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2012’s Dishonored is one of last generation’s greatest original titles, offering relatively open-ended level design, an array of innovative supernatural powers and a variety of solutions to tackling enemies.
It’s a hitherto unseen formula and one that’s still a rarity in today’s videogame landscape. So there wasn’t much that a sequel had to do to in order to stand out. The real question is whether Arkane Studios went above and beyond the call of duty though…
New engine, same style
Fire up the game and you’ve got a familiar art style in tow, being somewhat pastel-like yet grounded in reality. In other words, those after photo-realistic visuals should keep expectations in check. Nevertheless, as the Dishonored HD remaster shows, the visual style is definitely going to show less age down the line.
One aspect that definitely looks the business is the lighting system though, as the sun shines through windows, spotlights bathe dark areas in light and sunsets simply look gorgeous.
As for character models, they all pack a respectable level of detail but, when it comes to enemies, it seems like some of the original game’s animations have been carried over. It’s nitpicking at first, but the first game’s enemy animations weren’t all that varied to begin with. So enemies will do the same ridiculous pose before firing a gun, for instance (serving as a visual cue to start blocking, it seems).
Overall, the game definitely looks the business though, featuring complex scenery and lovely lighting effects, but it’s not a massive improvement over the first Dishonored. However, the game truly differs from the original by pushing the envelope in terms of level design.
Bigger levels the star of the show
Dishonored features a few sizeable levels to begin with, but the sequel ups the ante in a big way. So you’ve got complex environments that are multiple times bigger than the first game, but they also feel more densely packed. Be it items, alternative routes or news clippings of in-game stories, the large levels are generally populated with a load of content, making it worth your while.
In fact, I would often find multiple routes in wildly divergent ways, not merely a case of climbing through a vent or taking the front door.
For instance, on my first playthrough of the second level (which has you starting on rooftops), I chose to drop down to the streets straight away, having to deal with enemies in the early going. However, my second playthrough saw me make a precarious drop off the other side of a building instead (I didn’t die either, to my surprise), cutting out a large portion of the level and coming across hitherto-unseen offices.
Dishonored 2 features much larger stages, but they aren’t merely big for the sake of being big
The larger levels are helped in large part by the increased emphasis on verticality, giving you more freedom to climb overhead. Not that the first game didn’t have ledges and rooftops to clamber along. But the game positively encourages you to climb over walls, blink to balconies and sidle along outcrops thanks to the more complex buildings and environments at play.
Either way, Dishonored 2 absolutely cries out for a second playthrough, as you’re guaranteed to find a house/room/passage/building/entire area you missed on your first run.
The bulk of the game takes place in Karnaca, which feels like a Mediterranean empire with massive class divisions, if anything. So that means luxury dwellings and neglected/dangerous areas side-by-side in the sun. Kinda like Cape Town.
It definitely makes for a somewhat more exotic playthrough than the first game in some ways, although you’ll still be experiencing night-time levels and dodgy, Dickensian-style environments.
What about gameplay?
Those expecting a major departure from the first game might be disappointed once again. In fact, large levels aside, it’s tough to tell how the two titles differ from each other in the early going.
But the biggest change is easily the fact that you’re playing as one of two characters now, in the form of old protagonist Corvo Attano or Empress Emily Kaldwin. And they each have their own largely unique set of powers at their disposal.
Play with Emily and you’ve got Domino (link two enemies so what you do to the one will affect the other), Mesmerise (summon a being that distracts enemies) and Shadow Walk (allowing you to turn into a shadow of sorts). Opt for Corvo and you’ve got the familiar powers, such as Bend Time (slow time), Devouring Swarm (summon rats to attack enemies and Possession (possess enemies and animals). Nevertheless, there is some crossover between the two, such as the similar Far Reach/Blink abilities, health power-ups, agility perks and more.
In a neat touch, these powers have branching trees too, so you can use Bend Time to stop time as well, or link more than two enemies together via the Domino ability. It isn’t something I paid much attention to in my first playthrough, as I was content to just have the initial power. But it makes for a more varied experience if you intend to be purely stealthy or purely murderous.
Dishonored 2 doesn’t really reinvent the wheel in terms of gameplay, but the level design is the true star here
Much like the original game, you’ll be searching for Runes dotted throughout the map, being used to upgrade your abilities. And bone charms return too, essentially granting you additional perks. New this time are corrupted bone charms, black bone charms and the ability to craft your own charms.
The former essentially gives you an ability but with a downside (e.g. survive higher falls but health regeneration takes longer), black bone charms are merely more powerful bone charms, while the latter allows you to use existing bone charms to craft your own.
In other words, fans of the original might want to play with Emily first if they want something new, as Corvo offers a very familiar experience. But even if you choose to play as Corvo, it’s hard not feel enthralled and/or intrigued by the new levels.
General gameplay is largely unchanged too, as you choose to stick to the shadows, knock out enemies or just cut everyone down in a gory orgy of violence. The aforementioned larger levels mean you’ll almost always find a different path, encountering different sets of enemies as a result.
Combat is still as rewarding as ever though, regardless of whether you choose non-lethal drops from above or bloody finishing moves.
The artificial intelligence is rather solid too, as civilians will warn you to leave a property and run for help, enemies will search for you and throw stones at you if you’re above them. But it’s nothing groundbreaking, and you’ll notice similar behaviour to the original. They’ll predictably fire their weapons in the same way, blindly kill their comrades if you’ve grabbed them and won’t call for help after taking damage. The threat is generally due to numbers then, rather than smart AI.
We do see some significant changes when it comes to enemies beyond the usual grunts though.
Instead of the original’s Tall Boys, Dishonored 2 brings fearsome clockwork soldiers into the fray. These robotic adversaries have blade-type implements for arms, while also packing wooden armour on the front and back. But taking on these enemies is a fun experience, as you can knock off their head with a well-placed shot, resulting in them attacking anyone nearby. You can also deliver a blow to their back armour, exposing one of their weak spots. Of course, the tricksters will want to hack their modules, inverting their perception of friend and foe.
The clockwork soldiers make for a great addition, being formidable enemies but still making for a fun encounter though.
The second major enemy type introduced in Dishonored 2 are witches, being capable of firing supernatural projectiles at you as well as disappearing and reappearing elsewhere. They’re not nearly as tough as the clockwork machines, but they’re definitely more annoying thanks to the disappearing act. Then again, if you catch them unawares, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Worth a buy?
I managed to finish Dishonored 2 in roughly 19-21 hours, so concerns about a Call of Duty-style campaign can be put to rest. And the addition of a second character means you can always spice things up on subsequent playthroughs. If there is a downside to the story mode though, it’s that the final boss fight, while technically played true to the spirit of the franchise, still feels like a stereotypical videogame boss fight.
There’s no New Game Plus mode either, so those wanting to start anew but retain abilities are out of luck – a big shame. You can however choose a hardcore mode that disables powers, if you really want a challenge.
Verdict: Between Emily and her abilities, the large levels (being the star of the show), two new enemy types and a fleeting mid-game time-travel mechanic, there have definitely been interesting and worthwhile additions in Dishonored 2. But those looking for more fundamental changes will definitely be left wanting. Still, it’s definitely worth a purchase this holiday season.
Score: 8.5 out of 10