Revenge is a dish best served slow, steady and mainly hiding in the shadows until you get things figured out.
My experience with Dishonored starts with the PC, which is a weird place to start for a fellow like me, as I’m not a PC elitist (not yet, at least). I caught it on a Steam holiday deal one day and never looked back. What I found with the original title was a unique style of gameplay, animation and a heavy amount of linear-ness to the world. Nonetheless, the game was neat enough to stick with me and good enough to feel like I had gotten my money’s worth. Also, it was enough to get me excited for the sequel.
Fast-forward a few years and Arkane Studios releases their follow-up and they seemed to have improved a few things along the way. With smoother gameplay, a few more options to use when fighting/stealth-ing and a much bigger world to explore, there’s a lot to love about Dishonored 2.
Without further delay, let’s get this thing started, shall we?
The game starts off by re-introducing you to Dishonored’s world and specifically Dunwall’s royal duo Corvo and his daughter Emily. The story in the game picks up with Emily and Corvo honorably celebrating the death of Jessamine Kaldwin, assassinated leader from the last game and mother to Emily/lover to Corvo. In mid celebration Duke Luca Abele shows up to the party and presents a gift to the pair, which is Jessamine’s shunned sister, Delilah Copperspoon. When I say ‘gift’, I mean someone who is hellbent on taking Emily’s royal spot, which she does. Emily, bound for death after the hostile takeover, somehow escapes, which is where the game begins. Corvo on the other hand is turned into a nasty statue, which Emily hopes to free him from sometime in the near future. During this scenario, you’re given the option to play as Emily or Corvo, which gives you a nice ‘choose your own adventure’ gameplay choice. Who you choose dictates how the story plays out, though the elements of the overall story are still intact.
Story aside, the gameplay in Dishonored 2 is brilliant in regards to variety. On the surface, the game will certainly seem like it is pretty straightforward, as you go along with the story from mission to mission, in hopes of putting down Delilah and her cronies. You would think that the action would be hack and slash, run, gain powers and continue; kind of in the same vein as the first game. That type of gameplay choice is certainly one you can pursue, but expect a lot of death and frustration along the way. I’m sure those who have mastered the controls could probably pull this gameplay style off without a hitch, but for me, it wasn’t to be. Far too difficult and way too much frustration, as well as little room for error.
If you choose to go the stealth route, you’re in for a long drawn out gameplay process, but one that is certainly ingrained with more strategy and thought. By going stealth, you’re pretty much sneaking around and barely killing anyone. It’s incredibly difficult, though the intensity of the game gets notched up to 11 in the process. Moving slyly around people without alerting them or jumping from building to building ledge, as I did with Emily, can get tricky, but neat when done correctly. In addition to moving around silently, the game also offers you up a choice of kill or no-kill, which means you can choose whether to truly eliminate your enemies or just simply subdue them. This even goes for a few of the bosses, which also provides for some intriguing replay value and challenge. Just a bit of advice, though, if you choose to kill or put someone to sleep, please hide their bodies. Apparently dead bodies of soldiers alarm enemies and put them in defense mode. Go figure, right? I usually dumped bodies off in water, in alleys or hid them in bushes. That in itself almost became a standalone game for me called ‘Where can I hide all of these bodies? Oh, the ocean? Splendid idea’. It was a sick game, but none the less entertaining.
Anyway, to help the longevity of the experience, regardless of gameplay style you choose to use throughout, Arkane included power-ups and upgrades to make the design deeper. Corvo and Emily have unique powers that change up gameplay strategy, each with their own unique brand. For example, Corvo has returning power Bend Time, which at first slows down time, but when upgraded allows Corvo to completely stop it. Once you start playing the game it becomes evident how useful that power could be (especially with those damn robots).
On the flip side to that coin, Emily has a power called Domino, which allows her to link fates to a group of enemies, which means if one dies, they all die. The powers help to spice up the gameplay, while also allowing for different gaming strategies to be implemented in the process. They do a lot for the game and are certainly going to be one of the big reasons to run through it multiple times. There are multiple powers that you can acquire with both characters and each helps to add a layer of strategy to completing the game.
In the same vein as power-ups, upgrading existing weapons can be a powerful game changer when it comes to taking down enemies. You can upgrade your gun, crossbow and other items of violent interest as you play through Dishonored 2. When upgrading is paired with power-ups, the pair create a variety of weapon paths to go down when trying to run through the game. You can be pretty darn powerful with the right combination. Anyway, much like power-ups, upgrading your weapons gives you reason to replay the title once you’re done. There are a lot of upgrades to be had and you do so by obtaining parts through the black market and/or by acquiring blueprints, which equal out to powerful upgrades. This is good stuff when you need smaller side quests to improve your gameplay experience.
