The original Dishonored was, for me, a massive surprise when it hit back in 2012. Releasing in the same month as Assassins Creed III, the game many saw as the point where UbiSofts sneaky open world action adventure franchise began to decline, Dishonored was a more focussed stealth experience harking back to the original Thief games on PC with its first person viewpoint and tight levels which allowed for multiple ways of play, coupled with a striking, steampunk esque visual style. I absolutely loved Dishonored and devoured it like the hungry gamer I was.
Game: Dishonored 2
Developer: Arkhane Studios
(Review code provided by publisher)
Fast forward to 2016 and we finally have a sequel with the originally named Dishonored 2! Was it worth the wait? Well, the answer isn’t so simple. At its heart, Dishonored 2 is very much a Dishonored game. Nothing’s changed too much since the first iteration. We pick the story up fifteen years on from the end of Dishonored; young Emily Kaldwin is now Empress, Corvo Attano, the main character from the first game, is revealed to be Emily’s father and her loyal protector. But not all is well in Dunwall. A nefarious murderer is offing those who oppose Emily and the finger is being pointed at the Empress and Corvo and, to make matters worse, an evil witch has cropped up claiming to be the true heir to the throne and kicking off a coup. So, it’s up to either Corvo or Emily to travel to the coastal city of Karnaca and get to the bottom of this, clear their names and restore order to the Empire; but here lies the first issue I have with the game.
The opening level presents you with a choice – you can be either Emily or Corvo. But this choice is purely binary and really only affects the way the game plays – Emily works more with powers that influence NPC’s, while Corvo has more stealth based abilities allowing him to slow time and teleport around. Regardless of your choice, the story plays out in the same way, with the other character being incapacitated and missions presented with simple dialogue and cutscene changes. To me this is a massive missed opportunity to inject something different into the sequel. Giving each character their own story or even allowing the player to switch between Corvo and Emily for different missions would have added some depth, allowing people to experiment with the different powers and using them to unlock different paths through the stages. The characters powers are also not telegraphed to the player when they’re offered the choice, meaning that if you’re not happy with how Emily plays or if you’re finding Corvo too much like the first game, you need to start over with the different character. It seems counterintuitive and does the game a disservice.
Beyond these odd character and story choices, though, Dishonored 2 is a solid experience. Not a huge amount has changed since the first game, but there has been a lot of refinement to the formula. The levels are, as expected, impeccably designed to give the player the maximum amount of freedom both horizontally and vertically, and the city of Karnaca feels alive and a wonderful place to explore. NPC’s live, work and converse independently of the player; watching and listening to them expands your knowledge of the world, as does finding books, notes and other objects of lore. All of this enriches the experience and adds to the atmosphere. Karnaca, as with Dunwall in the first game, is not an open world. The design choice of putting the game into a series of missions gives the story a larger sense of immediacy over something like Assassins Creed where even the most world changing event can seem insignificant when you can spend hours tooling about the game world, Dishonored is constantly pushing the player forwards. The downside of this is that you have to make sure you find as many collectibles as possible in each area before moving on, something that players used to more open worlds may take for granted, and something that could put some at a disadvantage.
To progress in the game, hunting down runes and bone charms is fairly critical. The former is the only way to upgrade your characters abilities, while the latter provides buffs that give you, for example, increased health or tweaked damage. These can be swapped out of one of five expandable slots at any time, allowing for a degree of experimentation and loadout switching on the fly. These special items are very well hidden away, but thankfully the game gives players a bit of assistance with finding them. The heart is an item you get early on, another carry over from the original Dishonored, and acts as a radar showing where items are hidden and flagging them up on the had. Players will also want to hunt down black market shops, always found in pre-mission city stages, to upgrade their gear and buy essential resources such as sleep bolts for their crossbow, or health vials. Cash for these shops can be found by exploring stages, looting houses and finding other rare treasures. This is very much where the similarities between Dishonored and its closest cousin, Thief, begin to show.
Visually, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The striking, almost cartooney visuals that the original employed are back for the second game and they look just as good on the current generation machines. On a disappointing level, however, textures on PS4 and XBox One seem a touch on the muddy side with some loss of definition in places. PS4 Pro owners get a bump in resolution and a more solid frame rate but, disappointingly, there is no HDR support on any of the formats available. As HDR capabilities on displays becomes more common, it is, for me, more exciting to see what enhanced color ranges can do to game visuals than simple fidelity upgrades provided by 4K and higher resolution textures. Coming off the back of playing games like Uncharted, InFamous: Second Son and Ratchet & Clank in HDR, Dishonored 2 looks mightily drab in comparison. The sun drenched streets of Karnaca would look simply sumptuous given the HDR treatment.
At its heart, Dishonored 2 is the game Assassins Creed should be. A lean, focussed stealth experience that can be played as a balls out action game should the desire take you. But despite being a solid experience, there really isn’t enough in this sequel to push the series forward. The two character mechanic isn’t explored as fully as it really could have been and the general aesthetic and mechanics simply feel like more of the same. While it’s well worth a play, Dishonored 2 feels, in some ways, like a missed opportunity.