Dishonored 2 review: A worthy adversary

The game does very little different from the original, and that's a good thng. Our review.


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.

Contributing Editor
Review for
dishonored 2
  • Solid gameplay mechanics
  • New powers are fun to play
  • Excellent level design
  • Some technical and graphics glitches
  • Story not as strong as the original
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 16, 2016 11:00 AM

    John Keefer posted a new article, Dishonored 2 review: A worthy adversary

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 11:42 AM

      sure hope they fix PC problems so i can buy it :(

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 11:46 AM

        What CPU, GPU, and resolution would you be playing at?

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          November 16, 2016 12:41 PM

          GTX970 @ 1920x1200

          • reply
            November 16, 2016 12:46 PM

            It runs fine for me at 1080p with a i5 2500k / 970 / 16 gigs memory, but I've heard it suffers at higher resolutions.

            With automatic settings (mostly medium / high, shadows off for rats and bloodflies) I get 60-80fps probably 80% of the time, occasional dips into the 40s. These are not ugly settings.

            • reply
              November 16, 2016 12:47 PM

              And as with most PC performance, your mileage may vary.

          • reply
            November 16, 2016 12:48 PM

            What CPU? Dishonored 2 seems to beat up older CPUs.

            I have a GTX970 @ 1920x1200 and a 6600K CPU and it runs pretty damn well with Nvidia's optimized settings plus some slight modifications.

            • reply
              November 16, 2016 12:51 PM

              i7-5820K with 16GB dram

              • reply
                November 16, 2016 12:52 PM

                sure wish there was a benchmarking tool or something so i could be sure

          • reply
            November 16, 2016 1:16 PM

            FPS will probably always be above 40-45 for you on high settings, though you might have to change some of the program's nvidia settings to get there.

            • reply
              November 16, 2016 1:20 PM

              (source is me testing it at 1080p with a 970 and 2500k, though unfortunately my monitor is native 1440p and at that resolution it can dip to 30ish FPS which kinda sucks)

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                November 16, 2016 1:22 PM

                Also I should mention that 40-45 FPS would be around the minimum, the game has a hugely variable framerate and in some areas you could get like 75-80 FPS

        • reply
          November 16, 2016 1:27 PM

          I'm on an i7 and 980TI, and it was buttery smooth in the first mission but the second (I guess the first real mission), I'm going into the teens on framerate in the open outdoor areas. Running it on recommended settings within the Geforce Experience tool @ 1440p

          • reply
            November 16, 2016 1:32 PM

            Wow, really? I guess I've really only tested things near the docks at the start of the second mission, are there worse areas that that?

            • reply
              November 16, 2016 3:47 PM

              Docks were ok, but the area in the city by the wall of light dragged

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 12:06 PM

      I did the puzzle you mentioned last night. It was definitely the most complex puzzle of the sort I've seen in a game. I ended up solving it, then exploring the area anyway since I wanted the runes and bone charms.

      I've been seeing some of the literal seams in the graphics as well. I wonder if some of the driver-level tweaking options Nvidia gives you can clear it up.

      Overall it's a badass game.

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 12:46 PM

        I've had that thing with the occasional white seams in the graphics, it's weird but not everywhere at least.

        Not at that word puzzle yet, I suck at puzzles so probably won't figure it out. The fourth level Clockwork Mansion, the puzzles there weren't too bad - on the one with the big circular dial room, how to power the chair stumpted me for a bit but I just lucked into the solution

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          November 16, 2016 12:53 PM

          In that mission I bypassed a bunch of enemies and such by getting behind the walls.

          Also, the simplest way to deal with Clockwork Soldiers: Stun them with stun mines, appropriately upgraded bullets, or fighting them until they overheat, then slap a rewire tool on to the box on their leg while they're stunned. They'll follow you around for a good long while, killing enemies for you, and then spontaneously fall apart. Properly fighting them, or even stealth killing them, is a pain in the ass.

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            November 16, 2016 1:05 PM

            My favorite way to dispatch them AFTER the Clockwork mansion was rewiring a Wall of Light or the Electrical areas and kite them into it. Poof, nothing left.

            • reply
              November 16, 2016 1:08 PM

              I haven't actually found any more yet. I dropped from high to low chaos after the Mansion, which may have affected that.

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 12:47 PM

        It's good they didn't ask for colors, what they were drinking etc. I didn't so much solve it as do it by a process of elimination.

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 1:14 PM

        The white seam thing is annoying. Almost makes me wonder if they could hide it by simply using black instead of white for their back fill.

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        November 16, 2016 1:40 PM

        With how open the second mission (the one where you start on the Karnaca docks), I thought I'd be coming back to it as some kind of hub. I snooped around a while then went on to the next map.

        I missed 5 runes! Ugh. I even knew how to get to a couple and just thought, "I'll pick them up when I come back."

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 12:41 PM

      It'd be great to include the PC hardware you ran this on - what processor, ram, video card, etc. That's probably important for any PC game that's demanding of hardware.

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 1:08 PM

        I used an i7 2600 @ 3.40 GHz, 16 GB RAM and GTX 660

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 12:49 PM

      Playing it on the PS4. Good times. Although WTF with these load times. Sheesh. Feels like 1996 all over again.

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 1:34 PM

        Would that be running from a hard drive or an SSD?

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 1:59 PM

      Nice review Keef, good stuff. I totally agree with you its a solid game, I really love it.

      Lets hope they patch the PC version soon.

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 7:48 PM

      So I just finished the Stilton mission, and discovered a pretty huge secret:

      If you knock Stilton unconscious in the past before you witness the ritual, he doesn't attend the ritual, doesn't go insane, and the entire modern day half of the level changes.

      You get a chance to talk to what's-her-name Pasteur, the head of the miner advocate organization, in a changed Dust District, and Stilton ends up on the Dreadful Wale with extra information for the next mission's briefing.

      It's pretty freaking awesome!

    • reply
      November 16, 2016 8:01 PM

      The mouse controls are tied to the frame rate. What year is this? I don't know how this made it past so many reviewers. It's totally absurd and ruins the game for me until they patch it.

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        November 16, 2016 8:12 PM

        What this means is that at 60 FPS a 360 spin takes an inch of mouse movement but in at 30FPS it might take 2 or 3 inches to prduce the same result. If you are looking at a wall one second and turn to face and open area the sensitivity changes on the fly making aiming and fast movements totally unpredictable. How does this get through testing in a FPS? I must be super sensitive to input lag because this is beyond just noticeable, it nearly unplayable.

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          November 16, 2016 11:43 PM

          It's one of the most ridiculous issues I've seen in a game. I also can't believe it shipped like that. Just shows how little devs care about m/kb now to not properly test it. They just put in a key binds menu and figure there that should satisfy them.

          Really sad because dishonored's movement really shines with a mouse.

      • reply
        November 16, 2016 11:50 PM

        Speaking of, anyone heard an ETA on the patch... ?

    • reply
      November 17, 2016 12:10 AM

      They should have made this game with id tech 6 instead of this void engine

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