Just the two of us
There was something about Dishonored that prevented me from loving it like literally everyone else when it was released back in 2012. I eventually warmed up to it with the DLC and the spectacular characterization of Daud, but Corvo’s tale left me with a sense of emptiness after the credits rolled.
I get that he was supposed to be the player, assuming the form of a power fantasy, and adhering to the narrative of essentially a Batman-esque figure in his fall from grace from a place he once called home. But that all works so much better when he’s a real, fleshed-out character alongside of his badass daughter Emily.
Dishonored 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Arkane Studios
Released: November 11, 2016
If you adored Dishonored and attempted to run it multiple times just to see how you could approach each sandbox differently, Dishonored 2 will tick all of those boxes and more. But the concept of having two completely separate characters makes that prospect even more enticing, as do the number of other strides that Arkane Studios has made in the past four years.
While I’m not taking away from what the original accomplished, Dishonored 2 in many ways makes the first look like a tech demo. I mean we have the setting, which is 15 years apart from the events of the previous entry, allowing for some drastic world building that makes itself apparent in the first few missions. We’ve moved from the somewhat droll streets of Dunwall to Karnaca, referred to as the “Jewel of the South” in-game. And in case you were worried, you can once again employ a non-violent stealth approach or go full action hero at your discretion. Or you can opt to deny any magic, the choice is yours.
It’s a glorious expansion of the “do whatever you want” experimental-type gameplay the first was so good at, but this time we have a more compelling narrative than “clear your name and get revenge,” (there’s still a revenge tint here, but it’s more nuanced). The world actually feels like a world this time around, and I’m invested enough in the relationship between Corvo and Emily. I still need more time with it, but I’m digging the conflict between the various warring factions within Karnaca, and it creates a nice backdrop on top of all of the carnage. Both campaigns seem to be the exact same, give or take some unique dialogue, and that’s actually fine with me — especially since Emily’s side has a lot of insight into her life as royalty, and her struggle with her new life with powers.
But part of the magic of Dishonored 2 is how the dual character system manages to appeal to newcomers and returning players alike. If you’re stuck in your ways and want to try Corvo, he’s relatively untouched. He can still blink about, slash up fools, and do ridiculous things like turn people into ash. Emily feels markedly different though, with more esoteric magical effects like sharing damage between enemies, and the delightfully dark shadow walk power, which basically turns you into black mist. Her blink is also a little different, in the way that “Ice Ice Baby” is different from “Under Pressure” (it’s more like a momentum-based maneuver than a pure teleport, and she can be seen by enemies while she’s doing it). Naturally, as time goes on, you can upgrade each character and try new builds, something I’m already discovering in the first few missions.
The only hangup I have, and this is solely with the Xbox One version that I have access to, is that the framerate isn’t as smooth as I’d like. There’s a few great little enhancements that have been made with the sequel (a quick save and quick load feature from the pause menu are incredibly useful, as is the ability to skip the tutorial entirely and get on with it), but I notice a lot of choppiness in open areas even with the massive launch patch. I’ve also had a few instances where cutscenes played out with a completely blank scene while the audio was active. It’s not gamebreaking stuff, but it does make me pine for a completely stable PC version — something we don’t quite have yet.
Stay tuned as I work my way through Dishonored 2 to see if it holds up throughout, but for now, I’m hooked. Whether you’re looking to break into the series for the first time or already couldn’t get enough of Corvo’s antics as it is, it’s a pretty easy recommendation, and yet another reason why Bethesda’s “no early copy” policy is not needed. It should have been proud of this.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]