When Dishonored was first announced in 2012, I never imagined it would join the ranks of my favourite games. The gameplay, characters, and setting captured my heart and never let go. The city of Dunwall became one of the most memorable video-game settings I’d ever come across. Dishonored’s tale of revenge might be predictable or lacking to some, but the enjoyment I gained from its distinct art style and masterful gameplay is undeniable.
I occasionally revisit the game for the fluid stealth action only Arkane Studios has been able to provide, but replaying the same game multiple times only goes so far. When the sequel was announced, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say I was excited beyond belief.
Dishonored 2 attempts to build on its predecessor’s success. The game is bigger in scope and has voiced protagonists, expanding its roster by allowing players to choose between Empress Emily Kaldwin and Royal Protector Corvo Attano as the player-character.
Unfortunately, having a larger game leads to more opportunities where something may go wrong, and that’s exactly what happens in Dishonored 2. Questionable design choices, immersion-breaking bugs, and changes to enemy AI resulted in a game with wasted potential.
Set fifteen years after the events in the first game, the story begins with Emily attending her mother Jessamine’s death anniversary. Gone is the baby-faced girl who barely reached Corvo’s waist and needed rescuing from the Golden Cat; she is now the Empress, ruling over Dunwall like her mother before her. The somber affair turns ugly when a coup is mounted against Emily. Chaos is given a form in Delilah Copperspoon – a familiar name to those who played the Brigmore Witches DLC – as the woman proclaims herself to be Jessamine’s long-lost sibling and the rightful ruler of Dunwall.
There is a definite focus on story compared to the "go to this location and take out the target" formula of the previous game, a change I enjoyed immensely. We’re also given more insight to the characters through cleverly placed notes, journal entries, and real-time events which unfold as you traverse the levels in search of runes and bone charms.
Another welcome improvement is the characterization of the game’s antagonists. They are people who’ve been given a bad hand and make the best of it, by-products of misfortune rather than two-bit villains being bad for the sake of it. Though I disliked them, I empathized with them more than expected.
Dishonored 2 is aided by beautiful cutscenes and brilliant voice acting, both of which do wonders for world building and the overall atmosphere of the game. I’d chosen to play as Emily for my first playthrough, since I was eager to test out her new powers, and her voice actress, Erica Luttrell, does a stellar job of conveying her personality through sarcastic quips and general observations of what's happening around her.
Environments retain their unique art style, making good on the developer's intentions to create a moving painting. Karnaca’s streets reflect the current state of affairs caused by corruption, infighting, and the widespread infestation of blood flies. The first time Emily stepped onto the streets of Karnaca, I was enraptured by the sheer amount of detail provided to me: stone pavements slick with blood, corpses of whales and sea creatures being butchered, and fishermen and citizens milling about, conversing among themselves and occasionally glancing my way. I paused to admire the sights several times throughout the game.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed with Dishonored 2’s level design. Levels are sprawling pieces of work where players are free to roam and search for black market shops, Outsider shrines or loose change which has been carefully tucked away. But there are several setbacks. I loved the first game for the sheer amount of choice I had in breaking and entering. There was the thrill of discovering ledges or secret entrances leading into highly secured areas. But here, most levels feel oddly cramped. Too often there was only one way into areas, requiring me to either sneak or force my way through. The distinct lack of opportunities is something that stands out sharply. The size, atmosphere, and content of each level is good, but it falls short in the aspect which matters the most to me.
There’s also a matter of enemy AI. If anything, I’d expect enemies to be twice as smart and harder to trick compared to the first Dishonored, but it’s the complete opposite. Guards climb onto tables, walk into walls, or into each other. It completely breaks the immersion when I see guards standing on a dining table while talking about the happenings in Karnaca.
Another thing I intensely dislike is how enemies react to sleep darts. Instead of falling over upon getting a dart to the face, they freeze for several seconds before crumpling like rag dolls, limbs flopping like wet spaghetti strands. It takes away the satisfaction from a successful sneak attack to see your target bend over backwards as if they were doing yoga.
In terms of quantity, however, Dishonored 2 wins my vote by a mile. Not only does having two playable characters give it more replay value, but the addition of a no-powers option gives players the chance to challenge themselves.
There’s also a New Game Plus mode where all runes, bone charm traits, and upgrades from a finished playthrough will be imported to a new one, with the possibility for Corvo and Emily to access each other’s powers. For those who liked the first game and love the idea of nigh endless replayability, I’d say you’re getting your money’s worth. Dishonored 2 is certainly not what I expected, and I feel like Arkane Studios missed the chance to make it great instead of merely good. There were too many aspects I couldn’t bring myself to like, but it’s far from a bad experience.