Reviews// Dishonored 2

Posted 1 Dec 2016 17:19 by
A few years ago, David Turners, Sean Bell (also of The Computer Game Show) and I went to a developer session at Eurogamer for the first Dishonored game. I knew very little about the game prior to this event and came out of the session with a rather negative impression of it. Whilst David and Sean spoke effusively about the game mechanics that had been demonstrated, I felt empty. All I had seen were new and more inventive ways to inflict death, the world the designers had created left me cold.

Certainly, it was interesting, but surely all that artistry could have been used for something more interesting than yet another first-person game focussed primarily on assuming the role of a man bent on murderous revenge, as usual. I was ridiculed for this opinion - quite rightly, as it turned out.

The first Dishonored game was far more interesting than that developer session had led me to believe. Certainly, the game mechanics did allow for a player to express their violent side creatively, but that was not the only way to play. Non-violence was also possible and the world created by Arkane Studios was rich and deep. The game, although not without a few problems, was largely superb, with a morality system that determined the kind of style the player wished to adopt. My initial thoughts about Dishonored were wrong, my first impressions of Dishonored 2 were also not entirely positive and I hoped that this time I would also be wrong.

In contrast to the first game, Dishonored 2 provides the player with a choice of character. After a brief tutorial and a bloody coup, the player can choose to play as either the protagonist of the original Dishonored, Corvo Attano, or his daughter, the current Empress of Dunwall, Emily.

The motivation for choosing either character depends more on personal preference rather than any great impact on the story. The abilities granted to Emily perhaps encourage a more stealth based approach to play. Corvo's skill-set is largely carried over from the first game and seems more suited for 'high chaos,' the game's definition of what is essentially the most violent way to play.

Unlike its predecessor, Dishonored 2 mostly takes place away from the coup that has occurred in Dunwall. Corvo or Emily retreat to the city of Karnaca to investigate murders undertaken by somebody dubbed 'the Crown Killer,' who appears to be connected to the wider coup plot. Dishonored 2's story is hardly confusing, but it does feel rather weak and the motivation for revenge or redemption is not particularly convincing, partly because the main villain is so clearly evil.

Dishonored 2 plays with the idea of morality by judging your actions as you play. However, because the enemy is so villainous making choices feels less like a deliberate moral choice and more like a matter of expediency.

Story niggles aside, the world created by Arkane for Dishonored 2 builds successfully on the very solid foundations of the first game. Greater context is provided by books and newspapers throughout the world, though I found these to be a bit of an unwanted distraction. The volume of literature to read is vast and sifting through what is relevant and/or interesting can be quite a task.

This feels like a bit of a misstep as although I am sure that this was intended to provide the playing world with more depth, it feels instead like a bit of an unnecessary chore. The world is interesting and detailed enough without constant written reminders about different aspects of the plot, politics or culture. Although these can be ignored they sometimes contain vital pieces of information which means that the player feels pressure to examine everything. It was this aspect I found most troubling about Dishonored 2. The amount of information communicated to the player at the start of the first mission is quite overwhelming. Upon landing in Karnaca my field of view was filled with numerous icons and objectives; so many that I was not sure where to begin. I found my first encounters stressful because I was not sure if I was fulfilling all the objectives that were needed. However, after a few missions I learned to let go.

Dishonored 2 is at its best when the player is able to cut loose and forge their own path. Each mission provides multiple routes to completion, either by using stealth or by cutting throats.

These choices are particularly enjoyable because the player is able to mix up these two options. For those who have a lot of patience the game can be finished without resorting to lethal force. For those with rather less patience, like myself, the way in which the player is able to manipulate the environment, people and objects to his or her advantage is really something special.

The steady accumulation and upgrade of skills throughout the game gave me feelings of empowerment I had yet to experience this year. By the end I felt confident that I could handle any situation because of the way in which the game had encouraged me to master the game mechanics by experimentation. The differing environments aid this and are some of the most creative I have come across, particularly the extremely memorable clockwork mansion.

Although the story is perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the game, it certainly does have some interesting points to make about power and embracing darkness in the final third of the game that I won't spoil here. These points take on a new meaning when the style which the player employs is taken into consideration, particularly if the more violent 'high chaos' approach has been taken.

Despite some early misgivings about the way in which the world is initially presented to the player, my experience with the game was extremely positive. No other game this year has made me feel as empowered as Dishonored 2. Although the story may slightly break engagement, the world is so solidly constructed, enjoyable to traverse and interact with, that criticism of the game feels mean-spirited. I sincerely hope that Arkane returns to the Empire of the Isles, although perhaps from a slightly different perspective. Tales of revenge feel a little played out and the world they have created could support so much more. I am excited to see where they go next.

+ The environment allows for a lot of experimentation.
+ Excellent pacing.
+ Real feelings of empowerment.

- Story is rather predictable.
- Contextual information is a little overwhelming.
- Moral choices feel too binary.

SPOnG Score: 9/10
Games: Dishonored 2


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