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Review – Dishonored 2

I was introduced to Thief with the X-Box release of the third instalment of the series, was immediately gripped by the announcement of a fourth game, and ended up buying Dishonored to tide me over while I waited for the for the project to be pushed back and delayed and mired down and ultimately released to a chorus of “Oh… really?”.

Conversely, take the Bethesda released spiritual successor, a story of corruption and deceit immersed into a stylistic, industrialised fantasy world which drew a lot of the artwork from a cancelled Knights Templar themed game. It had stealth, it had action, variety, choices, tension and a dark horror that make it sound like a near-complete rip off of the original Thief series with better graphics and cool magic powers. And it was so good!

The sequel came out on Friday, I pre-ordered so that I could play a day early, but forgot how life has a tendency to put a damper on such optimistic plans. But twelve hours of my precious weekend vanished into Dishonored 2, and I have barely even begun.

Story

One of the most heavily advertised elements of this sequel was the ability to choose your protagonist; original “hero” Corvo Attano, played by the original actor of Garret from Thief, Stephen Russell – I believe I already had my fanboy moment about this – or his daughter with the former empress, Emily Kaldwin. The opening moments paint their relationship rather well, daughter and father, empress and servant, student and teacher, coming together on a day of mourning, fifteen years after the start of the first game.

I chose Emily because she’s new and interesting… and Shadow Walk.

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Our villainous tagteam are revealed shortly thereafter, flanked by clockwork soldiers that were not permitted inside (so were oddly permitted to last for more than two minutes by the super-powered assassin in the room). Duke Luca Abele of Serkonos is the second surprise from our all star cast, none other than Vincent D’Onofrio, better known as Robert Goren from Law & Order: Criminal Intent, better loved as the Kingpin from Marvel’s Daredevil. He introduces Delilah Kaldwin… who should either dead or imprisoned in the Void depending on how you completed the DLC of Dishonored!

How? Why? What? Her name is Copperspoon, not Kaldwin, what’s going on? And what’s Duke Fisk playing at?

Oh hey, possible mini-spoiler, did anyone else notice that the Heart that reveals the location of runes and charms is the heart of Empress Jessamine? That means last game Corvo was walking around with the heart of his recently-killed lover. Now it’s my Mother’s heart.

Style

Here’s where the series steps out of Thief’s deadly shadow (harr harr). Serkonos is our new setting, taking us from the overcast, mid-plague, Germanic austere architecture Dunwall, and setting us loose in a Mediterranean sub-tropical cityscape in glorious sunshine. Stealth in bright daylight is not an easy task. The busy scenery and staggeringly thorough level designs give you a lot of places to sneak through and wait out the search for the killer who keeps throwing bodies off rooftops for fun.

The cold metalworks of former Grand Inventor Sokolov are replaced by the more stylish constructs of wood, bone and brass made by Kirin Jindosh, including the bird-like clockwork soldiers. The contrast is incredible and yet still suits the look of the Empire we’ve grown accustomed to. Everywhere you turn, even in the darkest places everything seems light and fresh, putting a harsh contrast on the rivers of fish blood, streets decorated with crucified or hanged citizens, and the bloodfly infested houses.

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The ratplague with remarkably zombie-like symptoms is replaced by the native bloodfly species with psychotropic venom that can cause people to turn into zombies. I’ve yet to encounter them yet, but I have to say that bloodflies do present a far more interesting challenge, different enough to be distinctive, familiar enough to make it easy to buy into the fantasy.

This is where my lack of progress shows, I am just about to start the intriguing “Clockwork Mansion” shown in  early trailers as an Aperture-Science-like skin of shifting panels and mechanised guts, patrolled by the freakish automatons. I have recently carved my way through the Addermire Institute, whose narrative paints so many pictures, the disdain of the Duke for the common folk, the power of one kind soul and how quickly it can be crushed, and hints of the horrors still to come.

Other surprise voices, Rosario Dawson (also of Daredevil et al) plays our guide, Maegan Foster, the disfigured captain of the Dreadful Wale, and close friend of Sokolov; Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin from Gotham) plays the Outsider, his voice suits the moral grey the Outsider embodies a little better than the smoother voice of Billy Lush (whose voice features in the trailer above); and the further I dug into IMDb the more names I recognised. Big points to video game’s legitimacy in the multimedia culture, but that’s a much longer article in itself. Moving on.

Gameplay

The biggest grievance I have heard concerning Dishonored 2 is how much it demands of even high-spec computers. Me and my 20GB of RAM don’t see a problem, even running on an inadequate power supply. All that power goes into managing heavily populated levels, so many more people wander the streets making the world seem that much more alive, thriving and vibrant, even as you butcher your way through its corrupt ranks of guards. Assuming that’s your angle, that’s certainly how I’m playing.

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The sheer volume of people does make the bloodthirsty path far more challenging however. In the earlier stages of the game it is no small task to kill a pair of guards wandering around an open space without some great cost in health or ammunition, and the agitation drags more into the fray. This is a stealth game, you are not designed to take on gangs in a fair fight. Powers make things easier over time, but of course that means that over time you get harder foes to take down.

The first game offered an abundance of choice and free-roaming levels allowing for countless methods to slaughter your enemies, or slip by them like a shadow. Dishonored is dwarfed by its sequel, and while that opens up a wealth of exploration options, creates new opportunities to learn and discover the world and creates new options for interesting quests, I find the size comes at the expense of pace. In twelve hours I have only killed two of my targets because of my desire to dig out every nook and cranny I can, and still I’m only finding a fraction of the possible coin and treasures. It’s a density issue I found impossible to overcome in Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel, and I hope that the situation doesn’t worsen later in the game.

I took great pleasure in my first encounter with the Outsider when I was given the choice of whether or not to accept his gifts. “No Powers” mode would close off quite a few parts of the game, make plenty of areas far harder to explore or reach, and generally offer a far greater challenge. I looked at the choices I was offered and thought:

“No powers mode? You mean I get to choose? That’s awesome!…”
“Powers though… obviously.”

Emily plays quite differently to Corvo, or indeed the second lead character Daud from the DLCs. Far Reach has a few curious little quirks not present in its counterpart Blink, most notably the very slight momentum with which you arrive at your target destination that can often see you plummeting from narrow perches you didn’t quite judge right. Dark Vision‘s ability to see through walls has been visually improved, but practically hindered, making it far less potent but still worth investing in. My only other bought power so far, Shadow Walk is exactly as cool as I hoped for, no notes for you.


I can see my future unrolling before me, a wealth of plans and necessities, opportunities and moments of rest, consumed beneath a parade of replays. I’m thinking I’ll play Corvo as a nice guy this time, kill infrequently, follow the objectively “good” path. Then again, and again, and more when the DLCs inevitably come out, presumably with some new and fascinating story and new challenges to face.

I have barely begun this game, I have no doubt there’s a whole lot more flaws for me to uncover, this is Bethesda after all. For now though, I’ll see you again… from my perch on a windowsill somewhere high above.

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