The first Dishonored was a surprising success considering it was a completely new IP and developer Arkane Studios’ previous work included Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Probably haven’t heard of those last two right? Either way Dishonored had great gameplay and open world exploration. I’m happy to report that those two things have been fantastically enhanced and made even better. It’s just that I wish all other parts of the game would have kept up in tandem. Just like the first title, Dishonored 2 leaves a lot to be desired in the plot and A.I. department. Not saying that this is a bad game but it could have been so much better.
Dishonored 2 starts off with Corvo and Emily discussing kingdom things when randomly and suddenly a woman named Delilah shows up, claims rights to the throne, and causes the character of your choice, Corvo or Emily, to amscray right out of Dunwall. In your retreat you meet up with a Meagan Foster who just so happens to have a boat you use to travel to the city of Karnaca. This is the place where the ‘Crown Killer’ murders started and is the only lead you have thanks to their connection with Delilah. Which just so happens she used to frame and peg you as the serial killer. Because reasons. You also find out that Meagan was working with Anton Sokolov from the first game but he’s been kidnapped. From here you go about trying to find out why and how Delilah rose to power. This is done by targeting her cohorts, acquaintances, and whatever other leads you can dig up.
Through your adventures you’ll discover what relation you share with the main antagonist, why people are helping her, and why she’s doing what she’s doing. Sadly, most of the important and pertinent info is told in quick, albeit artistic, slideshows. This highlights the issue with the game’s weak story. Dishonored 2 did not spend enough time developing it. It felt very mechanical and point A to point B. For example, the very beginning when Corvo and/or Emily are forced to runaway in their exile. In a total of five minutes, everyone accepts Delilah as Empress and her claims, they immediately believe you are the Crown Killer, and all of it is explained by a very public coup. A major world event was over before I knew it. This non-fleshed out approach also bled into the rest of the plot. The main antagonist probably had less than twenty minutes of screen time for the entire experience. Did I want to reclaim the throne for Emily and partake in revenge? Yes, but it felt more like a chore and not an emotional investment.
The Outsider and his world of the void make an appearance again and do spice up things a tiny bit. This is where the supernatural powers manifest themselves in order for our heroes to utilize them (for those that don’t know). However, he still acts the part of deus ex machina and only shows up when the story needs him too. Speaking of things happening just because, the ending has a flaw as well. You see when you choose which character you want to control, the other is left in Dunwall “unmoving.” (Did my best to avoid spoilers here). When the game is over, the way you make them “move” again is nothing short of contrived. The entire campaign will take around 10-12 hours on your first playthrough but ninety percent of it will be thanks to gameplay. Yes, that is a good thing here. Once you know where things are and what to do, subsequent playthroughs will probably take around five hours for the vast majority.
Before I get into the gameplay itself, I just need to say that the voice acting for Emily was well done even if some of the written dialogue was campy or over the top. The same can’t be said for our other protagonist who, unlike the first title, has a voice now. There were quite a few times where I winced at Corvo’s dialogue or the way it was delivered. This didn’t ruin or otherwise hamper the character but it was definitely noticeable. In general, all the acting work for the entire game was good regardless if NPC lines were repeated. I mean what RPG doesn’t have the issue? For those wondering, the soundtrack and visuals are superb as well. They’re believable and fit the setting extremely well. Just take a look at Anton Sokolov’s liver spots if you don’t believe me. That is if you rescue him.
I’m about to gush here but the pride and joy of Dishonored 2 is without a doubt the level designs and gameplay. Each mission drops you off in a semi-open world area with a ton of buildings, passages, and secrets to explore. In addition the more you indulge in your exploratory efforts, the more likely it is you’ll find more alternate ways of doing things. In fact, most level’s end objective will have a handful of ways to complete your task. There are even dynamic conversations that happen in the world around you with juicy info that can help. But you can miss them by not being there or interrupting the chat because you got inpatient. This is also true with the different paths you can take to your destination. Not even Deus Ex titles give you this many options. What you lack in money or items can be remedied with your powers or pickpocket/looting prowess.
Do you not have a key to this locked door because you couldn’t find it? Well there may be another way by scaling the building. Are there guards blocking your way and you don’t want to engage? Look around for a small tunnel or something to climb to bypass them. Can’t find a way through something? A conversation a lovely and nearby couple are having might render some tips. Want to go in guns blazing but want to have an immediate escape route? Just have the blink ability and look up. There are not enough minutes in the day to describe how everything can be accomplished and done. Not just with completing an objective but something as simple as making your way to that objective or hearing more about it. Even traveling will provide some entertainment.
