For the past week I’ve been lurking in the shadows, biding my time, and planning how to enact my revenge against a treacherous regime. I’ve killed, sneaked, stalked and planned my way through meticulously designed levels growing more invested in my character’s predicament with each passing moment.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the original Dishonored launched I found myself being sucked in by it’s lovingly crafted universe and lore, but I have to admit that the game just couldn’t hook me. It was not that it was a bad game, on the contrary, the game was lauded as one of the best games of 2012, I just wasn’t finding myself getting invested in the game (even though I tried really hard to like it). So when I heard that Dishonored 2 was being released and that it included a brand new protagonist, Emily Kaldwin (the little girl from the original game), I just didn’t find myself being filled with excitement. Well, as the game’s release date neared and more was revealed about the game I became more and more intrigued by the prospect of delving back into the world of Dishonored.
So did Dishonored 2 manage to do what the original couldn’t? The short answer is, hell yeah.
In Dishonored 2, we find that Emily Kaldwin, under the guidance of Corvo (the original game’s protagonist), has blossomed into a great Empress. But being an Empress has left Emily bored and longing for a life filled with adventure (It seems ruling an Empire just isn’t enough for some people). This, however, changes when a mysterious woman called Delilah arrives on the scene claiming to be Emily’s slain mother’s sister and the rightful successor to the throne of Dunwall. With Delilah’s coup in full swing and all hell breaking loose, players are given the choice to play as either Corvo or Emily.
Although the main story seems to follow in the same footsteps as the original, a coup that forces the protagonist to fight to regain their rightful throne. It’s how the story evolves and the weird, interesting and even frightening characters that we get to meet along the way that makes this tale of revenge such an interesting one. Although more character development for both Emily and Corvo would have been preferred I did find myself getting invested in their quest for revenge and caring for their cause.
Both Emily and Corvo have their own specific abilities, and each feels unique and different enough in a way that makes a second playthrough a must. Corvo still has the same suite of abilities that he had in the original game such as pausing time, possessing rodents and blinking, while Emily brings some new fresh abilities into play. These abilities include mesmerize, that allows players to hypnotize enemies, shadow walk, that changes Emily into a living shadow able to dispatch enemies quickly, and my favourite, domino, which allows players to link the life force of up to 4 enemies together, this means if one is eliminated the rest will follow suit (just like toppled dominoes).
Of course, Corvo and Emily also have access to all manner of devious traps and weapons (my favorite being the Spring wire razor trap), and while melee combat might allow you to take out one or two enemies, it’s only by combining careful planning and using everything at your disposal that you will prevail.
An example of this is linking 4 enemies together using Emily’s Domino ability and then, luring one of the linked enemies into a Spring wire razor trap using the Doppelganger ability that creates a copy of Emily. Now sit back and watch as you take out 4 enemies without much effort. This combination of god-like powers and a powerful arsenal of weapons only work because enemies tend to be much more of a threat than in the original game (especially the scary and quite deadly clockwork soldiers).
One or two enemies might be a pushover but the odds can quickly stack against the player if they find themselves swarmed by a bunch of guards or even two of the aforementioned clockwork soldiers (damn, those guys are scary). Adding to the challenge is the fact that the enemy AI has been updated extensively. Guards will now investigate the slightest noise or notice items that have gone missing. Figuring out how to best eliminate the treat or quietly sneak by is what makes Dishonored 2 so much fun.
The protagonist’s unique abilities combined with the absolutely exquisite level design makes for a game that challenges you not by forcing you into a specific play style but by allowing you to take on each objective as you wish.
Now Emily and Corvo don’t level up as most characters in games do by gaining experience. Instead, they can upgrade their abilities and themselves by using runes and bone charms. These are scattered throughout each level, and finding them can be both fun and challenging at times (oh, and I need to mention addictive). Equipping bone charms gives Emily and Corvo certain benefits, such as enhanced defense or the ability to move quicker through the environment. Some of these also have negative effects which could outweigh their benefits. Deciding which bone charms to use helps players further customize their character to suit their playstyle.
I mostly chose to equip charms that increased my characters attack and defense as I preferred going in guns a blazing (mainly because I tend to suck badly at sneaking around in the dark). In no time I found myself becoming obsessed with finding each of these runes and bone charms on every level and spend quite a fair amount of my playtime looking for them. Combing collectibles with something that actually affords your character’s benefits is a great way in which to entice players to explore their amazing surroundings.
While on the subject of level design and surroundings, the new city that the game takes place in called Karnaca, a beautiful landscape dotted with interesting landmarks and a labyrinth of buildings. What I quickly realized while playing Dishonored 2 is that there is a purpose behind each and every element that is placed in a level. Each building, sewer, bridge, and pipe offers players unique opportunities in which to traverse their environments, dispatch their enemies or sneak unseen through the level. Each level bombards the player with a slew of fresh new ideas and mechanics, such as a Clockwork Mansion filled with moving rooms (and those pesky Clockwork soldiers). I found myself becoming excited at the prospect of what each new level would offer. Karnaca truly is a playground that allows players to freely explore not only the environment but their set of unique abilities as well.
Dishonored 2 is a game that shines when players take the time to experiment using their surroundings and abilities. I find that a lot of games these days claim to allow players freedom in how they approach each aspect of a game. This usually means a large open sandbox world (which could feel intimidating). Dishonored 2 however, promises the same amount of freedom, but without the overwhelmingly large open world. The game delivers by having levels that are each intricately designed and more focused. Discovering interesting ways in which to solve these levels were some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced in a game in quite a while.
As with the original Dishonored each level is smothered in atmosphere and lore. Players can, if they so choose, learn more about the world of Disordered by reading the myriad of notes scattered across the levels, eavesdropping on some of the conversations or just by taking the time to explore their environment. In doing this, players may discover side-missions that could reward them greatly. There were many occasions where listening to conversations opened up side quests or objectives for me to complete which I could have easily missed if I didn’t take the time to listen. Dishonored 2 weaves an incredible lore for those who take the time to stop, look and listen. It’s a game that understands that sometimes it’s good to stop and smell the roses, and man does these roses smell good.
In a game that is built on the foundation of choice, I found the mostly black and white morality system a bit of a letdown. Slaying too many foes results in the city being consumed with chaos, while being merciful leads to a happier ending. I found this a little jarring, even though in the context of the narrative does it makes sense. Having so much choice being boiled down to a simple black or white ending felt a little underwhelming. I also found that the voice acting could be hit or miss at times. In a game that prides itself on the universe, it weaves, having the voice acting not always be spot on does detract from the experience.
Visually, Dishonored 2 employs the same watercolor artistic style of the original, updated with next-gen shininess. In a market dominated by realistic visuals (that often wanders into the uncanny valley), it is refreshing to find a game that takes a more impressionistic approach to its visuals. The environments can range from buildings bathed in the brightly lit sun with pops of color here and there to darker more somber areas. I instantly found myself falling in love with the game’s art design.
In the end, Dishonored 2 succeeds because it doesn’t hold the player’s hand or force them into a specific play style. Dishonored 2 succeeds because it offers players freedom (or as William Wallace would say Freeeedooom!). Freedom in how the choose to traverse the environment, complete their objective and build their character. Dishonored 2 is a game filled with detailed lore, exquisite level design and some really great kick-ass powers. This is a game bursting with possibilities and discovering them is up to you.