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“Dishonored 2” falls short of its 2012 predecessor. (Courtesy of Arkane Studios)
The original “Dishonored,” created by Arkane Studios in 2012, was far and away one of the best stealth games released last generation. With its compelling narrative, a strikingly realized setting and a style of stealth that emphasized playing however you pleased, the original game set the bar for all stealth games coming after it, even trumping the veritable kings of the genre, the “Assassin’s Creed” series. Now, four years after its predecessor’s release, the developers at Arkane have released “Dishonored 2” in an attempt to make that same lightning strike twice. Unfortunately, while the long-awaited sequel succeeds in meeting the quality of its forebear, it fails to expand beyond what both the series itself and its competitors have already accomplished.
The story begins 15 years after the original and follows either Emily Caldwin, the Empress of the industrial city of Dunwall, or her father and series protagonist Corvo Attano. On the eve of her mother’s assassination, Emily is thrown from power by Ser Luca Abele, a former subordinate who rises to power in the neighboring city of Karnaca thanks to his alliance with the witch Delilah. After choosing which of the two leads to control, the player makes their way out of the capital, meets up with some of Corvo’s old allies, and flees to Karnaca to hunt down all of Abele’s allies in a bid to reclaim Emily’s throne.
This is where the game begins to show its faults. While it attempts to put a greater emphasis on storytelling than its predecessor did, with both of its protagonists being fully voiced and a larger cast of characters, the plot never goes beyond simply rehashing the original’s story in a more tropical setting. Outside of a few exceptions, no one in the cast is given enough personality to be at all memorable, and both Corvo and Emily are given so little character growth that it is hard to care about their ultimate fates, much less the fates of those around them. While the environmental design does go a ways towards alleviating the story’s faults, with the city of Karnaca being just as well realized as “Dishonored’s” Dunwall, a pretty set can only do so much to make up for wooden actors.
Thankfully, the gameplay that made the series famous is just as strong as its ever been. Each of the game’s nine chapters task the player with hunting down their target in whatever way they see fit, whether that means sneaking through the environment without being seen, knocking out all guards in the vicinity or going on a murderous rampage. Aiding the player in this is a suite of supernatural powers ranging from creating a shadowy grappling hook to climb up buildings to summoning clones to distract enemies. These powers combined with a bevy of useful gadgets and environments that reward exploration with better equipment leads to each of the chapters feeling both challenging and memorable.
The problem is that almost none of the new mechanics that “Dishonored 2” brings to the table are comparable in quality to what is already there. The game’s big new addition is the choice between which of the two leads to play as, with Corvo keeping all the powers he obtained in the previous game while his daughter Emily gets her own suite of powers built around manipulating enemy AI. Unfortunately, this addition falls flat on its face because Emily’s powers end up being both less effective in every way to her father’s and generally less fun to use, making the choice of character feel pointless outside of its novelty in the story. Beyond this, the game lacks any new gameplay mechanics that radically change what already works, leading to a “been there, done that” feeling that the story only compounds.
To give credit where it is due though, the issue of variety is somewhat alleviated, like the story, by the quality of the environmental design. Each of the game’s nine chapters builds itself around a particular theme, with many introducing minor gameplay additions that only apply to that chapter. These include fighting through a mansion that shapeshifts as one makes their way through it, a semi-abandoned hospital filled with giant mutated mosquitoes and others that go a long way towards mixing things up. While it would have been nice to see some of these mechanics get a bit more fleshed out beyond their brief appearances, they at least help make each level a bit more memorable than they otherwise would be.
Unfortunately, if there is one thing that the game’s incredible environments can not make up for, it is the game’s overall performance. For this review, we played the PC version on medium settings, and the number of glitches and crashes we ran into in our time with the game is inexcusably bad. Audio glitches were common from start to finish, with characters talking over each other, music cues occurring for seemingly no reason and guards repeating dialogue ad nauseam. While this is a complaint that will be fixed over time with patches and bug fixes, the fact that a AAA video game release charging $60 can get away with releasing a game this unpolished is baffling.
Overall, “Dishonored 2” can not help but feel disappointing. While it still does everything the original game did just as well, it never grows out of its predecessor’s shadow to form its own identity, seeing fit to play things way too safe to avoid shaking up the status quo. To its credit, that does mean that the worst the game ever ends up being is simply a next-gen level pack for the original “Dishonored,” and those who are just looking for that or who never played the original should come away satisfied. For anyone else, especially those who think a sequel should be more than just more of the same, wait for a price drop before buying this one. “Dishonored 2” is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 for $60. For those who are interested in trying the original, it is available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC for $10, with a remastered version also available on Xbox One and PS4 for $20.
Final Grade: C+