PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
You might be wondering why we have purposely delayed the review for Dishonored 2. In part, it is because such a large and expansive game definitely needs its time before an informed opinion can be published. The other, much larger reason, is the game’s performance on PC. It was important for us to cover both the console version and the PC version in order to give a truly informed opinion about such an anticipated game as Dishonored 2.
The performance issues on PC come up as quite a surprise for two reasons. First of all, I do not expect a GTX1080 GPU and an i7-5930k CPU to have problems keeping a game running at the now-standard (For PC, anyway) 1080p and 60fps. The second reason is that having played through the game, I honestly don’t see the justification for the massive FPS drops. It’s not that Dishonored 2 is an ugly game, far from it, but it is also unremarkable in the graphics department. In fact, placed side-by-side along with such eye-candy as the new DOOM, Battlefield 1 or even Shadow Warrior 2, Dishonored 2 looks… average.
Variety, especially among enemies, is nonexistent with the Royal Guard (your basic, most common, human enemy) consisting of a few faces, copy-pasted across the world. Other factions are likewise the same face on a different model. The textures and effects all “work”, but nothing that made me go “WOW” and want to show it around. Really, the best way to sum up Dishonored 2’s graphics is “serviceable” – and this is at maximum settings across the board. The one thing that did catch my eye in terms of graphics is the lighting – which was done remarkably well, lending a certain “hand painted” feel to large parts of the scenery.
Putting aside graphics, Dishonored 2 sticks to the formula set by its predecessor. The Empress is dethroned and it’s up to you to find out who did it, why did they do it and more importantly – how do you make stabbing them in the face a viable option. Of course, stabbing is just one option of several, and Dishonored 2 maintains the possibility for the peaceful (or, “Low Chaos” as it is called) approach with several improvements over the previous game, allowing the non-lethal approach to actually be fun if that’s your sort of thing. Me, I stuck to creeping unseen and slitting throats.
Before you set about on your campaign of slitting throats (or forcefully cuddling) your enemies, you need to choose a protagonist. Unlike the first game, which was played entirely through the eyes of Corvo Attano, in Dishonored 2 you can choose to reprise your role as Royal Protector or strike out as Empress Emily – Corvo’s and late Empress Jasmine’s daughter. The differences between the two aren’t just cosmetic either, with each character providing a different (although in places, similar) set of powers and abilities.
As Corvo, your powers are pretty much identical to the first game: Blink, and its upgrades, allow you to teleport short distances unseen and flank (or avoid) your enemies. Coupled with the Dark Vision power to see through walls, these are the most used and easily most useful powers – with Blink being a Corvo-only power, and Dark Vision shared with Emily as well. Possession lets you merge into an animal (or human, with an upgrade) and use their form to your advantage. Devouring Swarm, much like it sounds, summons a swarm of very hungry rats to do unspeakable things to your enemies. Windblast does exactly what it says on the tin – tear down obstacles, flick your enemies away, crush them against a wall. Lastly there is Bend Time, which slows (or once upgraded, entirely freezes) time and lets you get really creative with how you want your enemies to die. All of these powers are familiar and unchanged from the previous game, which makes me wonder if Corvo is just here as a sort of fan service.
With Emily, apart from sharing Corvo’s Dark Vision power, you get an entire new set of powers to play around with and use to your advantage. Far Reach works similarly to Corvo’s Blink, but instead of teleporting around, Emily physically pulls herself through the world, leaving her visible in the process. Again, this is probably the power you’ll use most often, and it is the first you unlock. Shadow Walk turns Emily into a stealthier shadow creature and allows you to sneak past enemies, or either kill or incapacitate them by surprise. Mesmerize summons a weird otherworldly figure that entrances enemies near it, and Doppelganger does exactly that – creates a version of Emily that can either distract enemies or engage them in combat once upgrade. Emily can even switch places with one of her doppelgangers if the situation calls for it. Whoever, the power I found most useful and inventive is Domino, which “ties” the fate of two or more characters. If one is incapacitated, the rest of them will drop down too; if one is launched into the air right into the path of a grenade, the rest will follow. You can spend hours coming up with new, entertaining ways to use Domino with both lethal and nonlethal effects.
there’s also a “No Powers” mode that can be activated – making the game that much harder, but also far more satisfying. This leads us to the question of the game’s challenge across multiple playthroughs. Arkane Studios did something that I at times both appreciated and absolutely hated: certain parts of the game are randomized. For the most part, the randomization touches relatively small things like specific loot placement and safe combinations. It means you can’t just save, go on a killing-spree to find a certain loot or code, and than load your save and “magically” know the code you need to open a gate or a safe. You have to commit to your play style. About two thirds into the game there’s a most devious puzzle can be solved to outright skip an entire level. Of course, the solution can be obtained through the standard method of playing through the level – but there is an achievement for figuring it out yourself if you choose to rise up to the challenge. I will only say this: It has been a very long time since a game had a puzzle for which I actually grabbed a piece of paper, took a screenshot of the puzzle and shut down the game to concentrate on the puzzle fully. Kudos, Dishonored 2, for doing something truly challenging in this age of hand-holding and guide-arrow games.
To give credit where credit’s due, Dishonored 2’s levels are also the single best thing about the game. This is where you feel the influence of great classics like Thief or the first Deus Ex – where each level was a puzzle to be tackled your way and solved in whatever approach you fancied. First, the levels here are absolutely enormous – some are even broken down into several segments to make navigation easier. Second, they are as non-linear as can be with multiple options around (or straight through, sword-first) any obstacle in your way. Doors can be busted open, keys can be located, or you can just bypass them with some tricky platforming and an open window, or a conveniently located rathole. Likewise, enemies can be distracted, possessed, killed in many different ways, or just entirely ignored – it’s really up to you. Even your assassination targets can be not-assassinated. I refrain from using the word “spared” as some of the alternative solutions are quite honestly worse than death. All of them have a certain “Poetic Justice” feel to them that made me wonder what’s the crueler solution – outright murder or the alternative approach. Good thing the game’s so replayable, isn’t it?
Despite its many technical difficulties, a few patches later Dishonored 2 is actually a very enjoyable game on PC. Although the plot itself is somewhat derivative, the characters and the world let you create your own smaller stories that are far more interesting. The expansive levels and freedom of play from the previous game are even more present here, alongside a few more imaginative ways it improves on the original. While Corvo might not bring anything new to the table, Emily most certainly does, and this obviously her game. This is a good example of how fans of the previous game will find both the familiar and the new in Dishonored 2, which is exactly what a sequel should offer.