Dishonored 2 (Review)

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Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Released: November 11, 2016
Copy obtained via GameFly

The first Dishonored provided players with masterfully designed levels to explore, deep combat and stealth systems to experiment with, and an incredibly realized universe rich with lore. It’s one of my all-time favorite games, so like countless others, I had high hopes and expectations for the sequel. Thankfully, Dishonored 2 exceeds expectations on almost every front, creating not only my favorite game of 2016, but also what I consider to be the best experience of this console generation.

The first game introduced us to Corvo Attano, the Royal Protector to Jessamine Kaldwin, the Empress of the Isles. Secretly in love, Corvo and Jessamine had a daughter, Emily, but Corvo’s role in her lineage was kept secret in order to maintain his position as Royal Protector. When Jessamine was suddenly and tragically murdered, Emily kidnapped, and the kingdom left in turmoil, Corvo found himself framed for the crimes. The plot of the first game revolved around Corvo setting out to uncover the conspiracy surrounding him and rescuing his daughter before any more death and destruction could unfold.

Taking place 15 years after these events, Dishonored 2 finds the young Emily Kaldwin grown up and ruling the kingdom as the new Empress. With her father once again acting as Royal Protector, things seem to be in an almost peaceful state. However, when a strange woman claiming to be Jessamine’s estranged sister arrives and declares herself to be the rightful heir to throne, the illusion of peace is shattered.

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Dishonored was always a game about choice.
Where you went, how you got there, and what methods you used to achieve your goals were entirely up to the player. This resulted in potentially unlimited ways to play the game and experiment with its mechanics, making Dishonored an incredibly memorable experience for those who’ve played it. Dishonored 2 continues with the concept of choice by giving you the most important one right from the start: do you play as Corvo or Emily?

Both characters have their own bearing on the story, as well as their own pool of powers and abilities to draw from, making this a game that needs to be played at least twice to fully appreciate. However, the return of the “Chaos” system adds even further possibility to who you play, how you play, and how the final outcome plays out. If you go on the offensive, cutting down everyone in your path, the eventual outcome will be a dire one. Likewise, choosing the non-lethal approach will result in a more peaceful ending.

While both characters can technically be played however you desire, I do feel that they’re each suited to a particular style. Emily has a large amount of powers and abilities that make her excel in a High Chaos run, whereas Corvo has an impressive array of skills that benefit those focusing on utilizing stealth and avoiding combat. I finished my first playthrough with Emily in High Chaos (which was literally a bloody good time) and I’m about halfway through a pure stealth playthrough with Corvo, which is equally as satisfying. Thankfully, both options are fun and viable solutions.

Regardless of which character you play as, you’ll be exploring the new region of Karnaca. While I still love Dunwall’s dark and grimy city streets from the first game, it’s hard to ignore the beauty of this bright and vibrant new setting. There’s significantly more color in Karnaca than Dunwall, which is a welcome improvement, but it’s the wide variety of locales and sights that really stand out. Large city areas full of civilians going about their day, steep cliff sides overlooking the ocean, and brightly colored foliage growing in and around the country makes Karnaca look like a place that might not be too horrible to vacation in under better circumstances.

Karnaca is also home to some of the most genius level designs I’ve seen in my entire lifetime. One level has floors, walls and ceilings which can be rotated, flipped, and swapped in and out to create new pathways. Another is periodically struck by sand storms, impeding your vision and making the environment extremely hard to navigate. And one level in particular legitimately stands out as one of the most mind-boggling feats of game design I’ve ever seen, leaving me sitting there and verbally wondering “how in the hell did they do that?!”

Dishonored 2 crams these locations with notes, audio recordings, and books to further flesh out the universe and expand the lore. This was one of my favorite aspects in the first game and I was glad to see it still remain in the sequel. Breaking into homes and businesses to pick up letters and tomes to learn about Karnaca’s history and culture was incredibly fascinating to me. I’m a lore junky, so seeing a game include this much of this type of content was extremely satisfying to me. It’s through careful world building like this that you gain a greater appreciation for a games universe, so I’m incredibly thankful that Arkane kept the sense of exploration and discovery that I loved from the first game and expanded upon it for the sequel.

