Ever since Dishonored 2 was announced, I wanted to get my hands on it. I made a nuisance of myself asking to review it. I playfully derided coworkers that got to see it in action, while I had to satisfy myself with videos and background pieces from developer Arkane Studios. I loved the original, with it ranking in the top three of my favorite games. So getting my hands on the final review code on Steam was like an early Christmas present. I was Ralphie hoping for my Red Ryder BB gun.
After ripping off the wrapping and digging through the box, I'm happy to say I got the gun and it's everything I wanted and more. But it did almost shoot my eye out a few times.
To be clear, Dishonored 2 is a very good game. An excellent game. It picks up where Dishonored left off with sound gameplay mechanics, fun powers to experiment with and more replayability than its predecessor. But while the original was nearly flawless in story and (pardon the pun) execution, the sequel's narrative is a bit lacking, with some technical and graphics glitches that can be annoying.
There is order in high chaos
If you hadn't followed any of the pre-game hype, you can play as deposed Empress Emily Kaldwin or her father, Royal Protector Corvo Attano, the protagonist from the original. I chose Emily so I could experiment with her new powers and immerse myself in the game by trying to get back the throne that was wrongfully taken from me. I also knew from the outset that I would play high chaos, leaving as many bodies in my wake as needed to get to the people that needed to be eliminated. And while the underlings must die, my goal for the agents who took my throne was not death, but humiliation and a life worse than death. Yes, I was in the right frame of mind to tackle the game.
The opening, while expected, was a bit of deja vu. The coup that starts the game leaves Emily a prisoner in her own castle, not knowing if dad is dead or alive. Corvo had a similar experience in the original. Seeing dead bodies all around of people that had been loyal to me helped justify my decision of a high chaos playthough. The first mission must be completed without any powers, but once out of Dunwall Tower, the exploration and discovery aspect of the game continues to shine. The level design is fantastic, with Dunwall and Karnaca incredibly open for exploration and discovery. There are numerous ways to get to your destination, while picking up supplies, learning lore and even getting a side mission or two along the way. It is incredibly easy to get sidetracked from your goals just to explore and try to gather all the coins, paintings, blueprints, Bonecharms and Runes scattered throughout a level.
And while the first mission requires you to play without any powers, your first meeting with the Outsider opens up some very fun new abilities that Corvo did not have in the original. Granted, Far Reach is Emily's version of Blink, but powers like Domino (linking targets to the same fate), Doppleganger (a decoy of yourself to distract enemies), and even Mesmerize (another distraction device) are just too much fun to play with. You could literally spend hours coming up with different ways to solve problems. Of course, if you like a challenge beyond trying to go low chaos or stay unspotted though a mission, you can also turn down the Outsider's mark and play though with no powers at all, which is an addition not available in the original.
One thing that seemed different from the original is that runes and bone charms seemed to be more off the beaten path. You needed to explore more or be extra creative when trying to get to them as well. With so many powers and upgrades to choose from, I wanted to grab as many runes as possible to unlock all the fun powers, but I found myself spending so much extra time tracking them down that I just gave up on several occasions.
Puzzle me this, Emily
Even with the fun powers and creative uses, the level design will sometimes just kick your ass. The Clockwork Mansion is one huge puzzle of levers and jumping, all while trying to keep the new incredibly dangerous Clockwork soldiers from getting close to you. I consider myself a creative sort and I do love puzzles, but the mansion took me forever to get through. That's not a bad thing, just a warning to be prepared. The same can be said for Stilton Manor, where a new game mechanic allows you to shift between past and present to accomplish your task. You are also warned to be careful as actions in the past can affect the future, which was one of the few times I tried NOT to kill anyone for fear of killing the wrong person.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the game was a huge locked door that offered an incredibly difficult word puzzle. Solving the puzzle opens the door, grants an achievement, and bypasses an entire level. The sad part is that the level bypassed was the Dust District, one of the new areas that Arkane had touted when promoting the game. But it gives me something else to try when I play through again.
And while exploring, the music again sets just the proper mood for exploration, danger and even discovery. The sound effects, ranging from broken wood or glass are spot on. And one of my favorite features - although minor to some - is the sound cues you get if guards hear something or even spot you. You know immediately and can react even without seeing which guards are on their toes.
Losing the immersion
I was somewhat let down by the story and the finale. While the original had numerous twists and turns and even surprises, this story tries hard to pull you into the political intrigue, but doesn't quite succeed. The plot was even predictable at points. The original Dishonored set such a high bar that I think the sequel suffers from the expectations of a similar experience. That's not to say the story is bad by any stretch, but I was totally immersed in the original. Here, I found myself just plodding through to get to the boss at the end of the level and trying to eliminate them. Even the voice acting was a bit bland at times, with Corvo sounding like he was always talking through gritted teeth. Luckily it wasn't a distraction.
The numerous graphical glitches present throughout the game were a distraction, however. I played the game on high graphics settings (not ultra) and ran into several issues where a wall would quiver as I leaned against it, or parts of a statue would shift slightly as I moved around it. There were other spots in darkened rooms where thread-thin lines of white showed through as if art elements weren't pieced together properly. I dropped my settings to low, but the issues still persisted. Luckily, by the third mission, I had either become accustomed to it or wasn't seeing it as much, but I don't remember that at all from the original.
There was also an issue of some minor slowdowns in certain areas. Arkane has acknowledged the issue and said it is working on a patch.
Finally, there was an issue where I would occasionally lose items off my hot key map. They would still be in my inventory, but I'd open up the inventory wheel to see that the item had randomly unassigned itself. This would happen after a reload or a shift to a new mission or district.
In the end ...
Those minor issues with the game aside, Dishonored 2 proves to be a return to a classic formula that worked so well in the orginal. Strong level design, open world exploration and the ability to play your own way with powers that can be adapted or modified how you want makes the game one of the top titles of the year. Now to start working on my low chaos playthrough.
This review is based on a PC review code provided by the publisher. Dishonored 2 is available now starting at $59.99 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The game is rated M.