So, what do you do with all these power-ups and weapons? You go up against intelligent enemies! I was blown away by the difficulty of Dishonored 2 and the main reason is the artificial intelligence displayed by the enemies. From the giant clockwork robots to the lower soldiers dressed in blue, all were unique in sensing Emily’s presence and each found appropriate ways to take advantage and attack her. With the giant robots, it was simply your character making a noise to activate them and once activated they become relentless in their pursuit. The red captains bring a sword and a gun to the fight, which proves difficult when trying to run from them (they have range). The blue soldiers, if near a large alarm, will alert everyone of your presence, as well as try to kill you in groups. If you kill someone in building and leave their body, and the soldiers find it, they will go on the hunt for you. The A.I. is beautifully put together by Arkane and dangerous as hell in certain situations.
Now, to help push all of this and give you room to move, the space that Arkane Studios created for you in this world is deep and creatively fun to play in. The buildings and landscape allow for you to plan out movement and strategy, which makes it feel far less linear than the first game. You can go up buildings, hang off of ledges, hide within and behind small spaces and pretty much find a place to go when you need it. In addition to this, you also get to see some clever design in the environment construction.
For example, the clockwork mansion was absolutely stunning to see in motion. You pull switches, which change multi-tiered rooms from one thing to another. Even when you went through the four layers of mansion, you can hit a switch and find yourself in the second layer or change a room’s configuration completely. The last part of the level, where you have to find a particular character, requires you to hit buttons on the floor, which change wall placements, which could equal out to enemies finding their way to you. It was breathtaking to see in motion and ground breaking in an Inception-esque manner, though the better comparison would be the changing Labyrinth in that awful Clash of the Titans sequel. Regardless, the environments were creative and most of them felt like they provided gamers with options to formulate specific strategies on the fly.
Now, a bit of a downer with all of this beautifulness is the load times. The load times, even between saves, was a bit harsh. They certainly aren’t deal breakers, but they do become a hindrance when you’re less on the stealth and die multiple times. The girth of the world built within the game is the reason for the load times, as well as, and I assume this (not fact), the PlayStation 4’s limitation in memory size. I’m sure this game would run like clockwork on a PC rig with the right GPU and at least 16gb of RAM. For us lowly console gamers, we’ll just have to get better at the game and deal with it. As you progress in Dishonored 2, you will get better, which means the load times will be far and few between.
Overall, the gameplay in Dishonored 2 is intricately and meticulously put together in a thoughtful way. Arkane Studios did a fabulous job with making the experiencer deep and provided reasons to replay it all over and over again. There’s not much to hate about what they delivered, sans the load times, and I hope they are in pre-production for the third game, as I want more of this world — especially with this gameplay design.
On the presentation side of the game, it’s gorgeous. The art style is consistent with the first, which is brilliant by design, and the worlds that take forever to load are worth the wait because of the details they deliver. When you play the game, and you will, pay close attention to the textures, the lighting, the shading and all of the appropriate shadows that have been meticulously created to bring Karnaca to life. Arkane Studios’ Void Engine, a modified version of id Tech 5, comes through spectacularly. You’ll see such brilliance when you grab an enemy flip them up in the air, cut off a limb and then come down with a beautifully animated stab. Gruesome, yet gorgeous stuff. Visually they did a superb job on almost all elements of this game.
Visuals aside, the audio is just as good. Fantastic soundtrack packed with intensity and passion, much like the game. You also get an all-star cast with the game featuring the likes of Rosario Dawson, Sam Rockwell, Robin Lord Taylor, Vincent D’Onofrio, Stephen Russell and Erica Luttrell. Returning favorites with new celebrities helping the story along. Definitely good stuff that adds to everything that Arkane Studios built.
Having said all the above, is the game fun? I’ve been debating this all week on how I was going to approach this question. The game is fun, but only if you understand how it’s built and if you can get all the recent first-person shooter gameplay techniques from Battlefield, Call of Duty and Titanfall out of your head. Dishonored 2 was built to be enjoyed and not run through. It was built to have gamers invested in the adventure and to develop their own style of gameplay and strategy from beginning to end. If you want to do stealth, then do stealth. If you want to run through it hacking and slashing, while it will certainly be difficult and frustrating, the possibility is there. The game can be the experience that you want it to be, which is what makes this unique. Arkane Studios has crafted a very complex game with Dishonored 2 and while it doesn’t seem so on the outside, there are so many intricate gameplay elements incorporated into the the design that you have gameplay strategy options to choose from every time you pick up the controller. It’s quite an ingenious design on the inside that is wrapped on the outside with a simple adventure.
In short, yes, it’s fun. Just expect to work your brain a bit during gameplay. That is a required piece to this gameplay puzzle. They should have that on the outside of the box: “You’ll need to think with this one.”