Game Reviews

Dishonored 2 Review: Empress’s New Groove

bethesdabethesda

Review overview

Dishonored 28.5

Summary

8.5Editor's Choice

The long-awaited follow-up to Bethesda’s 2012 hit “Dishonored” was released this week. “Dishonored 2” offers another fantastically created environment to explore, taking players away from the “rat-plagued” city of Dunwall, and dropping them into the coastal city of Karnaca. The game was released this week for the PS4, Xbox One and PC and is available on Steam or through authorized retailers like Amazon.com.

Building on the original, “Dishonored 2” offers the same labyrinth-styled cities filled with a wide-array of downtrodden, working-class citizens. Artistically, the original “Dishonored” was applauded by critics for creating such wonderfully rich world, and while it may have been gloomy and bleak, the city itself was filled with intricate details – and the characters were unique and memorable. “Dishonored 2” as a playground is fantastic, and is equally well crafted. The cities are fun to explore and the new AI that powers the guards and soldiers are challenging and exciting. With all of this wonderfully scenery and setting, it’s a shame that some of it gets bogged down as the game starts introducing stealth-gameplay and story.

The beginning moments of the story are incredibly rushed, almost stunningly. Players met a young Emily Kaldwin in the original “Dishonored,” but this time around you get the option to play as the character. Since I felt that most players would take the Emily route, I chose to start the game as her as well. You do not need any prior knowledge of the first game to enjoy the sequel, all the plot-points that were carried over into this new story are retold as they become relevant. If you did play previous game, you can enjoy some callouts and a few nods to previous characters in the series, but that’s about it.

Without spoilers, the game’s main plot-point is introduced, put into motion and undewway, in about 4 minutes. That’s a shockingly short cutscene to setup a story-driven stealth narrative. The brevity does help players get right into the action, but everything about the opening moments felt rushed and incomplete.

Once started the game plays much like the first, which should be a welcomed decision if you were a fan of the first game. This time around the guards are much smarter, and there are many more guards to deal with (more on that in a bit). The new AI will have guards looking through trash piles, opening dumpsters and talking to each other. Overall, the guards are simply more aware of their surrounding than the previous game’s sentinels were. This of course comes with a few flaws.

It was extremely difficult to understand the AI when I first started. Sometimes I would be in a kitchen, and a maid would see me and every guard on that floor would come stomping into the room to murder me. Other times I would be caught by one guard on a patio just before I grabbed him to choke him out, and the guards on the veranda above us and across the street didn’t even care. It’s a bit confusing, but as I soon learned, I was going about the guard thing all wrong.

As a helpful hint, I mentioned earlier there were more guards in this installment, and they often interacted with one another. At first I could not figure out how anyone could incapacitate this many obstacles, or get around them, until I realized that there was a power that chained enemies together. This power was obviously meant to be unlocked early, and you use it by linking two guards together with magic (through runes you can link more than two guards if you upgrade the power). Once linked, when one goes down (by sleep-dart or choking) the other will as well. Just know that this power is available to you, and your beginning journey will be much easier.

“Dishonored 2” is also a constant battle with stealth, which provides amazing challenges, but also creates a lot of lost opportunity. The game is filled with hidden items, secrets, bone-charms and runes. While you don’t really need the hidden items and extra coin, you do need the bone-charms and runes to some degree. This causes a big problem for the stealth gameplay.

The game frequently tells you of the “many paths” that you can take to get to your goal. Just like the first game you can use rats to sneak into pipes, you can open windows to sneak into buildings, or even find sewer grates or hidden passages to get around pesky guards. Well when you have to get to a certain charm or rune, all of these paths but one or two are useless. The “hidden items” portion of the game ruins the idea that you can choose your own path while being stealthy. Of course you could argue that these upgrades are optional, but they are suck a fun part of crafting your gameplay that I don’t think it’s much of an option.

So when boiled down, if the game wants you to grab the upgrades, you don’t have a lot of paths to choose from. You will have one or two incredibly hard paths to sneak into, and you will be funneled into them by how these items are placed in the map. There are ways around this, playing the game more than once, disabling everyone first then going back, but that isn’t fun that’s just busy work. I won’t criticize without offering a solution though, I’m a gentleman. The game does have “safe zones,” areas of the city where guards won’t attack you. In these few designated areas you can explore the buildings and talk to citizens. There aren’t a lot of these safe-zones, but I would have liked to explored more of them. I also would have loved to see most of the hidden items placed in these areas, and have the developers make a maze out of this scenario.

There could still be a few charms and runes scattered throughout the main missions near places that the game knew you had to be eventually, like rooms with assassination targets or off main halls or through sewer-grates. It would open up the game, giving you more chances to explore the city through these safe-zones, and would take away a lot of the frustration without missing out on upgrades. I think players would love the chance to check out more of the cities without breaking stealth, like I said the set-design and characters in this game are wonderful.

I mentioned the assassination targets, which are also a carryover from the first game and are the central goal to each story-mission. Just like in the original players will have a peaceful or vengeful option to take them out. On the upside the peaceful options are unique and challenging. You don’t just sleep-dart them or talk your way out of it, there is a very fun mini-mission that allows you to tackle the obstacle without killing them. I won’t spoil any of them for you, but I appreciated that thought was given into each of the options. The downside is that you learn about your targets just as they are exiting the story. I had the same complaint in Metal Gear Solid 4 with the four female bosses. It’s such a waste to create an interesting character that will invest time in tracking, only to have them disappear a moment later.

“Dishonored 2” has a very well connected storyline, albeit completely linear, but these terrific boss-characters are thrown away so quickly. You will get a target, be told how important they are to your mission, play one level and then they are pointless now. Only a few allies get enough attention to remain in the ongoing story, but the targets are the ones that you spend hours trying to take down. Taking them out would be so much more rewarding if we had time to know them better, and while the game does give a few of these targets wonderful levels to learn about them and interact with them, some targets are just small blips on your way back to the crown.

This may come across as a lot of negativity, but the exciting gameplay and challenging stealth mechanics make up for all of it. The game is consistently fun, even when you are getting caught left and right. A few of the powers are fantastic to wield, so much so that it makes a few of the powers kind of pointless. All of the voice-acting and animation of the game are superb, and the overall story felt complete and well grounded in solid character-design.

The “Dishonored” franchise has nailed the set-design, style and character creation for its franchise, the cities and townsfolk that Arkane Studios has created are terrific. The game also excels at stealth gameplay (assuming you go the stealth route) and the options given to the player to tackle their objectives are open and engaging. All of these pieces together create a game that is fantastically fun to play and well worth the price of admission. The stumbling blocks that remain in the franchise are the sometimes clunky AI and how the game pads-out the gameplay by complicating the power-ups and hidden items. I get that they are a challenge, but it doesn’t come off as a challenge, it comes off as an extreme annoyance designed to make completionist play more. Whether you played the original or not, anyone could jump into “Dishonored 2” and be on-track in story and gameplay. It’s a great stealthy-romp into a new city, filled with new characters and a few new perks to explore.

Although there have been reports of the PC version causing gameplay issues, I only ran into 2 crashes overall during my testing. The company has stated that a patch is in the works that would improve frame-rates overall and squash bugs, but I didn’t really have any major issues to report. I tested out the game using a MSI 980ti 6GB, but I also tried a 970 4GB on 1080p and had really great results.

Dishonored 2 is available on the PS4, Xbox One and PC. You can find the game on Steam for PC, or through authorized retailers like Amazon.com for consoles.