Dishonored 2 is a brilliant game. It's a wonderfully deep, systems-heavy first-person adventure which gives you all the tools and then begs you to go for it. Putting you in the shoes of either Emily or Corvo this time, Dishonored 2 offers more options than ever. Emily's powers are wildly different from Corvo's -- even her teleporting ability veers away from Corvo's Blink, thrusting her forwards with momentum instead of warping her to a position.
With the above in mind, there's potentially double the game -- if you play through as both characters, and you are going to want to play through Dishonored 2 more than once. While many games give you a variety of options for character building, technically giving you multiple playthrough options, most games aren't really designed for it -- Dishonored 2 is. With each level presenting numerous pathways through it -- both physically and in terms of play style -- you can easily lose hours just by playing the same level repeatedly and making different choices. The way you solve the puzzles of the game as Emily won't be the same as Corvo. Emily can link the fates of three guards together, so that when she kills one the others die, for example. Corvo would need to stop time to force all three to drop dead together. And bear in mind, you won't finish a full run-through of Dishonored 2 with all of Emily or Corvo's powers. I acquired just shy of every Rune on my first playthrough and there were entire powers of Emily's that I didn't access. I never Mesmerised anyone, a powerful stealth tool that forces those subjected to it to contemplate "the void". I also never unlocked the Doppelganger power, which would have been useful when I was going on a murder spree. I could play through the game again using those completely different powers, and again I'd be forced to solve puzzles differently.
On top of that, the variety of options on a moment to moment basis in the game varies wildly depending on your actions. Let me tell you about the moment when I fell in love with Dishonored 2. By using The Heart, you're pointed in the direction of Runes, Bonecharms and Shrines throughout the map. Invariably this can be used to find secret portions of the map you would otherwise not think to investigate. I'm not 100% on board with it, philosophically, because I don't like the idea of waypoints in an exploratory game like Dishonored 2. On the other hand, the icons on your hud open your eyes to the breadth of the level design -- they're a necessary crutch, because you're a newcomer to this world, and the icons are a learning tool. Once you've beaten the game once and gotten used to things, Dishonored 2 allows you to turn off all the elements of your HUD, leaving you to roam free.
Anyway, in the first half of the second assassination target I found myself leaning very heavily on The Heart as a crutch to inspire me to 'explore'. I was bee-lining from HUD marker to HUD marker, collecting bonecharms and runes as I went, marveling at the size of the level. Multiple stories, with rooms available at each level. Even when the room didn't contain a bonecharm, I was still exploring it. Soaking in the atmosphere, the background detail as little things were explained. Apartments abandoned due to Bloodfly infestation, shops still open but barely making ends meet. Background information told via letters and incidental dialogue, an entire history created for a world even as the player character you're only briefly passing through.
And as a content locust, I was ripping through all of this as fast as I could. Speed-reading letters, soaking in atmosphere, working out how to get to the bonecharms and then moving on. While blasting through this second level I made my way to the black market shop. And if I have an issue with the HUD markers for bonecharms, it's via these black market shops. Because to find a black market, you need to pay attention to the signs on the walls -- subtle indicators to direct you as you go. But if the black market sells a rune or contains a bonecharm — and they invariably do -- you'll find the shop anyway, because The Heart will tell you where to go.
But at the shop in this second area, there's extra elements of storytelling at play. This entire paragraph contains spoilers, to the extent that any information at all can be considered a spoiler (as per my Dark Souls 3 review
). You encounter (or at least witness) the mob boss of the Howlers here, as Paolo puts in an order at the black market while you hide out of the way. But the real magic of the game comes when you leave the shop and head next door. A helpful homeless gentleman tips you off about some shady business in an abandoned building, and if you make your way all the way through it you can stop or participate in a heist on the same black market shop you just visited. To rob it, I needed to steal some whale oil from the rail cart station and return to blast a hole through the wall. I did that, flinging the whale oil up the wall using Emily's Far Reach ability. If I failed to catch the whale oil as I flung it up the building, it would explode and throw me off the building to my death. After about eight attempts, I succeeded, I went downstairs, blew a hole in the wall and made off with everything I could carry.
The feeling of achievement was spectacular, and what I liked about it most is that it wasn't signposted by an icon on my HUD, and so I suddenly properly understood how deep the level design in the game was.
Dishonored 2 has problems though. To get into these problems, I'm going to digress (again).
As long as it is a game and you are playing it (as opposed to not playing it) you are 'doing the right thing'. This is at the root of a modern philosophy which dictates that you can't play games wrong. In the age of the internet, when information is free — both to access and to interpret -- authorial intent is dead, and there is no wrong way to read a book, to watch a movie or to play a game.
