflies which make their nests in houses and even people across the city present a consistent, if not constant, concern. You are shuttled around the city by a small boat. There remains a similar feeling of despair and hopelessness in the populace. All the signs are there.Dishonored 2 bloodflies concept art

Now, for a large part, these similarities are not truly overall negative marks for the game. Perhaps the story for the game is a mite unimaginative and formulaic (you are deposed, avenge yourself on all your enemies until everyone starts agreeing with you again) but this is mostly a framework for the meat of the game which is in the stealth and sneaking. The recurrence of themes and systems seen in the first game is mostly just a little uninspired rather than exactly problematic.

Where true issues lie though is in repeating the same things which I counted as a problem in the first game. In particular the issue of NPCs being little more than furniture and automatons which trundle around on their patrols, occasionally asking one of the other automatons if they want cigars, remains noticeable. Incidentally the NPC to NPC interaction has not really improved, despite an increase in the amount of potential dialogue between automatons, by level three you will already be hearing everything again for the hundredth time… In exactly the same voice as that guy you disintegrated a few days ago. Arkane attempted to alleviate this with the presence of more scripted sequences which occur when you pass an area the first time but the unfortunate truth is that this is just window dressing, particularly if you are as meticulous and slow as me.

Equally disappointing is the lack of interesting characterisation, for example the two main villains are essentially ridiculous caricatures of evil. One a cruel witch who goes around smiting those who disobey her and the other a selfish, money-grubbing and power-hungry duke stomping on the city and people he rules.

It seems briefly like the game might introduce some interesting themes because it seems like Emily was actually hopelessly inept as Empress while Delilah actually had an extremely troubled upbringing. What is this you say? There might be a sympathetic villain? The heroes are perhaps not all as good and perfect as one would imagine? Could this possibly alter the route the story might take, allowing for a deeper meaning? Nah… Stabby stabby time!

Plus of course, every villain is complete with ironic means of disposing them non-lethally.

Plus, of course, every villain is complete with ironic means of disposing them non-lethally.

It’s probably my biggest hang-up with the story, the thing which really prevented me from getting into it, is just how uninteresting the characters seem. Despite some fairly good voice acting (yes I know Corvo is voiced by Garrett, this means nothing to me) I still felt no particular attachment or emotion towards any of the characters.

In fact I would say that this is probably the central factor for why, despite my intentions of playing through the game twice, I likely will not come back and do a High Chaos run with Emily.

Similarly it’s a mite frustrating that we are two games in now and the mysterious figure of the Outsider is barely established at all. Sure we get a few trickling snippets of information, but we still do not really know much about this Joker-esque deity. He does things because he finds it interesting, and I feel it’s something of a missed trick that the focus of the game is not on people thinking “hey, I’d quite like it if some fucking Void-Demon didn’t mess around with our lives!”

I bet the Emperor would have something to say about this…

It’s a bit of a shame really because the rest of the world-building outside of the central plot is honestly fabulous. Karnaca, a distant part of the Empire, is a little more reminiscent of something like colonial Egypt than it is London in terms of the architecture and setting with white sandstone buildings and flat roofs. It’s also an incredibly deep and detailed world, with so many little notes and hidden nooks and crannies to find and explore. I remember saying that I felt like the levels in Dishonored were too small, well now they feel actually quite sprawling. Even if this is not the case! They feel broader because of the masterful way their woven together with dozens of paths and little locales in every single mission.

Visiting these “locales” is often totally worthwhile and rather diverting. If you can accept that might need to a fair bit of reading then you are given an absolute treasure trove of lore and information about the city and the Empire which goes a fair way to provide context and texture to the world.

The best part about it is that one can often look across the map and see, in the distance, where it is you are trying to get to.

The best part about it is that one can often look across the map and see, in the distance, where it is you are trying to get to.

As well as this, traversing them is once again an absolute pleasure with the use of the powers provided. The short range teleport, bending time, possession, along with passives for manoeuvrability and the maps feel like playgrounds for exploring. It’s something I read in an early review of the game that one has to start making the concerted effort to not just look at the path in front of you but also to look up regularly because of how often there will be another little route off over the roofs and through houses. It’s genuinely true, more than once when puzzling out how to stealthily sneak through a section this particular piece of wisdom will return to me and I look up and lo and behold, that looks like an open window!

