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Dishonored 2 Review | Out from the shadows

Dishonored 2 Review | Out from the shadows
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

There were a number of times during my Dishonored 2 playthrough where I just stopped in my tracks, taking in the juxtaposed world around me instead of sneaking around it. One such moment occurred when I hid around a corner, intent on listening to two street performers singing of Karnaca’s lost glory and current misery. The music was great, but as I looked down the street I became enthralled by the scene as a whole. The hints of lost luxury in the dilapidated buildings mixed with the glorious vistas in the distance, all overshadowed with a layer with depression and oppression. It was a powerful moment that captured how, regardless of social standing, life in Karnaca was unforgiving.

Then I saw a blood fly and immediately everything was ruined because I hate them SO DAMN MUCH.

That’s just one example of why I’ve enjoyed the world building in Dishonored 2, as Arkane Studios really seem to have double down in delivering an immersive experience. It’s not just the populous and the buildings, though; the books and notes scattered throughout the game build up such a well-painted picture that it is often on par with the texts found in The Elder Scrolls series. Hell, there were moments I felt Dishonored 2 surpassed TES in that area. Don’t get my wrong; the glorious revenge story and visceral action are still the heart of the game, but Arkane’s renewed focus on the little details encourages the player to explore the world they have crafted. The end result elevates Dishonored 2 from being just a good first person game to being one of the most engaging and satisfying experiences this year.

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Before we expand on my reasoning for this, let’s quickly summarise the story. Years have passed since Corvo Attano saved the now-empress Emily Kaldwin from a nefarious plot to overthrow the crown. Unfortunately, another usurper has now appeared and made things awkward for everyone, accusing the empress and her Royal Protector of murder. It’s up to the player to decide which hero to play as – Corvo or Emily – before slowly piecing together the latest conspiracy and restoring order. Or, you know, just slaughter everybody in their way. Either or.

Fans of the original game and its fantastic DLC will revel in the storytelling here, as there are multiple throwbacks to previous events (and a number of returning faces.) That said, those that skipped any of the previous content shouldn’t feel left out thanks to the way Dishonored 2 immerses the player in its world. I must admit that (without going into spoiler territory) I was a little disappointed in how the narrative handles the character selection, but as soon as I got into the actual game it didn’t matter. Not only does the overall story play out in a satisfying manner, but the choices that are available go beyond “kill / save this person.”

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This is because the narrative variations add replayability beyond just going for a high or low chaos ending. Yes, the morality system is back once again, encouraging a non-lethal run for the “best” ending. If the binary nature of it all bothered you before your opinion won’t change here. But I digress – the way small choices (or inaction) can change things really impressed me, especially when I discovered which opportunities I had missed after my first playthrough was over. That, combined with discovering backstory through books and audiographs means one playthrough really isn’t enough.

From a gameplay standpoint, former players should fall back into the swing of things easily regardless of their character choice. The only control additions come in the form of non-lethal aerial takedowns and counters, something I welcome as a player who likes to go for low-chaos runs but often gets spotted. Speaking of which, I found the frequency of being spotted is definitely greater in Dishonored 2 (especially on higher difficulties) proving that Arkane made good on their promise to make the game harder. There were even moments on my Normal difficulty run where I was overwhelmed by enemy forces who would then parry or side-step my attacks. It forced me to rethink my strategy once my character was no longer full of stab wounds.

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Thankfully, the game also has an unprecedented level of freedom when it comes to achieving an objective. Beyond the well designed the open levels, the weapon and power upgrades now have multiple paths allowing for specialisation in stealth or mass murder. Then there’s the environmental opportunities offering new ways to distract enemies, with the alarm clocks working in my favour a number of times. The end result creates a much more visceral experience regardless of playstyle.

As for the difference between the playable characters, Emily comes off as a crowd control / illusionist type while Corvo remains a time-stopping quick striker. Both certainly present different opportunities in taking out enemies, with their toolsets requiring some practice at first despite the odd similarity. For example, going from Blink’s straight-forward teleport to Far Reach’s artillery style projection will throw some players (pun intended) at first, but I found I was using it intuitively not long into my Emily run. By the end I was chaining together moves without a second thought, wreaking supernatural havoc upon anyone unfortunate to stand in my way.

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While I kicked off the review stating how good looking the game is, it bears repeating just how visually appealing Dishonored 2 is. From the stunning vistas overlooking Karnaca, to the overall art design throughout the city – the varied colour palette is a vibrant and refreshing change from the greys of Dunwall (which, admittedly, has had a bit of colour added to it as well.) However, two aspects of the art design stood out over everything – the facial animations during conversations (such as the way expression lines appear and fade naturally) and the absolutely glorious soundtrack. The overall delivery is amazing, especially during the Clockwork Mansion level (which manages to be a highlight despite its heavy use in pre-launch coverage.)

While there is so much that goes right for Dishonored 2 there have been a few points of concern, especially with the PC version. The launch was marred by poor performance and optimisation even on powerful rigs, and while the recent patch has addressed much of that (with my FPS now comfortably sitting in the 50-60 range) the game still refuses to work in Full-Screen mode. I have of course been able to play using Full-Screen-Windowed mode, but the fact I had to sort this setting outside of the game is a huge black mark that I can’t ignore. Tinkering to get a game working is more an annoyance than a deal breaker, but not all PC owners are as patient as I am. This is why Bethesda must do better in future (especially with their new review policy.)

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Of course, if you’re playing on a console the last paragraph won’t matter. Hell, let’s face it – those issues didn’t ruin my playthroughs either. Once the sneaking began and the targets were eliminated I didn’t want to stop until I had taken back the throne. Sure, you can argue that Dishonored 2 is more of the same, but the refinements and addition more than improve on its predecessor; it makes it an unmissable experience.

Pros:

  • Exceptional visual and audio design.
  • World building is on par (and occasionally better) than other Bethesda franchises.
  • The new / enhanced powers and tools make the gameplay visceral and satisfying.

Cons:

  • while PC optimisation has been patched, there’s still more work to be done.
  • The initial plot device involving the playable character choice was a little disappointing.
  • Arkane now have their work cut out for them making sure Prey is just as good.

The Short Version:

With exceptional world building, fantastic art design, and polished gameplay mechanics, Dishonored 2 builds upon is predecessor to deliver a game that encourages exploration and exudes replayability.

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Platform: PC (Tested), PS4, Xbox One

Developer: Arkane Studios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks