Carrying on in your Father’s Footsteps
Emily Kaldwin or Corvo Attano – This is the first of many important choices that will drastically change the way you play Dishonored 2. Will you take no prisoners and deal with those who wronged you lethally, or adopt a more passive approach in the pursuit of justice? Is your assassin supernaturally inclined, or will you focus more on the weapons in your arsenal to reach your target? Side with a local gang, or join up with the Overseers? In my roughly 30 hours of play, I can confirm that no matter my choice in method, Dishonored 2 allows for every play style to be fully realised, and feel so good in the process. It’s just a shame then that for all that the game does right, Dishonored 2’s biggest flaws come from a lacklustre story and too much hand holding.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a returning veteran, or if this is your first time playing Dishonored; the game does a great job at bringing you up to speed regarding the events that have transpired in the 15 years that have passed since the canonical ending of the first game. But alas, just as you are getting used to being the ruler of your empire, we are swiftly introduced to the main antagonist of our tale. Delilah Copperspoon. I won’t spoil what happens in this first confrontation, but suffice to say things don’t go well for Emily and Corvo. This time round Dunwall acts as the tutorial level for you to get to grips with the world and discover how you want to adapt your play style, providing plenty opportunities to teach you and let you experiment with the basics of stealth, combat, hidden paths and more. A flustered escape and a quick descent from Dunwall tower, down into the streets below passing by guards unnoticed or killing everyone in your way and you’ll meet your first ally in the game, a sea captain by the name of Meagan Foster who commands your soon-to-be base of operations, her decrepit old ship the ‘Dreadful Whale’. It is from here that your journey begins for real; together you journey south to a land called Karnacca, the nefarious and corrupt playground where this sequel is set.
Speaking of Karnacca, this “Jewel of the Empire” is vastly different to the first game’s location Dunwall, and that is a great thing. There was nothing wrong with the initial setting but now everything is new and fresh once more; be it the sunny climate, brand new characters, the frequent sandstorms or even the new plague you’ll have to contest with, the blood flies. More on that in a second. All of these aesthetic and game-play changes not only continue to build on from the strong foundations of the first game, but also add enough interesting tweaks and changes that ultimately makes this southern land one of the absolute stand out new additions to this franchise. Now back to the Blood Flies I mentioned earlier – these oversized mosquitoes are the scourge of Karnacca, killing and infesting those who mistakenly wander near. While not always a direct threat to the player, and a few on their own pose no threat, they succeed most when they are in a large swarm and are being utilised as an environmental challenge forcing you to either think fast, or get the hell out of there as soon as you possibly can. Oh, and if you do decide to take them on, make sure you destroy all the nests in the area otherwise they will keep on hatching, meaning that things can soon get out of hand. This new epidemic is not only a great addition to the game, but an excellent continuation on from the rat plagues of Dunwall. The Blood Flies aren’t the only new threat added in for the player to contest with here however, and I won’t spoil what other ones await you, but each addition feels uniquely suited to the new region and its inhabitants.
Now let’s talk game-play; it’s fantastic. As mentioned previously, no matter your play style Dishonored 2 succeeds at making every choice of power, route or lethality feel not only viable, but great to utilise. Climbing atop a building only to jump off and plunge a knife through an unsuspecting guard below feels just as rewarding as possessing a gang member and using them to gain access into their stronghold; the original Dishonored was all about letting the player decide for themselves how they want to handle a particular challenge with the tools at their disposal and it’s great to see the developer really double down on one of the major aspects that made the first game so enjoyable. The satisfaction of playing this game is only doubled by the impeccably designed levels you are able to use your toolbox in.
It’s clear from the very beginning that each level has been meticulously designed down to the smallest detail, with hidden paths, collectables, side objectives and more laid out in such a way that truly rewards exploration and creative problem solving. One side quest in particular required me to infiltrate an Overseers stronghold and retrieve a person of interest, the reward for which was having the electricity to one of the many monorails dotted around Karnacca being switched off, allowing me to sneak past a rather large group of hostiles with relative ease; a much safer and more stealthier route to my goal. Each level is designed in this way and it truly is a remarkable feat of game design how malleable your approach to any given challenge can be. But there is more to the design of this game than just well laid out levels; for each of the 9 chapters, the game also throws at you a unique challenge, usually based on whoever of Delilah’s second in command are present in that area, whether it be an environmental hazard, a particular enemy being more prominent or some other alternative that adds another level of difficulty to proceedings. There is a level where sporadic sandstorms blast the environment and limit the vision of both you and your enemies for a few seconds every couple of minutes, making the use of riskier manoeuvres more viable, or how about the standout level from game shown in debut trailer; the ‘Clockwork Mansion’. With walls that rise out of the ground creating or even blocking off pathways, rooms that have three plus configurations and ceilings that can open up revealing enemies just waiting to ambush you; the clockwork mansion is the pinnacle of the design philosophy held so dearly throughout this game that it will require you to take everything you have learned prior to this encounter to survive. Oh, and did I mention the abundance of Clockwork Guards? This new enemy type will ensure that even if you are able to traverse through the mansion, you won’t be able to rest easy lest one of those mechanical soldiers rounds the corner on you and decides to make your day take a significant turn for the worse.
Unfortunately, not every part of this game is as perfect as the game-play or level design and that is where the story takes a few hits. The plot itself is a fairly by the numbers revenge affair with the entire goal being centred around Emily or Corvo’s quest to return to Dunwall and reclaim their throne. And while Delilah Copperspoon is a great main villain posing a true threat to both the main characters, it is the antagonist’s second in command that are a little lacklustre. They are all entertaining in their own right, but they just don’t add much to the overall plot of the game other than just serving as the next target for the player to deal with. Each of them are realised well enough with their own stipulations and reasons for helping the game’s adversary, but aside from their own unique and personalised ways on how to take them out of the equation, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by their presence in the story bar a couple of stand out moments. And that’s a massive shame, because with game-play this good, an equally as complex plot with a few twists and turns would have been an absolute delight.
My only other problem with the game is how despite the inherent encouragement to ‘play your way’ and to discover or miss things entirely on your own whim; Dishonored 2 is far too often happy to hold your hand in various situations taking away from what should be a serendipitous moment. Let me be clear, this isn’t a problem with how the game handles the majority of the information it gives out, but rather to do with its handling of tertiary objectives and collectables. For example in each level there will be at least one safe that you can unlock by searching around and finding the hidden combination. This on its own serves as quite a good challenge in couple of chapters, but in almost every other level, the game will make sure you either hear, read or stumble upon the information by some other-worldly force. When this is happening multiple times per level, it starts to feel a little restrictive and less free, and in a game all about forging your own path and discovering secrets based on your own pedigree, being drip fed this information goes against everything that the game stands for. And while this is a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things; for instance there is a door in the middle of the game that can only be opened by figuring out a rather difficult riddle that really feels incredibly rewarding when you unlock it, the overindulgence of information is unfortunately present for most off the game’s secondary challenges.
With that all being said, my time spent invested in the world and mechanics of Dishonored 2 has been an absolute blast for the majority of the game; and while there are a few issues with the lacklustre plot and how the game doles out information, this next step for the franchise pushes the overall story in an interesting direction and poses new questions. It is the unbearably close fights and the edge of my seat stealth sections that I will remember so fondly about this game, and that legitimately proves that great level design and fantastic moment to moment game-play can more than make up for an underwhelming plot. I am excited to see where the franchise goes from here, and I hope now that the developers focus on the plot and story for the next game and aim to surpass the truly brilliant work they have created here. This is game-play perfected, I just wish that the story was on the same level.
9.1 / 10
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