Verticality also plays an amazing role within the gameplay. The passages and pathways you take won’t always be ground level. Same with entering buildings like I mentioned. All the levels have layers if you will, from the rooftops to the street. The areas aren’t just a semi-open world on a horizontal plane. Expect to search four-story buildings and leap between balconies. There’s just so much inspect that even the most hardened OCD sufferer will miss things. Don’t worry, items or knowledge that could affect the plot in a big way are usually listed on your HUD. It’s just your job to get there before the main objective. Or not! It’s your choice on how you want to play. Stealth, action, or a mix of both.
First and foremost Dishonored 2 is a stealth game. There will be many ways to get around enemies without engaging them if you haven’t figured that out already. You’ll also have a wide array of tools and abilities at your disposal. Strictly speaking for stealth you have: Dark Vision, which lets you see people and objects through walls, Possession, which allows you to take control of a rat or person for a short time, shadow walk, which turns Emily into moving and potentially dangerous smoke, stinging bolt, which fires arrows and makes enemies forget what they saw and flee, sleep dart, that puts foes to sleep, stun mines, which honestly do what you’d expect, and the easy ability to knockout enemies with your hands. The blink (teleport), bend time (slow or stop time), and domino (link enemies together) ability are also incredibly useful and can be used for both stealth and fighting.
This time around there are a lot more options for battling it out with those in your way. You can call forth swarms of rats, produce gusts of winds, equip cross bows that fire normal bolts and incendiary ones, normal grenades, sticky grenades, and springrazors. Of course you have a trusty sword for mauling and impaling as well. However, you can’t just go in headstrong and swinging. You still need to be smart with your attacks and mana/inventory use. The one thing that is absolutely paramount to all playthroughs though is the ability to block at the right moment and cause an enemy to be off-center. This will allow you to knock them out or take them out in one hit. You’ll also be able to buy and find items to restore health and mana. Eating food where you find it also gives you more life.
Unfortunately, as amazing as the gameplay is, there is one minor problem. You’ll notice repetition when you take a step back and look at the game as a whole. Besides a few uneventful visits to the void, each mission has you talking to allies for a minute, dropping into an area, ultimately killing or incapacitating someone, and returning to your allies. This is by no means a deal breaker but definitely something you’ll come to realize.
The high and low chaos system makes a return for the sequel and it mostly plays out like the previous one. The more merciful you are and the more enemies you spare will contribute to a low chaos mark and the more stabby-stabby you are will label you as high chaos. This time however, you won’t be penalized as much if you kill those who are evil. Targets of interest’s outcome will affect the end game world but grunts are more fair game. So you could kill up to forty witches and not worry about having a high chaos rating. But if you kill up to forty civilians you’re going to have the opposite as you should you monster.
Alas, there comes a time when a video game’s absolute negatives have to be talked about. For Dishonored 2 that’s the A.I. Before I go any further, I want to remind everyone that the gameplay and level design are fantastic. So much so that the exploration and craftsmanship of the world far outweighs the issues I’m about to present. Even if they’re pretty big ones. Regrettably, more than half of the time the A.I.’s intelligence will make you facepalm. First off is their detection is incredibly wonky which you’ll be able to tell by a lighting bolt meter above their heads. If it fills up and is red, then you’ve been noticed. But just because that’s how things should happen doesn’t mean they will. Too many times I was in front of an enemy’s range but went undetected or got detected when I was behind them or to their side. A little iffy, then.
Opponents will also have a slight delay when engaging you after you run away. So you can make periodic stops while running away and remain unscathed. Their decision-making ability is also downright dreadful. One time a soldier used a grenade on a door, because he heard me on the other side of it, and killed himself in the process. Another time one walked right off a ledge without a care in the world. I even had one walk right into fire and kill themselves. My personal favorite though is when I am grappling with someone, another enemy will swing their swords carelessly and, more often than not, kill their comrades.
This is a sad state of affairs especially when you consider what Arkane Studios programmed into their code. There were a few times I left doors or windows opened and they audibly made a comment about it. Needless to say I left access points the way they were after that. They’ll also notice if their buddies are missing after I choked them out and stashed them somewhere. Those small touches would have greatly benefited the stealth experience but were overshadowed by the aforementioned issues. The only other true negative issue was input commands didn’t register at times. I had to push whatever button again to get the desired result and was lucky enough that this didn’t screw me over in some fashion.
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