Dishonored 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2016


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PS4 Review - 'Dishonored 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 14, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Explore a world unlike any other as either Emily Kaldwin or Corvo Attano - both powerful assassins with their own unique set of supernatural abilities, weapons and unusual gadgets.

Buy Dishonored 2

The original Dishonored was one of the strongest new IPs of the previous generation. A spiritual successor to the Thief franchise, it combined stealth gameplay, strong level design, and supernatural powers in a way that worked almost perfectly. Everything from the setting to the gameplay was top-notch, and it was no surprise that Dishonored 2 had a lot of expectations riding on it. Making a sequel to a surprise hit is difficult, and Dishonored 2 took the ambitious step of offering more choice than ever before. Fortunately, Dishonored 2's gambles pay off, and it's more than a worthy successor.

Dishonored 2 opens up about 15 years after the original game. Supported by her father and the royal protector Corvo Attano, Emily Kaldwin has ascended to the throne as Empress of Dunwall, but all is not well. The Crown Killer is silencing Emily's enemies, and she is taking the blame for it. A witch named Delilah appears during the remembrance ceremony for Emily's slain mother and claims to be her aunt and the true heir to the throne. She accuses Emily of killing those who oppose her and leads a coup. The player chooses who escapes — Emily or Corvo — and that person is forced on a quest to find the source of Delilah's power. This takes the hero to the distant land of Karnaca, where they must seek out and eliminate Delilah's supporters while unraveling the mystery to reclaim the throne.

The main story and writing are rather weak. Characters have a habit of repeating obvious things, and most cut scenes are tepid. The concepts are cool but not overly well executed, but this is bolstered by the strong environmental storytelling. Karnaca, its people and the plights facing the lands are wonderfully expressed through the way the levels are designed; the art direction; and the snippets you get from books, notes hidden throughout the world, and overheard dialogue from incidental NPCs. These details add a lot to the story and help sell what the cut scenes can't. It's impressive that  you can choose between Corvo and Emily and the story alters to compensate. The game was clearly written with Emily in mind, but Corvo gets some time to shine as well.

The core gameplay of Dishonored 2 is very similar to the first. It's a first-person stealth game that's largely based around reaching a single target and disposing of them. What sets apart Dishonored from most stealth games is the sheer freedom you have to complete your mission. You've given a large, open world, and it's up to you to figure out how you want to reach the target and disable them. There are multiple paths through any area, and you have a ton of options. Perhaps more importantly, it's a game where getting caught is less of a failure state and more one you can adapt to. The title offers a quick load and quick save option, but the gameplay is at its best when you're struggling with mistakes rather than retconning them away.

You have access to a variety of tools, especially considering that you have two distinct characters to play as. Both characters share the same basic weapons and tools. You have a crossbow with customizable bolts, a pistol, a sword, and a variety of traps and gadgets to disable enemies or destroy security systems. Beyond that, both characters are gifted with special powers that let them break the rules. Corvo retains most of his powers and abilities from the previous game, although a plot device means he has to master them all over again. In exchange, his powers are stronger and offer more flexibility than they did in the last game. He can teleport around the map by using the Blink skill, possess rats or humans, and stop time. If you played the first game, it's more of the same, though obviously in a new setting.

Compared to Corvo, Emily is more on the sneaky side. She can go in with guns blazing, but her powers reward you for setting up traps or being subtle. Domino allows you to tag up to four enemies with a special mark. Anything that happens to one enemy is reflected on the other marked enemies. This means you can drop an entire room with a single sleep dart or kill a well-guarded target by slaying a helpless civilian who happened to be standing nearby. Doppelganger allows her to create clones that can act on their own or change places with her. Unlike Corvo, Emily can't Blink, but she has Far Reach, which lets her summon a void tentacle to pull her to a location. The tentacle can also grab objects or enemies and pull them back to her. It's weaker than Corvo's Blink but has some advantages his doesn't, especially when it comes to combat.

