You’re my one Dunwall.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: November 11, 2016
Copy provided by publisher
The original Dishonored remains one of my favorite games of the last generation, a veritable “game of the year” from 2012. Versatile gameplay and excellent worldbuilding made for a fascinating revenge tale, unfolding in some of the best environments committed to code.
Dishonored 2 aims to recapture what made Dishonored so brilliant for its time, and it does so by retreading the exact same ground and doing everything the original did in a slightly less interesting way.
The problem with this sequel is revealed almost as soon as it starts, sprinting headlong through an introductory sequence to hurriedly set up yet another revenge plot with barely any pacing.
Empress Emily Kaldwin is briefly introduced as a ruler with a stereotypical disinterest in ruling before she’s suddenly – and I mean suddenly – deposed by a secret aunt and that’s the end of that.
Everybody is pretty much fine with a former empress’ sister being next in line to throne – without proof – and either Emily or her father Corvo Attano are instantly marked as a fugitive and must secretly eliminate those who plotted against them, just like Corvo did fifteen years prior. Sort of like that Vacation not-remake with Ed Helms.
While there are narrative foundations used to justify Delilah Copperspoon’s miraculous usurpation of the throne – a touch of black magic, a series of deaths intended to make Emily look like a murderer – they’re weak justifications used as flimsy handwaves.
Dishonored 2 simply wants to hurtle toward the formula that served its forebear so well. No time to spare for characterization, history, or a substantial setup. Let’s get straight to avengin’ stuff!
The consequent story is about as threadbare, with a series of antagonists introduced and disposed of with little fanfare. While the original Dishonored provided a real rogue’s gallery of nefarious conspirators who ruled over memorable locations, its sequel has a series of flat knockoffs.
Dishonored worked hard to make you hate its coterie of conspirators. In Dishonored 2, the villains’ personalities barely shine through – they’re names to be crossed off a list, and that’s that.
Aside from the narcissistic genius Kirin Jindosh and his transforming clockwork mansion, not a person or place is anywhere near as evocative as those encountered in Corvo’s initial adventure. There is no House of Pleasure, no Lady Boyle’s Last Party, nothing truly inspiring throughout Dishonored 2‘s rote chapters.
Similarly, the methods of disposal are not as varied this time around. While Dishonored often provided several inventive methods of assassination including the bizarrely crueler nonlethal route, the methods of murder are distinctly less inventive this time around. There’s still a nonlethal options, but nothing quite so great as setting up poisonings and the like.
I pity anybody trying to go nonlethal, by the way.
Three of my targets were killed in ways beyond my control. The first one’s nonlethal method glitched, rendering me unable to activate the device intended to trap him. The second one killed herself somehow. I still don’t know how she died, I simply got a message saying I’d killed her and that was that.
I stumbled upon her corpse much later.
The third had a body double but it didn’t matter – both died during the course of my playing through the level normally, rewiring security devices and using Emily’s Doppelganger ability. One was fried by an electric pylon, the other cut down instantly by one of my magic clones. I had no idea they were in the vicinity, they just ran themselves into trouble.
Fortunately I’d stopped caring about the game’s morality system by that point and was just eager to get the damn game finished with.
Dishonored 2, I must stress, is not a bad game. It’s a decent enough production with all the familiar trappings of its predecessor, but it suffers considerably when directly compared.
Emily and Corvo have access to supernatural abilities, as well as a host of weapons and gadgets that can either stun or kill the many enemies on patrol. It’s all fun to use, and the environments themselves are well crafted, full of secret items, sidequests, and hidden lore that may never be discovered.
The world changes depending on the player’s actions. High chaos play requires lots of upfront lethality – open murder, direct combat, bodies in the streets. This makes characters nastier and the world more prone to infestation by vicious bloodflies that feed on corpses and swarm their victims.
Low chaos is achieved by remaining undetected, stealthing through the streets, knocking opponents unconscious, and finding alternative means of eliminating Delilah’s allies.
As always, there are multiple paths throughout each level, and a huge degree of flexibility in how one approaches a problem.
It’s fun to use crossbows and snipe targets silently, while personal combat is hectic and full of gratuitously gratifying execution maneuvers. Depending on how Emily or Corvo are kitted out, it can be a real treat to just bust a door in with a pistol and blade, laying waste to panicking soldiers. It’s also just as sweet when taking them down unawares and sneaking like a pro.
This is all well and good, but Dishonored 2 is one of those sequels that retain a degree of quality thanks vastly to the groundwork laid out last time. New additions to the game are nothing to write home about, while any fun I had with the title is the exact same fun I could have had replaying Dishonored.
I honestly wish I hadn’t picked Emily to play through the campaign with. While it makes much more narrative sense for her to take the reins, the deposed empress’ suite of abilities is so much more boring than Corvo’s.
She gets her own (inferior) version of Blink, and some other inherited powers like dark vision, but her unique powers are nowhere near as fun as summoning swarms of rats to eat bad guys. She certainly gets nothing so cool as promised in Dishonored 2‘s deceptive announcement trailer.
Emily can create shadowy figures that mesmerize a number of opponents, chain people together like voodoo dolls so any damage incurred by one affects the others, and create doppelgangers that can either distract or attack their targets. While these powers can be combined to pull off some unique tricks, none of them felt satisfactory to use, too passive to hold my attention.
I’ll admit it’s fun, albeit briefly, to use Emily’s shadowy tendrils to snatch and pull victims for quick kills. Not fun enough to make up for everything else.
It took little time at all for me to stick with the efficient -if crude – ordinary weaponry. It would have been better to opt for the selectable “no powers” mode, if only to avoid the mind-numbing hunt for Runes and Bonecharms.
Every level is absolutely filled with Runes and Bonecharms, the former necessary to upgrade powers and the latter conferring passive bonuses when equipped. As with the original Dishonored, players use a magic steampunk heart to see where these items are on the map. Unlike the original, however, they’re a pain in the arse to reach.
I think maybe half the time I spent with this game was wasted attempting to get them all. Knowing exactly where they are is often less helpful than it is frustrating, as so many of them are found in locations with fiendishly hidden entry points, or secured by solving puzzles so obtuse they sometimes don’t even present themselves as puzzles.
Dishonored could be a drag at times when trying to locate a particularly well hidden Rune, but Dishonored 2 ramps up the aggravation and makes it so much more consistent. Here, they seem to serve primarily as a means of padding out the game’s runtime by a significant margin.
To say Dishonored 2 is glitchy is to put it mildly.
Aside from the aforementioned assassination target assassinating herself, I’ve had to reload checkpoints multiple times due to being trapped in walls after cutscenes or simply while swimming to a level’s exit. It’s not like the game even looks all that good to make up for it – artistically well realized, but technically lacking.
At least it’s got the best voice acting Bethesda can buy, boasting celebrities such as Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Sam Rockwell – all wasted on lifeless and poorly conceived roles.
I take no pleasure in passing a harsh sentence on Dishonored 2, especially with so many other critics seemingly in love with the thing. I state once again for the record that I adored Dishonored, and I wanted this series to continue feeling as fresh and inventive as it did when it began. I still do.
Dishonored 2, however, feels like a tiresome retread – enjoyable enough when it sticks to the old script, but frustrating in its disappointment when it does attempt anything new. With a rushed story, colorless characters, and total misuse of a whole new playable character, the best I can say is that I didn’t hate it.
I didn’t particularly like it, but I didn’t hate it.
Dishonored deserves more than that.