Review: Dishonored 2 (PC)

The ham-fisted narrative of a dethroned empress, her dad, and the path to revenge may have taken little more than a broken pencil and a cocktail napkin to conceive. But it doesn’t generally detract from the thrill of sneaking and stabbing a path through Dishonored 2.

The Dishonored 2 story (from the napkin)

You’re the empress. A long lost, hitherto unknown Aunt named Delilah walks into your chamber with a couple steampunk mechs, claims she’s the real heir to the throne, and it’s a virtual insta-coupe. You play as either Corvo—the father of the empress, royal protector, and protagonist of Dishonored—or Emily, the overthrown empress. Regardless of whom you chose to play, you are immediately captured, tossed into a locked room, and the other would-be player choice is turned to stone.

Dishonored 2 doesn’t waste time

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At least Dishonored 2 wastes no time kicking things off. If fairy tales (and video games) have taught us anything, it’s that locked palace rooms well-suited to trapping ill-tempered princesses don’t hold up, particularly against supremely skilled masters of mayhem.

No matter which character you choose to play, you’ll readily escape imprisonment and quickly embark upon your long, sneaky, murdery path to avenge the statue and rescue the throne.

Dishonored 2 is no thief — creatively speaking

Creatively speaking, Dishonored 2 never quite achieves the subtly intriguing and dark fantasy of its clear inspirations—particularly the Thief franchise (I’m not counting the most recently blundered game however). Although many of the trappings are similar, i.e. Steampunk fantasy, Thief was more creative in its use of those elements, and added  dark fantasy to the mix as well, such as ancient ruins, mysterious creatures, ghosts, and more.

Dishonored 2 offers a rich world—particularly if you take time to read the many notes and books littered throughout its very large missions — but despite the magical elements in the game it ultimately favors more realistic steampunk over dark fantasy, and at least to me this feels a bit more mundane. And it holds relatively few surprises.

Sticking to its formula

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Dishonored 2 doesn’t deviate far from the original game’s formula. It’s a 100% linear experience played in sequential missions, although each mission is a very large sandbox with secrets, some side quests, and a plenty of opportunities to hunt for bone charms, runes, and equipment stashes.

Bone charms provide minor buffs to your abilities, and you can change them at any time to suit different environments and play styles. Runes are even more important, and spent to improve your various abilities.

Look up

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Verticality is emphasized more in Dishonored 2 than its predecessor. For example, you can use a power called Far Reach to reach ledges, balconies, and other high places with ease. (Later you can upgrade this power to grab adversaries and fling them about, or pull them towards you while delivering a sword to the face — which are all quite entertaining methods of execution.

Of course, bodies littering the streets and environments can draw attention, so it’s best to find a convenient hidey-hole for them. Or if you prefer a more lethal approach, you can invest points into an ability that disintegrates enemies as soon as you terminate them. It’s very tidy if you prefer lethal efficiency over inconvenient mercy.

While the general game play in Dishonored 2 doesn’t deviate much from its predecessor, it does introduce a few interesting missions and innovative game play elements.

One particularly interesting level lets you move between 2 time periods, slipping between the past and present to circumvent obstacles. For example, a door might be caved in and blocked with rubble in the present, but if you go back in time the door is intact and can be opened – or you can hunt for the key to open it, being careful to avoid guards.

Another mission puts you in a house with different room configurations, where different levers raise and lower walls, change furniture, and completely change rooms from one function to another. The entire house is like a big Transformer, forcing you you sneak in between walls, change room configurations, and avoid clockwork soldiers — who can see both in front and behind.

Choose your path

In Dishonored 2 you can end every mission 1 of 2 ways—one of which is generally assassinating a target, and another of which leaves them generally alive but “neutralized” in some fashion.

The “neutralize” option steers the game towards a more optimistic ending, but it generally requires more work. To get the best possible ending, you’ll want to opt for neutralization and a low body count in the missions themselves. (Note that the end of the game is purely played out in still shots and narrative, i.e. you won’t miss any cool cinematics in one ending vs. another. Pick a path and finish the game. Then go watch the other endings on YouTube.)

I opted for the more peaceful resolution in every mission, although sadly I racked up pretty high body counts, even when I didn’t want to. Dishonored 2 definitely makes violence the easier path. Although you could go through the game without killing anyone, the sneaky, less stabby approach is more difficult and more time consuming.

Flies in the ointment

The biggest detriment to Dishonored 2 on the PC (apart from its rather pedestrian plot) are its bugs. Normally I forgive a crash or two in PC games, but Dishonored 2 is a bit more crashy than it should be, even though it was running on top-notch hardware.

Once it even forced me to go back to an earlier save because the point at which it auto-saved apparently corrupted and wouldn’t load any long (crashing the game back to the desktop). Some relatively minor menu issues also occurred, where I pulled up the selection wheel and then couldn’t change powers.

Hopefully these issues will get addressed in due time.

Overall: 8/10 Recommended

Dishonored 2 is largely the same, excellent Thief-inspired Steampunk-stealth-action-FPS that its predecessor was, even if it doesn’t innovate much beyond the original game’s formula and the narrative is a bit disappointing.

It could use a little patching as well, but on the whole I enjoyed the game and may revisit for another play through — and that’s something I don’t often do unless I really enjoy the game.

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