It's hard to say who is more fun to play as. Corvo's power set is probably more versatile and instantly powerful, but Emily's has higher overall potential. However, at no point did I feel that one was less fun than the other, and that's important. Regardless of who you choose, you'll be given many options and a ton of ways to play. There's a good reason to play as both characters (even if they share much of the same content), and that adds plenty of replay value.

Dishonored 2 allows you to play the entire time as lethal or non-lethal as you like. You can slaughter your foes like a supernatural predator or sneak by unnoticed. The title is clear that High Chaos and Low Chaos are not Bad and Good, respectively. Instead, those classifications focus on the idea of cynicism versus optimism. It's fair to say one is a happier ending, but a cynical "it had to be done" attitude is just as valid. As in the previous game, each of the assassination targets can also be disabled instead of killed, usually by discovering a weakness by exploring the environment. It's a neat feature and is better implemented than in the first game, but there's room for improvement when it comes to the assassination targets. For example, you could strip a witch of her magical powers or lobotomize a genius as he screams for help.

Both characters can also customize themselves by collecting and using bone charms, which offer small boons like choke enemies faster or make less noise. In addition to the regular ones, there are Corrupted bone charms and Black bone charms; the Corrupted ones were first introduced in Dishonored'sDLC. The smaller bone charms now have a second purpose. You can learn a crafting skill, which lets you create stronger charms with up to four abilities on a single charm, or to create a new charm with multiple versions of the same ability for a greater boost. As in the first game, the bone charm locations are randomized, so you'll get a different skillset each time you play.

The gameplay only has one real flaw: It's easy. The more abilities you get, the easier it gets, and the difficulty doesn't scale well with a high-level character. As such, it depends on you to enjoy the systems rather than just trying to win. The game never gets boring. The set pieces are creative and interesting, and the mechanics are so fun that the easy gameplay doesn't drag it down too much. If you're looking for a challenge, you're not going to get it in the main mode. The game offers Emily and Corvo the option to reject the Outsider's gift and changes the gameplay into "No Power" mode. This does a lot to smooth out the difficulty curve, as you're suddenly forced to rely on gadgets and tricks that were overshadowed by your superpowers. I can't say it's a perfect solution since it cuts out a chunk of gameplay mechanics, but it's a neat feature for those who are looking for a challenge.

Dishonored 2's level design is amazing. Every area is huge and full of multiple paths and solutions. Compared to the first game, there's a bigger emphasis on verticality. Every area goes up for ages, and you're strongly encouraged to stick to the rooftops because the streets are very heavily patrolled. This isn't a limitation but a gentle guide toward the many ways you can travel to a location. More importantly, every stage has a distinct gameplay mechanic that fleshes things out a bit. One stage has you playing two sides against each other in a ruined city besieged by sandstorms. Another has a clockwork mansion that shifts around like a puzzle box. A third uses time travel in an incredibly creative way. The worst thing I can say is that some of the levels are average in comparison to the high points, but none are bad.

Dishonored 2 has fantastic art design covering for some noticeable graphical weaknesses. Some of the character models look a little weird, and the game had a problem with hitching and lagging in some areas. Textures were noticeably slow to load, leaving certain notes as messy blurs for a few moments before the game caught up. However, those weaknesses are overshadowed by the strong visual design. Karnaca is a hell of a place to live, and everything — from the warnings about Bloodfly nests to the streams of blood from the whaling ships — emphasizes that this is a rough place. Some of the voice acting is excellent, and some of it sounds forced and cheesy, but it does its job, and the incidental dialogue comes off well enough.

Dishonored 2 is an excellent sequel to an excellent game. It retains everything that was good about the first game and effectively doubles it with more characters, more abilities, and more levels. It retains some of the same flaws, including incredible ease, graphical issues, and a weak main narrative, but it more than makes up for it in other areas. It's hard to not be delighted with Dishonored 2, as it shows a developer at the very top of its game. Fans of the original and newcomers alike should find a lot to like here, regardless of whether they want to be a silent assassin or a lethal predator.

Score: 9.0/10

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