It’s finally time to take a look at the sequel to one of my all-time favourite games, Dishonored! Whereas the first game took me entirely by surprise with how brilliant it was, I was obviously more prepared for the quality on display in Dishonored 2. It had a hell of a legacy to live up to, so the question is: did it?
Dishonored 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Released Nov 2016 | Developed: Arkane | Published: Bethesda
Genre: Stealth | HLTB: 13 hours
Emily Kaldwin has ruled the Empire of the Isles from her seat in Dunwall for the past 15 years, with Corvo Attano, the protagonist of the first game and her father, serving as her Lord Protector as he was for her mother. On a day of mourning in remembrance of her mother’s murder, Emily finds herself with an unlikely visitor to her throne room: Delilah. Claiming to be her long-lost aunt, Delilah enlists the aid of the Duke of Serkonos, one of the 4 states Emily rules, and stages a coup; though Emily and Corvo attempt to fight back, Delilah is, like Corvo, a powerful mage, blessed by the arcane and eerie powers of the Outsider. She encases one of the pair in stone and imprisons the other in the mighty keep of Dunwall Tower, gloating and safe in her victory.
Obviously that is Delilah’s first mistake. Our protagonist escapes her clutches and sails to Karnaca, the capital of Serkonos, and a new quest for redemption begins as they try and track down Delilah and the Duke, take apart the conspiracy that led to the coup, and restore their own rightful rule.
There was some vagary there about the ‘protagonist’ and that’s deliberate. This game gives you a choice right from the get-go – you can either play as Emily or Corvo and amazingly it does make some difference who you choose. Aside from the running commentary that Emily or the newly-voiced Corvo provide (incidentally Corvo is now voiced by Stephen Russell, he of Garrett from Thief fame, which feels very appropriate given the series’ inspiration on this franchise), they also get access to some different abilities and ways to approach the missions in the game. While the narrative and voiced differences are minor, the gameplay changes are sufficient that you might be tempted to at least play the game twice to see how the other character plays.
Of course, it also wouldn’t be a Dishonored game if the mysterious and dangerous Outsider didn’t make an appearance and an offer; naturally he crops up to give Emily and Corvo new powers to use in their quest. I love the nod that this game makes to a particularly fun way of taking on the prior entry – an achievement in the first game was tied to never using or upgrading any Outsider powers beyond the one you get given as part of the story, and here you get the option to flatly refuse any help at all from him.
Interestingly, Emily and Corvo receive different powers from the Outsider. Corvo’s powers return from the original game more or less unscathed, though with some new upgrades available; Emily’s powers are (in my opinion) far more interesting, and definitely allow you to approach the same missions in a different way. Her Far Reach is functionally the same as Corvo’s short range teleport move Blink but subtly distinct – her’s has an arc meaning that combining running and jumping with Far Reach can launch an agile player far further across the map. The absolute star of the show though has to be her Domino power, allowing you to link together multiple enemies so that you can take them all out together at once. It might sound gamebreaking (and it kind of is) but in return Dishonored 2 throws out scenarios and enemies that defy it, like the terrifying Clockwork Soldiers which Karnaca’s grand inventor has gifted to the city.
Otherwise, the sneaking and platforming has been reproduced more or less unchanged from the original. If you’ve played the first game or its fantastic DLCs, then you know the drill: you get popped down in a vast, multi-levelled stage and given freedom to run, jump, sneak, and scrabble about the place in search of your target. Karnaca is far brighter than the grim, grey streets of Dunwall, owing more to a Mediterranean paradise with its gorgeous dusky ochre buildings and ornately fronted and frilled landmarks. I like the touch of the windmills dotted about the landscape as well, working as an alternative energy source to power the city in contrast to the eerie glowing vats of whale oil that fueled Dunwall’s industrious smog.
However, like Dunwall, Karnaca hides a grim secret. The airy avenues and lavish homes are but a facade and underneath it Karnaca struggles under the mercy of a plague, both physical and political. While the grimy cobbles of Dunwall were overrun by rats and the blood-spewing weepers, many homes in the Serkonan city squat under quarantine, infested with parasitic bloodflies that flit and feast on the unlucky souls that traipse nearby. It’s a reflection of the Duke’s exploitation of his people, as he leeches from them, pushing miners and dockhands more and more, grinding them underneath the boot of an ever-increasing guard presence.
It might sound all too familiar for fans of the previous game and that is one of the most enduring and prevalent complaints levelled against Dishonored 2. So little has changed from the first game; here we are again, a deposed and shamed protagonist, a city that hides its sick core behind a fine veneer, and a political coup that our hero works against by taking out the key players. The general structure as to the way the game plays is also identical as to before, and the jury is out as to whether or not you find that a problem. I feel like while I can’t complain about there being more Dishonored, it is almost a shame that more risks weren’t taken.
On top of that, the Xbox One version has some quite sharp visual artifacting and flickering at times. It occurs typically in larger open areas as pieces of scenery fail to render properly; it’s not exactly a huge and widespread issue but it is potentially an annoyance regardless. I’ve not had the chance to play it on any other platform though so I couldn’t comment as to the comparison.
One surprisingly welcome addition though that I wasn’t expecting to be so good are the stats! Who knew having a more comprehensive way of tracking your chaos level or an easy and quick way of seeing how many times you’ve been spotted or enemies you’ve taken out would be so helpful. I also approve of the simple yet elegant bonecharm crafting mechanic; so often in previous entries could you find bonecharms that gave you passive abilities which were useless to your current playstyle but an upgradeable perk in Dishonored 2 allows you to break them down, learn their enchantments, and build new, more interesting compound charms.
Dishonored 2 is more Dishonored and that makes it still a very, very good game, make no mistake. I adored the first game but mainly because it came out of nowhere for me; it wasn’t just a great game but a brilliantly welcome surprise that resonated very strongly right from the off. The fact of the matter is that the 2nd game simply cannot compete with that; it is definitely still a brilliant time, levels are still vast and stuffed full of secrets, and the variety in how you take on the levels is second to none but the level of quality is static and that might be a deal-breaker. Not for me though! Roll on Death of the Outsider!
6/7 – EXCELLENT. Games with a touch of brilliance. It might only just miss out on being an absolute favourite, but you should definitely play this.