I’ll come clean: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first Dishonored. After playing through a good few missions of the first game, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that, despite understanding why it was so well-received, it simply wasn’t for me. As a result, when Dishonored 2 reared its critically-acclaimed head, I made the immediate assumption that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I decided to ignore it entirely, and have done ever since. That is until my XBOX One notified me that the game was running a temporary free trial for the first two or so hours of the game and I thought, ‘what’s the harm?’ I left it to install and later eagerly jumped in as soon as I had the chance. The final verdict? Consider me well and truly hooked to the beautiful world of Karnaca.
Now, while I’m likely going to sing this game’s praises till the plague-ridden cows come home, understand that the opening ten minutes were pretty dreadful. It felt abundantly clear that the story had taken a tragic back seat when Arkane Studios were developing a sequel, and as such the only way I can describe the abysmal opening cutscene is rushed. The introduction to this game’s predecessor was well-paced, allowing the player to slowly make their way up the steps to meet the Empress. If you liked, you could postpone your meeting through a quick game of hide and seek with the Empress’ daughter, Emily (a playable character in Dishonored 2), which also served as a tutorial for some stealth mechanics. Once the thrilling climax of the intro does come around, we’ve already interacted with, or at least seen, all the necessary key characters who will become important to the plot later. Corvo (the protagonist) is framed for the Empress’ murder, is sent to prison for crimes he didn’t commit, and has the villains’ evil desires told to him so he knows who’s responsible for the tragedy. Easy, simple, and a good circumstance for the rest of the game to work around. However, in Dishonored 2, the intro is all done in one short cutscene as its made pretty obvious that the “story” is just used as an excuse for the player to stab some burly motherfuckers. It’s becomes especially insulting when the set-up is clearly an exact carbon copy of the first instalment: framed for murder(s), loved one is kidnapped, you need to save them and reclaim the throne, now go do the stabby thing with your nice sword.
From that lengthy paragraph, you may have re-read that little sentence where I claimed that the game “had me hooked”, which is fair. However, what the game lacks in the plot department, it makes up for with the gameplay, and it does so in spades. Bearing in mind I played this game coming soon off the foul-smelling back of Gears of Wars 4, a game which isn’t necessarily bad but rather seems to deliberately follow a strict guideline from the book, ‘How to Make Your Games As Mind-Devouringly Bland As Humans Can Possibly Conceive’. Basically, what my long-winded point was trying to note was that game is super standard. I also recently played Shadow Warrior which, while very enjoyable, felt rather samey, with enemies that did little more than run in straight lines directly towards the player character and only stop when they have at least fifteen MOABs lodged in their skulls. Dishonored 2 is obviously a very different experience to those two, less action-based and more prioritised on stealth gameplay. There’s something incredibly gratifying about assessing a main road littered with guards, attempting to find a way around them, and spotting an open window leading nicely to your objective. The Far Reach ability is pretty much identical to Corvo’s teleportation powers from the last game, but the thrill of just managing to reach a narrow ledge over a group of patrolmen complaining about their lack of ale or something is undeniably satisfying.
Something equally satisfying is the combat. While I will put my hands up and scream to the heavens that I am truly awful at the swordplay in this game, the feeling of clanging metal as I parried at just the right time to pull my attacker into a headlock and choke them into unconsciousness was also unrivalled. Now is likely the right time to say that I played Dishonored 2 as stealthily as I could (that is to say, poorly), and I avoided killing my pursuers as much as possible. There were hiccups, I’ll admit, where I got frustrated and just whipped out my trusty pistol and began opening some arteries, but generally I did this sparingly. My reluctance to kill was in part spurred on by various notes I would find sometimes detailing individual soldiers’ personal lives. One example was a sleeping guard who had written an unsent note to his children while he was serving a permanent transfer away from home. One could argue this kind of writing is a little cheap, but they’re so well-written that it doesn’t fail to affect me every time I see it.
In fact, every piece of lore or note-taking in the game was written with care and attention, and served as a fantastic way to expand the world and give gameplay hints the player could follow. In some cases, the notes left lying around are actually crucial to understanding how to tackle some situations. One example was walking into a room filled with bloodflies (this game’s plagued rats equivalent). Next to a dead boy no doubt killed by these deadly creatures, there is a piece of paper detailing the best way to avoid conflict with the horrible beasties. This advice proved to be fruitless because Ali is bad at the video games but I now know that the bugs are weak to fire, glow when they are is hostile mode, will keep coming back until their nest is destroyed, and react only to fast or nearby movement. The written dialogue might also be great, but it is tricky to tell because the line delivery is fairly abysmal. I caught myself giggling at certain moments, even when they were supposed to be climactic, because the actors clearly weren’t given enough good direction to understand what the hell is going on. One moment saw a horribly tortured creature drag a victim away, stating that it was wondering how his flesh would taste, to which Emily would reply “where did she go?” in the single most monotone accent imaginable. Add on top Corvo’s new voice being laughably grisly, even by white male video game protagonist standards, and you have yourself a hilarious little recipe for disaster.
The game also seems to have difficulty expressing how the characters feel towards certain situations. This is achieved somewhat through diary entries (which, again, are well-written and interesting to read), but during section loading times Emily will provide awkward exposition dumps explaining how she feels towards her situation, towards recent developments, and towards other characters. At one point, she stated about a character named Meagan that she seemed cagey as if she was hiding something deep about herself, in a lazy form of foreshadowing that doesn’t work in the slightest. These moments lack subtlety, a fact which is rather baffling considering the exploration of Karnaca, in which subtlety is the game’s key achievement.
Overall, I’m enjoying Dishonored 2 about as much as Donald Trump enjoys going on golfing trips whilst threatening major world nations (that is to say, a lot). While the story does feel rushed thus far, the gameplay exceeded my expectations tenfold. This is a game I will most certainly be pursuing in the days to come, so expect a full-length review at a later date.