While the first game was lacking in variety when it came to enemy types, the sequel does a pretty good job of shaking things up. Dishonored 2 litters the areas in and around Karnaca with enemies both new and old. The standard guards from the first game return, complete with pistol and sword, but they appear to have received better training this time around. They’re more aware, being able to spot you more easily, and they actually gang up on you and attack together, making combat more difficult than in the previous game. It’s not uncommon to have three soldiers surround you and attack from different angles with their swords while another guard or two fire on you with their pistols.

If you played the DLC for the first game then you’ll be familiar with a certain coven of witches who make a return in Dishonored 2. These witches teleport around the environment, attacking from a distance with magic, or up close with their swords, and call on the powers of darkness to summon terrifying supernatural beasts to kill you with tooth and claw. I found the witches to be particularlily nasty during later levels, where they appear more frequently and in larger numbers.

Then you have the new and deadly Clockwork Soldier.
These mechanical creations literally have eyes on the back of their head, making them impossible to sneak up on from behind. You’ll either have to face them in open combat (where they slice at you with four arms equipped with swords), or look for a vantage point to get the drop on them and destroy their heads, effectively eliminating their tracking ability. The Clockwork Soldiers move in an odd robotic fashion, which isn’t surprising, but their monotone voice adds an extra factor of creepiness to their design, which gave me shivers on more than one occasion.

It’s also worth noting that Karnaca is infested with a plague of bugs called bloodflies. They’re essentially giant mosquitos, but they make hives like bees and also nest in corpses. Typically found in boarded off apartments and businesses, bloodflies are the equivalent to rats in the first Dishonored. They’re an epidemic to the surrounding area and their number increases or decreases depending on your chaos level. More aggressive players will encounter bloodflies and their nests more frequently, whereas stealthy players will see them less and less as they progress through the story.

In the first Dishonored, those who contracted the plague from the rats became “weepers”. They were hostile and borderline suicidal, charging at anyone they saw with no regard for their own well being. Likewise, people can become infected by Bloodfly Fever, losing sight of who they are and becoming fierce protectors of the bloodflies and their nests. It’s an interesting concept, but the bloodflies, nests, and those infected with the fever are so weak that they barely come off as threatening.

It felt a little too similar to the rats and weepers for my liking, but I appreciate how there’s an enemy type tied into the chaos system.

Ultimately, everything comes back to the freedom of the games mechanics.
Using your powers to scale buildings, tactically take out enemy patrols, or unleash havoc on your victims is so utterly satisfying. Whether you’re using Emily’s Far Reach ability to traverse the environment or pull enemies to your position, or stopping time with Corvo to create dastardly complex assassinations or flee from a fight, there’s just so many possibilities within Dishonored 2.

While both Emily and Corvo have their unique arsenals, I can’t write this without gushing about one ability in particular: Domino. Emily can use this ability to chain together multiple targets and bind their fates together. Tag three enemies with Domino, sneak up behind one of them and perform an assassination, and watch the other two drop in unison. It can be used non-aggressively too, allowing you to chain a knock-out or sleep dart effect across multiple targets. I spent a lot of time just messing around with Domino to see what all I could do, often surprising myself with the possibilities.

Similar to the first game, there’s runes and bone charms hidden throughout the levels that have the capabilities of unlocking new powers or adding additional abilities to the ones you already have. They’re a lot harder to find this time around, often put in places where you have to either use your powers to reach their position or sneak/fight your way through heavily guarded areas. One thing that I did find interesting was the ability to craft your own bone charms via resources in the environment. You can stack multiple abilities into one charm, but you increase your chance of cursing the charm in the process if you add too many. This encouraged me to mess around with the charms more than I did in the first game and to experiment with mixing and matching different ones.

Before closing, I want to warn of the possibility of bugs.
After my first night with the game, I booted it up the following morning to find out that none of my progress saved and that I had to restart. While I haven’t heard of anyone else having this particular issue, it’s also worth noting that the PC version of the game is riddled with performance issues. Freezing, crashing, audio cutting in and out, unstable framerate and many more issues seem to be plaguing the PC release. While I’m hopeful that it will be patched soon, if you’re planning on playing it on PC then I would recommend waiting just a little bit to see if it gets fixed.

FINAL VERDICT

Dishonored 2 sets the standard for sequels.
It takes everything you loved about the original game and expands on it, making it a bigger and better experience in the process. From the more varied environments, genius level design, incredible sense of freedom and choice in its gameplay, and fascinating expansions to the Dishonored lore, this isn’t just a sequel that shouldn’t be missed, it’s easily the best game of 2016 and one of (if not THE) best game of this generation.

– Zack Burrows

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