Also On: PS4, PC
Developer: Arkane Studios
Returning to the world of Dishonored felt like riding a bike. After the dozens of hours I spent creeping, stabbing and generally murdering my way through the streets of Dunwall it was a welcome feeling to return to the gameplay mechanics that made the original such a sleeper hit. There was no learning curve with this one, I fell right back into the world and immersed myself in its new environments as soon as I had loaded it up. The world of Dishonored 2 has much more character in it that the first, with lush greens and a much more heavily populated environment I really felt like I was part of another world. Seamless NPC interactions and random events only serve to heighten the feeling of immersion and draw you further in.
The biggest difference you will be thrust into immediately will be your choice of character. You can choose to play as Corvo (the protagonist from the original Dishonored), or Emily Kaldwin (your daughter). This in an important decision, as it will directly and greatly impact the next 8+ hours of gameplay that you will experience. The two characters have different powers that can change how you approach situations, but not so different that you must play as one or the other to suit how you want to play. Emily has plenty of good power options for both high and low chaos, as does Corvo.
These powers really are the catalyst that makes the game work. They are what set Dishonored 2 apart from other stealth/action games of the same type. Your powers also progress with you as you play and can end up being chained together in the late game to devastating effect. One of my personal favorites is using dopplegangers to rush into crowds and cause enemies to in essence kill themselves by swinging wildly into you. These are the highlights of Dishonored 2 and the drivers that help push you through the story without even realizing you are doing so. I found myself more than once off the beaten path and searching out some corner of the world to explore and stumbling upon what I was supposed to be doing to progress anyway. Dishonored 2 is not an “open world” game per se, but it manages to feel huge and relatively open due to its stellar level design and ever changing world.
Pacing is huge in a game like this. If the developers rush you along and don’t include enough for you to stop and explore, it feels cheap and short. On the other hand if they include too much you can get overwhelmed and lost in the world and never progress through the story enough to incentivize you to complete it. Dishonored 2 gets this right and manages to strike a fine balance between the two types.
At the end of my first playthrough as Corvo I felt satisfied, like I had just eaten a good meal but not so much that I felt stuffed and bloated. It was good enough however that the next day I decided I would begin a second playthrough, this time as Emily. I played it through to completion again and honestly felt like I was playing a second game. The new powers, avenues of attack and dialogue made it feel like a completely different experience without sacrificing any of the quality that was there to begin with.
The 10 chapters of Dishonored 2’s main story are like little games within the game. Each level feels unique and can stand on its own legs, while being good enough as part of the whole story not to feel separate. There is enough content if you have limited time and can only tackle a chapter or 2 at a time, but they flow well enough that you can polish the game off in one sitting if you choose. The replay value is due largely in part to these well designed, fully fleshed out chapters.
My biggest issue with this game is the technical performance. I played through entirely on Xbox One so can only speak for that console, but framerate dips and some seriously slow load and transition times plagued the majority of my time with Dishonored 2. Every time I would try to pause my game it would slow way down and freeze for a moment before finally being able to pull up my pause screen. These may seem like trivial complaints, but coupled with the framerate dips and some of the clipping issues it stands out at the end of the day bringing the whole experience down a few notches.
As a whole, Dishonored 2 is great, improving on every aspect that made the first such a hit. I think one of the biggest things that make it seem like less of a success though is the perception and anticipation it had. Dishonored was a new IP and didn’t have and real expectations on it when it launched, so its stellar gameplay and critical success came as a welcome surprise. Dishonored 2 however had the high bar set for it already, and it reached it without overshooting it. It was just as good as the original, and had some great improvements that set it apart but at the end of the day felt marginally better than the amazing original. This is by no means a bad thing and is a definite testament to the skill and passion the team at Arkane have in this industry.