It also helps immeasurably that some of the missions are amongst the most intelligently designed levels I have ever encountered. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that the clockwork mansion mission, which features a building whose layout can change at the touch of a button, is absolutely inspired. Another, later, mission features the ability to jump between two times in the same place and this also felt like a rather novel and well-implemented idea.

That said though, both of these ideas felt almost underused in the sense that it would not have been a disappointment to see several levels utilising either or even both of these mechanics. It was almost a little gimmicky, despite their excellent nature.

The stealth mechanics are much the same as before and as one would expect, with the major difference that they can be surprisingly unforgiving. Part of this may actually come down to an attempt to eliminate some of the jokes/complaints leveled at the previous Dishonored. For example, you are no longer invisible when leaning around a corner and it is also possible to be seen when perched above an enemy if the ledge is low enough. Enemies also seem to have longer range of sight than one might expect in a stealth game and tend to be sensitive to and extremely quick to respond to any disturbance. All in all this actually took some getting used to on my part and made the game seem remarkably more challenging in terms of stealth.

The combat also seems to have received a ramp-up in difficulty and in an open fight it leaps to damn near impossible when fighting even more than just one enemy at any one time. Admittedly this is likely relaxed at higher levels through the use of passives which increase your “reflexes” in the game.

The challenge of the game is, however, dealt with by your expanded repertoire of powers. Admittedly, going for the classic Clean Hands playthrough does hinder your options (as well it should) but if you are stabbing those you feel like stabbing then your options open up dramatically. Particularly with Emily some of the powers can be combined in ways which are just pretty awesome, allowing you to silently and easily wipe out whole rooms of guards with a few clicks. It really can make one feel like a veritable angel of death.

It’s the imagination here that can make it all feel so satisfying. Tag a few guys together with domino, make one guard have some horrific “accident” and watch them all fall over. It can just come together in the sorts of ways that makes you feel “oh, wow, I bet I could totally make a YouTube compilation of my best kills in this game”.

A final compliment is that, like its predecessor, I think the game looks pretty fantastic. As it often is, it’s quite a superficial compliment to make, but I do love the aesthetic of Dishonored and the level of love and care that went into the design is exceptional. A sterling example is the addition of the Clockwork Soldiers which replace the Tallboys from the first game as the spindly, steampunk, super fucking creepy baddies.

Godamn they are just pretty fucking cool!

Godamn they are just pretty fucking cool!

A final point of note: I started playing the game properly a couple of weeks after the release (following update 1.2 which fixed a considerable amount of the dreadful performance issues the game suffered on release) and I personally did actually not notice any noticeably bad performance of the game. Even with only a NVIDIA GTX 970, with the settings turned to Ultra I did not experience any noticeable deterioration in performance.

Now, I can’t tell if this is because I spent so long playing in a laptop that ran everything at 5 FPS that I can’t tell the difference between 20 and 60 FPS, but I can tell you I have experienced no noticeable juddering or twitching or anything. So it seems probable I might just be one of the very lucky ones.

Whatever the case though, this section is still absolutely required to remind people that Bethesda absolutely royally fucked the PC port beyond all recognition and honestly they entirely deserve the poor sales that this caused. It has further harmed a reputation which has taken a beating lately and all but depleted a rapidly diminishing stock I held in the company.

Admittedly I do feel sorry for Arkane though as the developers of the game, as they weren’t in charge of the port. I also am concerned about the future of Dishonored as a series now. Poor sales figures rarely encourage further sequels and the biggest misfortune of them all is that honestly if Bethesda deserves a pasting over this equally Dishonored deserves most of the high ratings it has received.

 

Rating: 81/100

 

Pros

Cons

·      Excellent world-building and lore-crafting

·      Combined with a great aesthetic makes the world a pleasure to explore

·      Fun stealth, combat and exploration mechanics enhanced by magic powers

·      Genuinely masterful level design

·      Imaginative powers allow for super-cool kills

·      Story feels essentially like a rehash of original Dishonored

·      Characterisation is uninspired and uninteresting

·      Characters, stilted dialogue, average story combine to make the game feel quite boring once the novelty of the mechanics has worn off

·      Combat is extraordinarily difficult against multiple opponents

·      What’s so great about Garrett’s voice actor? He’s basically growly male protagonist #92

 

About Seb May-Wilson

A sometime protege of Leeroy Jenkins. A lover of all things RPG. A geek and a sci-fi man. Nothing is true... Everything is permitted...

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