Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
The Thief series is one of my favourites of all time. Up to and including Deadly Shadows, I’ve always found it to be the best overall stealth game around, mixing the immersion of FPS with the inherent tension of trying to remain undetected whilst you move like a ghost through the shadows. The series boasted fantastic level design and some superb characters, with one of the most unique settings around.
Why am I going on about Thief, when this review is for Dishonored 2? Because, as with the original game, the similarity to Thief is just uncanny. Despite Thief getting its own current gen title (which was poo), I feel Dishonored is far closer to the feel and overall design of the series created by Looking Glass. Indeed, it could receive a simple paint job and be an actual Thief game. Even Stephen Russell, who provides the voice of Corvo this time, was the original voice of Thief’s protagonist, Garrett.
This comparison is important, as Thief was always a very different game to anything else at the time, and so too is Dishonored. It’s a unique stealth title that rewards any type of player, be they sneaky and non-lethal, or all-out blood thirsty killers who prefer the loud and proud option. Nothing is prevented, and you can tackle your objectives as you wish. Dishonored 2 continues this, following on from the first game with a bigger and more varied story with some great new additions.
Taking place around 15 years after the events of the first game and its DLC, Dishonored 2 sees Emily Kaldwin grown into womanhood where she serves as the Empress, protected by her father, the Royal Protector, Corvo Attano. The rat plague is no more, but all is not well for the royal family. A serial killer has been eliminating enemies of the Empress, and she and Corvo are suspected of being responsible. Of course, this isn’t true, but as the game begins, we soon find out who is responsible for the mess, and the next adventure kicks off.
Right from the outset you’re given a choice, play as Corvo, or new star, Emily. This choice is much more than a simple skin swap, though, as each character plays differently, with their own range of powers and abilities. Corvo retains his abilities from the first game, such as teleporting Blink, stop time, possession, Devouring Swarm and so on. Emily brings a host of new skills, including Shadow Walk, Far Reach (a grapple-like traversal ability that can also interact with objects), and Mesmerise, which, you guessed it, mesmerises foes, allowing her to sneak by or take them out with ease. Domino is possibly her most impressive power, and lets her connect multiple enemies together to feel the effects of each other. So, connect three and if you hit one with a sleep dart, the other two also take a nap. Clever.
Some skills are simple clones, such as Emily’s Far Reach basically being an enhanced version of Corvo’s Blink, but others, like Domino and Mesmerise offer different ways to tackle situations, and can greatly impact how you play. Bethesda has said you can play the game twice and have a very different experience, and I’d have to say that’s probably true. Add to this the inherent open level design that allows wide experimentation, and you’ve got a very repayable title.
There’s also a new bone charm crafting system that can be unlocked. This lets you break down existing charms and then craft more powerful ones with multiple enhancements. It’s an interesting system, and one that’s pretty flexible, but bone charms are by design quite minor, so it’s not all that useful, and you could easily finish a whole playthrough without touching it.
The setting this time is mostly in the city of Karnaca. Corvo’s home town, Karnaca is a brighter, more vibrant city than the original’s downtrodden Dunwall, but it also has its seedier side, so don’t expect a pleasure cruise. From the hub level of Corvo’s base, the Dreadful Wale ship, you’ll explore a range of venues, from museums and military outposts, to mansions and streets blasted by sandstorms. Every area of the city has a notable increase in verticality over Dunwall. Indeed, this is one of the biggest changes here from the original, and the level design really focuses on the use of your abilities, especially in a vertical space, allowing you to observe and pounce on your foes. The levels also feel much more complex, with a great deal of hidden areas and routes to find, some of which can make your life much easier, but often the route itself more difficult. For example, you may be able to take a short cut past a guard post through a building, but that building may be infested with Bloodflies, the replacement for the rat plague. These show up a lot through the game, and function much the same as before, as a natural barrier to overcome, but focus on proximity and fire instead of light to repel the threat.
Some levels do stand out more than others, with obvious highlights being the clockwork mansion, which can change layout with the pull of a lever, and the level that sees you use the Timepiece. This is a new item that lets you travel back and forward between two points in time. Couple this with its ability to deploy a lens that shows you what’s happening in the other timeline, and you’ve got a mission that’s just great, and really well thought out. This item alone could be the foundation for an entire, Portal-style game. Sadly, it’s only used in a single area, and isn’t featured elsewhere.
For the most part, even with two characters and new powers, Dishonored 2 is very much more of the same, only on a larger scale. The levels are larger, and everything feels more open. Combat has been beefed up with some new moves, but the game still feels very much the same. That’s fine, as the first game was great, and this instalment simply refines the formula to make it better without taking anything away. The actual assassinations and the alternate non-lethal approaches are interesting, if not all that challenging, an issue the game has as a whole. Basically, it’s just a little too easy in my opinion, even on the highest difficulty. Extra challenge is presented by having to find out how to take a mark down in a non-lethal manner, which I did, but this wasn’t very difficult. If you decide to simply kill each target, it’s even easier.
Visually the game is impressive for the most part, with the new location allowing the developers to explore new avenues of unique design, such as buildings clad with wooden barriers to prevent dust storm damage, and dilapidated structures draped with white tarps to quarantine the Bloodflies within.
The overall art style is a little different to the first game, and characters look a little more realistic than the purposely malformed ones seen in the original, mainly due to increased texture detail. The locations are always impressive in terms of detail and design, but the high quality does emphasise the id tech-based Void engine’s many technical faults. Throughout the game I saw all sorts of texture glitches, clipping issues, some dodgy rag doll physics, lighting and shadow faults, and so on. It feels at times like the game is struggling not to break down, as it tries to hold the environment together. Performance is good, though, with a smooth enough and solid speed) The PC version hasn’t fared so well, however.
Not so good are the load times, which are excessive, and I loathe the lag on menus opening and closing, not to mention the regular control input lags I experienced. The latter of these is more serious, as it can make you second guess yourself and waste ammo, or end up in a situation you don’t want to be in, and it needs to be patched to smooth things out.
Combat balance is another issue. Some moves, such as the slide attack combo are greatly overpowered, and it can break the balance of the game, even on the Very Hard difficulty setting. It’s also very easy to parry and counter, which is a single hit knockout or kill, even to main targets. Even the last boss (which is actually quite a good encounter), can be easily toppled with a single parry.
When you’re stealthy, though, the game flows well, and this, in my mind, is how Dishonored 2 is really meant to be played, and where it makes the most of the powers and abilities of our supernatural duo. It’s clear there’s more of a focus on this approach, which may not be great for those who prefer the more aggressive style of play. If that’s the case, though, you’re not likely going to be playing this anyway.
Some have said that the larger levels and more open areas have had a negative effect on Dishonored and its balance, but I’d argue against this. Dishonored is all about letting you choose how you approach any given situation, and although I really would like a genuine flexibility to the actual assassinations, instead of only one non-lethal option, I think the games work much better with this scale. It achieves what it wants to do, and that’s to deliver an open, stealth-heavy title that delivers something different to the glut of action FPS titles we already have.