So, Deathloop is out in less than two weeks. This naturally got me in the mood to check out the other works of Arkane Studios, primarily that of Dishonored 2 . I primarily never got around to it because it was released during a time when I was in the middle of working a new job and couldn’t spare the free time to play… And it and Death of the Outsider were on sale for 10 bucks as a double pack because of the Quakecon sale. So I figured between there being no real releases of note out this week and being in a very immersive sim mood, I figured “let’s just get it out of the way because I just really wanna play it and it gives me an excuse to get myself ready for Deathloop.”
Set 15 years after the events of the first game and you can play either the protagonist of the first game Corvo Attano or his ward/daughter, empress Emily Kaldwin as they try to clear their names from a series of grisly murders and expose the coup of the witch Delilah Copperspoon and the Duke of Serkonos as they attempt to take over the Isles by claiming Delilah’s legitimacy to the throne as the sister to Emily’s mother. With the aid of both the dark god known as the Outsider and a one-armed ship captain named Meagan Foster (who is implied to know more than she lets on), Corvo or Emily travel to Karnaca, Corvo’s birthplace, and the seat of the Duke’s power, to unravel the conspiracy. The reason I say “or” when regarding Corvo and Emily is because you can choose who to play as at the moment the coup goes down and whomever you don’t choose gets turned into a statue and whisked away (and in the case of Corvo, stripped of his powers in the process). While I’ll admit that having a choice of player characters this go-around is great, it’s less great when you find out that aside from some dialogue changes, the story plays out more or less the same way.
What follows is a story of breaking up conspiracies and eliminating the people who tried to overthrow you. It admittedly feels weird doing this as Emily because while you are the rightful monarch, assassinating your political opponents feels a tad weird if I’m being honest, not enough to be a deal-breaker, but it does clash with the initial story of clearing your name of a series of serial killings by someone called the Crown Killer. It also adds on the new tradition of fully voiced player characters, which is awesome because Erica Lutrell and Stephen Russell are great as Emily and Corvo respectively; and I see what you did there Arkane, getting the actor who voiced Garrett in the Thief games to voice a character that is a somehow less cynical version of Garrett, I SEE YOU.
Structure-wise, Dishonored 2 is based on an expanded version of the immersive sim formula established by the original game, albeit tweaked to better fit the circumstances of the narrative. You interact with Foster and other characters on Foster’s ship, the Dreadful Wale, go to a briefing discussing your next target and get dropped off to the part of Karnaca that’s related to the story. As a locale, Karnaca feels much larger than Dunwall, and a lot of that is to facilitate some of those aforementioned expansions to the formula. Case in point: the Black Market. Due to being ousted from power, you need to search the environment for valuables (which are converted into coins), and the cash is used to finance purchases and upgrades from the Black Market. It works similarly to how the Daud’s Favors System in the Dishonored 1 DLCs worked but presented in the game world as opposed to a pre-mission menu. It adds a layer to make the World feel like a lived-in place and it’s all the better for it.
And then there are the mission areas themselves, which are multilayered, dense, packed with secrets and various ways to get to objectives which is great because the Chaos system only really gives you two binary choices for getting objectives done (kill or disable). The standout mission is trying to navigate the Clockwork Mansion of Grand Inventor Kirin Jindosh, a place filled with Clockwork Soldiers (basically the setting’s equivalent to killer robots) that can have the very layout of the level by hitting various switches at specific points in the level to give you a different approach to completing you objective and it’s awesome.
This also kind of leads to the elephant in the room and my biggest issue with the game: After playing both characters for a few missions, with the exception of the Domino power (which lets you link upwards of four enemies together so you can take them out all at once), Emily’s powers are unfortunately not as interesting as Corvo’s in terms of just sheer “what can I do with the tools I have to get around these situations”. Her Far Reach Power is more of a slingshot than teleportation like Corvo’s Blink and the recurring theme is that her powers feel a bit too situational for my taste and found myself working more so with tools to get the job done. It’s not to say that it’s bad, far from it, it’s just that I prefer Corvo’s broader powerset, which is more or less unchanged from the previous game, but with some quality of life Changes; key among these being that it behaves more like Daud’s blink in the Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, thank god (You can stop time when you activate it in mid-air, but as an upgrade). The Chaos system also makes a return, but aside from maintaining that it gives you a more cynical ending to the story, it doesn’t have much of an effect on the world from a mechanics standpoint, which was an issue that I had in the first game outside of the final mission changing substantially. But it did incentivize me to go mostly pacifist on Emily, so there’s that.
While I can complain about the mechanical weirdness of Dishonored 2 all day, at the end of the day it’s more Dishonored with bigger levels and I can’t say no to that. While I think some bits of the story feel weird and Emily’s powers aren’t that great, the sheer ingenuity of the level design this time around is some of the best I’ve seen in an immersive sim since the first game that came out back in 2012 (Good Lord, that’s was a long time ago). If you like this type of game, you’ve probably already made up your mind on whether or not you like it, but if you need more incentive to check it out, here’s a story: I once snuck up on three guards and took them out at once with a sleeping dart while they were afflicted with a Domino effect, far reached to the fourth one and immediately choked him out nonlethally. It was badass.