The gaming landscape has changed dramatically, especially over the last few years with narrative driven games taking charge of the industry in the form of Telltale Games episodic adventures and Dontnod’s Life is Strange. Not only that, but we have seen blockbuster franchises begin their descent and new and unique intellectual properties rise up. Such is the case with Bethesda Softworks Dishonored franchise.
Under the guidance of director Harvey Smith; Arkane Studios and Bethesda launched its first entry in the series in 2012 and speaking from a purely personal standpoint, I can say that it is possibly one of the most enthralling single player experiences in a game that I have ever had. The way in which Arkane weaved each power into the game making them seem an option rather than a must, Dishonored truly was excellently crafted throughout its entirety and with the second game’s launch, I must admit, I was sceptical. How would they do it? How would Arkane recapture the magic that the original so effortlessly carried with it? And now, having played the game, I am left here wondering if I can honestly say they achieved it again.
Dishonored 2: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Arkane Studio
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 11 November 2016
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
4 years on from the first installment, Dishonored 2 takes place on the isles of Karnaca, a much more vibrant setting than the original’s dreary Dunwall but, perhaps most notably, it was Corvo Attano’s home. This setting adds to the game in the form of streets and side lanes without ever becoming too much for the player. Exploration plays a much larger role in the sequel as you find yourself exploring the beautifully designed streets of Karnaca, ducking in and out of its houses and shops, discovering your own path and making your own way. In Dishonored 2 the player truly has freedom of where they want to go and the way in which they approach each meticulous mission. Of course, Dishonored 2 is not Skyrim. The game is not open-world yet you feel as though it is, the levels seamlessly link together in what proves to be a much more interesting and lore based story than the original title, planting seeds in the player’s mind that begin to unravel as you progress through the story.
Dishonored opened a lot of questions up to the community after its release, with heavily lore based mysteries blown wide open, “Who is the outsider?” “What caused these supernatural powers to manifest in the first place?” And yet Dishonored 2 not only answers these questions but goes above and beyond to ensure there are still many more yet to be solved. For obvious reasons, I cannot just dive into these questions without ruining anything for you but if you, like me, are someone that really wants to get involved in the story and learn the lore, then Dishonored 2 is a must play. However, this doesn’t mean the game is perfect by any stretch, in fact, I actually prefer the original over the sequel but for a reason that may be unexpected to most – originality.
And yes, I know I just spoke about how spectacular and striking the setting of the game was and it is but for me at least, Dishonored 2 falls short on its gameplay. At the beginning of the game you find yourself with the option to play as either of the games protagonists – Corvo Attano or Emily Kaldwin – with no introductory video or gameplay section accompanying either, players are left to make a blind choice based off of videos you may or may not have watched, significantly impacting how they will play the entire game. Not only that but for a reason unbeknownst to me players have no powers at the start, additionally, it appears that if you opt to play as Corvo then he has somehow lost the option to use them whereas Emily is just beginning to learn about them. Throughout the first level as mentioned you find yourself with no powers; having to sneak through a “Prison” taking out guards in order to escape, sound familiar? After this you are met by the outsider and (without spoilers) are essentially given the option to play with powers or without them entirely, surprisingly for my first playthrough I chose to play without powers on hard, this decision was based on my previous experience with the franchise and feeling I was equipped for the challenge.
I found myself surprisingly shocked at how easy it was to play a game whose predecessor relied so heavily on the use of at least one power, without even using a single one. My run lasted about 16 hours and during this time I struggled once maybe twice with one of these moments not coming until Jindosh’s Clockwork mansion at around the four-hour mark. My answer to anyone looking for a challenging stealth game, I would say Dishonored 2 is not it. During my first playthrough as Corvo I often wondered how easy each section would be if I only had powers, and boy was I right. After my first playthrough was up, I picked up again with Emily Kaldwin, Dishonored‘s new playable character, who is your main concern throughout the first entry. And whilst her power set is new and diverse it simply didn’t click with me; her “Far reach” is essentially a worse version of Blink, her “Domino” ability whilst fun and interesting to play with at first quickly diminishes into just a novelty that has run its course, and that for me at least was the theme with most of Emily’s powers – unnecessary novelties.