Except that, by the very nature of their interactivity, games have right and wrong ways to play them. You can run out of time in a Mario level. You can try hugging the ghosts in Pac-Man. Failure states are inherent to (many) games, and a failure state is (usually) triggered by an action which is wrong. The challenge for gamers is to work out the line between wrong and inefficient -- because there are situations where you're not playing a game wrong, you're just not maximising your potential. If you're playing a Call of Duty game (one of the good ones, nothing recent) and you're not in a near perpetual state of forward momentum, you're not playing the game wrong but you are being inefficient. Enemies in CoD games spawn endlessly until you move beyond a certain area, which means in the Black Ops and Modern Warfare series you were generally better off not shooting enemies if it meant you didn't have to slow down.
There are some games where the correct way to play doesn't necessarily meet with the most efficient way to play. A recent example is Doom (2016)
. The mantra of Rip and Tear extolled the virtues of the forward momentum traditional to modern shooters, but lethality of enemies in close quarters combat and the looped-in kill chambers created an efficiency problem. Yes, if you were brutalising baddies you were regaining health and ammo, so you were able to negate the damage you were taking from said baddies. But if you were etching out a path away from the baddies, turning around and shooting them and only brutalising an enemy once you singled them out prior to the next wave beginning, you weren't taking damage and so you only needed ammo. The game wanted you to rip and tear, but the most efficient way to play was to backpedal and ping.
Dishonored 2 is another one of these games, where the 'correct' and the most efficient ways to play it are at odds with one another. Take the stealth for example. The sneaking gameplay isn't as good as it should be. The sound design is a huge problem. When you're locked into a first-person perspective, you need the sound design to be flawless if you're going to properly time your emergence from cover. That's not the case here, and too often I was able to hear NPCs through walls, windows or floors as clearly as I might if they were next to me. Whether it was a bug or intended, I don't know, but it turned stealth into a massive chore.
Dishonored 2 also makes it so enemies can see you if you lean, which can be a huge issue — it means you take a huge risk by leaning out from cover to take a peek at where your next target currently is. So unless you unlock Dark Vision (the only power both heroes share) you'll spend quite a bit of time with your nose to a wall, hesitantly leaning out to take a very quick peek only to return your nose to the wall.
In this sense, stealth -- which is how Dishonored 2 would like you to play — is grossly inefficient. Even on higher difficulties it's too easy to simply leap down, assassinate an enemy, windblast their friend, stop time and then finish everyone off at your leisure. Or to link three people's fates together and throw one of them into a fire. The low chaos route is the challenge route for Dishonored 2, and most of the fun in the game comes from high chaos gameplay.
Make no mistake -- the low chaos game is the intended outcome. Unlike Dishonored 1, where some choices you made in the game were negative no matter what, the difference between low and high chaos in Dishonored 2 is clearly split between good and bad endings. It lays the future of the kingdom of the Isles at your feet, and declares its missteps your fault.
But it is significantly more satisfying to play Dishonored 2 as a murder-machine. There is something exceptionally satisfying about setting up a Rube-Goldberg-esque chain of death, and it just isn't the same if you're knocking folks out. KOing people is generally a time-consuming affair -- literally, it takes several seconds to knock someone out -- and it lacks the immediate reaction of the assassination. Sure, you could link some soldiers together and then shoot one with a sleep dart. But what if you instead linked them together and then decapitated one, watching as the other heads rolled off as well?
Add to this the fact that save games tell you whether you're on a low or high chaos run, and it almost seems engineered to inspire killing sprees. When I found out my save game was 'Emily, High Chaos' on my first run, my reaction was 'fuck it, I guess it's too late now'. And so everyone died. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The real stinger--— I was apparently on a high chaos run three-minutes into the first real level of the game. I'd killed barely anyone.
But I had so much fun anyway. And I did the non-lethal takedowns on all assassination targets, because those are actually more fun. It's more fun to work out how to save a boss target, even if you're not able to necessarily talk them out of fighting at all.
There's a disconnect there, where playing in a non-lethal fashion is actually rewarding -- but only when the puzzle of how to non-lethally take down a boss is similarly satisfying. And in the bulk of the game, the non-lethal puzzle is instead tedious, because you're struggling against the poor sound design and the fact that you're either seeing the world through orange eyes via Dark Vision, or you're staring at a wall and then leaning out briefly.
To that end, Dishonored 2 wants you to play non-lethally, but it's far more efficient to play it as an angel of sometimes horrifying death. And that's a shame, because I think with sound working as it should have, it could have been as good a Stealth experience as it is in every other facet -- world-building, graphics, level-design, mechanics and so on.
Before I wrap up, I should mention -- I played using a i5 2500K (the little engine that could), with 16GB of RAM and on a GTX 1070. The game ran at a flawless 120 frames per second, and it looked gorgeous the entire time. Many, many other people have been experiencing significant issues with Dishonored 2 on PC, however. Especially people playing on non-Pascal (Nvidia 10 series) cards, which appear to be capable of a significant amount of heavy lifting.
Dishonored 2 is definitely worth playing. You might want to buy it on console, or wait a while before you get it on PC, but it's a must-play game for 2016. There's so much to explore, to experience, that I think it's essential playing — despite the slightly disappointing stealth.