by Graham Taylor
Based on the PS4 version
Sequels are an interesting topic. They need to be similar enough to other entries in the series so that they can work with pre-established stories and mechanics. But they also have to change enough up to keep the franchise from going stale and improve on areas that need it. It’s a fine line to walk. At first glance Dishonored 2 seems to be more the same than it is different. But this isn’t inherently a bad thing. The first was met with a lot of praise, and to that degree, similarity is a boon.
It’s Happened Again
[The story] sets the stage for a gauntlet of interesting levels the player will then progress through.
The first Dishonored was an action/stealth game about taking back power from a tyrant who seized the throne and framed you for murder. Dishonored 2, on the other hand, is an action/stealth game about taking back power from a tyrant who seized the throne and framed you for many murders. It is true that both games share the same overall plotline, but in all honesty, the story was never the highlight of the series. It sets the stage for a gauntlet of interesting levels the player will then progress through.
Emily Kaldwin, the recent ex-empress, is the newcomer to the series, fighting to reclaim her city from Delilah Copperspoon, who debuted in the DLC for the first game. Corvo Attano also returns as Emily’s father and the second playable character, alongside Emily herself. Despite being able to play as either of them, the story proceeds exactly the same for both of them, except for obvious changes in dialogue, and different supernatural powers granted to them. Just as in the first game, depending on how much chaos the player causes and certain choices made, the game world and ending will be affected, encouraging multiple playthroughs.
The characters themselves are not the main event though. Exceptions do exist, most notably Megan Foster, this installments boatman, and a few of the assassination targets. Other than that, even the protagonists, who are both voiced this time around, aren’t even that compelling. While their conversations with characters and monologues in cutscenes do add another dimension to their personality, especially the once-mute Corvo, the flavor lines they spout throughout levels range from forgettable, to wildly out of place. These moments are rather few and far between, but overall they could have been implemented much better.
The Jewel of the South
Music bleeds into the streets alongside the actual, literal flowing blood…
One of the many strengths of the first game was the setting and world building, yet another similarity shared with the sequel. Taking its unique artstyle and updating it for this console generation, Arkane paints a beautifully fantastic landscape that also manages to feel like a real place. In contrast to the dark, dreary alleyways of Dunwall, players are this time taken to the bright, colorful shores of Karnaca. While the first city was very much inspired by northern European architecture and Victorian imagery, Karnaca takes cues from southern European nations, mainly Italy and Portugal. And here is where Dishonored 2 starts to distance itself from its predecessor. The atmosphere is absolutely brimming with life; the city is filled with civilians going about their day. Music bleeds into the streets alongside the actual, literal flowing blood, and while the population is still under an oppressive regime, the land retains a colorful beauty to it. Even Karnaca’s plague, an infestation of “bloodflies” are bright, even if grotesque.
The game allows player to enjoy these moments too, as they are free to explore the city without needing to sneak or stab, with the exception of restricted areas. As players progress towards their objective, obviously security becomes stricter and challenge starts to present itself, but many of the missions begin in a very subdued manner, allowing players to meander about, collecting power ups and other collectables while enjoying the sights.
The level design is also superb, with many unique playgrounds for players to navigate: a labyrinthian manor and a Hollywood-esque palace are but two of the standout locations. Many even feature unique gameplay mechanics, such one area outside of a mine which kicks up dust storms every now and then, obscuring both player and enemy vision. The previously mentioned Clockwork Mansion takes this above and beyond though, with the entire layout of the building changing with the flip of a switch. This is perhaps one of the most unique levels in recent gaming, and is quite the spectacle to behold.
Every level also gives numerous options to reach an objective: stealthily, loud, lethal or non-lethal. Each one can be complete without being seen, without killing anyone, or even without using either of the protagonists’ paranormal skills. This speak volumes, as levels are open enough to give players freedom, but also tight enough to be played in any playstyle.
Restoring Your Honor
The sheer number of options the player is given is almost overwhelming, but it also provides a multitude of escape routes, just in case everything doesn’t go according to plan.
Speaking of playstyle, Dishonored 2 offers up a buffet of ways to play. Both characters have a unique arsenal of both magical powers and mechanical devices. Emily leans more towards a sneaky, misdirectional approach, and has the ability to turn into a shadow, mesmerize hostiles, create a doppelganger of herself to confuse opponents, or even link multiple NPCs’ fates; if one enemy were to die, so would the linked ones. Alternatively, if they were to become unconscious or stunned, the linked ones would also share these states.
Corvo’s repertoire returns from the first game, albeit somewhat expanded. He can possess beings, manipulate time, summon swarms of rats and create blasts of wind. Both do have a movement skill as well, though they differ drastically. The one power they do share is dark vision, which lets players see through walls and highlight key objects.
Both characters are also able to construct their own bone charms, which serve as passive boosts. By breaking down single charms with one power, players can combine them into powerful multi-ability charms, at the risk of corrupting them and incurring a negative effect. Then can also break down charms to create runes, which can be used to upgrade their other abilities.
In addition to all of these new features, Dishonored 2 improves on the original in that there are more ways to nonlethally handle a situation without the use of powers. Drop assassinations can also be used to knock out enemies, and even after engaging in combat, assailants can be punched and then knocked unconscious. This doesn’t trivialize the temptation of killing however, as taking a pacifist approach takes longer, and often time leaves players open to attack. Slitting a throat is much quicker than choking someone, and this provides a great dilemma between quick or clean.
Overall, the game feels very smooth and much more defined. It feels good to glide around, chaining spells together to move swiftly and eliminate targets. The sheer number of options the player is given is almost overwhelming, but it also provides a multitude of escape routes, just in case everything doesn’t go according to plan.
Even with all this, Dishonored 2 still finds a way to improve even more than the original. Quality of life changes, such as a quick save and quick load option help the most perfectionist of players. In game stat tracking, which provides details like enemies killed and times spotted on demand for the current level, or for the overall playthrough are a godsend for those looking to beat the game completely ghost and/or non lethally.
Of course, there are still a few technical hangups. Frame rates can stutter in certain settings, and become downright dismal in on particular level, where the player has the ability to travel and see into the past or present. What is easily one of the best designed levels is brought down by the amount of strain on the system. There are also a few annoying audio glitches, the biggest one being that the sound effect for choking out a guard sometimes persists for extraordinarily long periods. Sluggish menus also do not add to the experience.
Overall, Dishonored 2 builds and improves on everything that was set by its predecessor. On its own, it is a fantastic game, but as a sequel, it did everything that was expected of it and more. Despite a few flaws, the improved mechanics, expanded lore and overall game fixes add up to a game that blows an already incredible first game out of the water.
All Images From: In-game Screenshots and Shinigaming
+ Incredible level design and vibrant setting
+ Wide variety of powers
+ Huge replayability value
- Meh story and okay characters
- Technical issues
Ryan is a Music Media Production major who wrote the first ever Byte music review and has been involved with nearly every other section at some point. He is also an event planner at Village Green Records and the primary booking coordinator for the store’s outdoor concerts.