Just as with the first game, Dishonored 2‘s powers are all capable of working in tandem with one another; they truly feel like they belong in the world but all too often end up lacking freshness and feel a little pointless at times. My playthrough as Corvo was far more enjoyable with all of his original powers making a return in addition to some much-needed upgrades, and for me this was all that was needed, with Dishonored 2 improving upon an already fantastic game, and by playing through as Corvo that is exactly what you get, an improvement upon the original title with Emily playing second fiddle to Attano rather than the pair sharing an equal footing.
I would say that Dishonored‘s combat was one of its weakest elements and whilst it has been somewhat refined here, it has still not quite reached the heights it probably should be for a sequel. Much like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, another of Bethesda’s games, Dishonored 2’s combat works well for the best part but never feels overly fluid or natural although Arkane has introduced new game mechanics in Dishonored 2 for dispatching of enemies with non-lethal aerial takedowns, a manoeuvre that sees the player plummet from a height, landing on an enemy and knocking them out. A large percentage of enemies featured heavily throughout Dishonored and its DLC make a return for the sequel with the exception of Jindosh’s clockwork soldiers. While Dishonored‘s guards refused to batter an eyelid as players proceeded to destroy the games environment without worry, Arkane has improved upon them this time around with nearby guards capable of recognising changes made to the environment such as; broken windows, open doors and objects on the floor, ensuring Dishonored 2 feels more realistic than its predecessor, which is a nice change. This very introduction forces the player to think and act smarter than before; closing windows behind them, making sure they don’t knock something over while always covering up their tracks.
With players now able to find new ways around objects that require little to no effort, it really feels as if combat has taken somewhat of a backseat to movement with Dishonored 2. As Corvo or Emily, players find themselves darting in and out of buildings, climbing to great heights to avoid enemies, which in turn gives that impression of freedom and open terrain. Dishonored 2 is not a difficult stealth game to traverse but that does not mean it is not a fun experience or a well-crafted game, it is. Removing powers from the player was a first for the franchise and being able to see just how differently the game can be played when the player is without them was a refreshing experience. “How will the player disable this turbine”, “How will they get beyond this wall of light?” Dishonored 2 is can be a lot of fun to experience, in fact, it is a great game without taking too many risks or introducing too many changes to differ it from the original.
Visually, Dishonored 2‘s environment Karnaca is quite astounding with players able to look out upon the vista soaking up and taking in all the game has to offer. Houses, shops and side alleys thrive and gleam with life with vibrant NPC’s boasting unique dialogue throughout, and with side missions to be found simply by wondering around the locale Arkane have done a superb job of bringing Dishonored 2 to life, the games score is subtle but effective and at no point takes away anything from the gameplay but rather adds to its environments and unique settings. Overall, the visuals and soundtrack whilst not huge departures from Dishonored but are still fitting of Dishonored 2’s feel and setting.
Throughout my multiple sessions I encountered very few problems other than drops in framerate during two specific points – Clockwork Mansion and another mission in which you travel through time (I’ll avoid spoilers), while these drops were not minor ones, each passed after a short period of time. Although I’m confident the issues encountered won’t be a permanent feature with a patch likely to be introduced in the coming days, it made those segments of my playthrough an arduous task, and that is coming from a diehard fan of the franchise.
While Dishonored 2 might not have reached the level of its predecessor, it is still a fitting entry to the series, with moments of combat lingering in the shadows of a more movement related experience. Karnaca isn’t Dunwall, gone is the dreary, dull setting; replaced by thriving streets and vibrant NPC’s to interact with and picturesque views to behold. Although its gameplay falls short of expectations there is more than enough on offer for fans of the original and newcomers to enjoy, and the introduction of Emily Kaldwin as a playable character certainly attempts to bring balance to the game even if it fails to excite at times. Dishonored 2 doesn’t manage to recapture the magic of 2012 and yet it remains a great game, one worth exploring.
- Side missions and NPC's bring the setting to life
- Stunning art style unique to the franchise
- Explores the story much more than it's predecessor
- Emily fails to excite with her powerset and falls flat at times
- Performance issues on the Xbox One break up the gameplay
- Combat, whilst improved still could be more fluid