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Dishonored 2

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Stealth

Graphics & Sound:

Dishonored 2 belongs to a very particular niche genre that is admittedly near and dear to my heart. This genre has no identifying buzzword to rope it in with would-be contemporaries, but it capitalizes upon a concept that countless modern releases claim to champion. That concept? Choice and consequence. Most games that purport to be about choice and consequence do no more than flirt with the idea, opting instead for an illusion. Ultimately, whatís supposed to be a deeply personal experience turns out to be nearly universally-shared among players. Absolutes and binary outcomes are anathema to the sense of freedom delivered by games that get it right. Games like Deus Ex, System Shock, the original Thief, and yes, Dishonored. While its story is nothing to write home about, its astonishing world-building and incredible diversity of viable playstyles is what makes Arkaneís flagship franchise such a success. Dishonored 2 takes the foundation of that great original and builds upon it in a number of surprising and meaningful ways. Some of its luster is lost amidst all the ambition, but if you liked the first one, this sequel is a must-buy.

Arkaneís Void engine is capable of producing some lovely visuals, though photorealism isnít the goal. Itís actually quite difficult to describe the almost surreal aesthetics; particularly when it comes to the gameís human characters. Itís somewhere in the ether between the exaggerated features of animated humans and real life. That way, the developers can let loose artistically without any ventures into that dreaded Uncanny Valley. As Dunwall was to the original Dishonored, Karnaca is Dishonored 2ís most important character. Thematically and physically, the Jewel of the South could not be more different from Dunwall. Serkonos, being the southernmost Isle in the Empire, boasts a climate thatís far more temperate. The brighter color palette is proof; soft yellows and beiges make up the Karnacan skyline, and the architecture is evocative of Southern Europe. Technically, the game doesnít quite live up to its predecessor; it feels a touch slower in the frame rate department, and I unfortunately bore witness to more than a few crashes over the course of my playthroughs. If this kind of stuff is eventually patched out, weíll be left with a game thatís both confident in its vision and a genuine pleasure to behold.

Continuing the previous gameís trend of having a recognizable cast of all-star talent, Dishonored 2ís voice work is stupendous. Corvo is fully-voiced this time around, which, if anything, reinforces the fact that he should have had a voice in the original. But both Emily and Corvo have very interesting inner monologues. Erica Luttrell lends a sense of vengeful vulnerability to the troubled young Empress in exile, while in a truly ironic turn, Stephen Russell (the original voice of Thief protagonist Garrett) voices Corvo with that certain something that denotes both determination and world-weariness. Iíd say Russell made out like gangbusters; his being replaced for the awful 2014 Thief reboot was akin to a sinking ship changing captains. Itís the supporting cast that features the big names: Rosario Dawson (the Marvel Cinematic Universeís Claire Temple) gives Meagan Foster a personality that manages to be both damaged and sneering. Speaking of Daredevil, itís the voice of Vincent DíOnofrio that gives Duke Abele all his bluster, bombast, and insufferable arrogance. Listen carefully when you're in the Dust District; you might pick up on two notable HBO alumni, who turn in a pair of fine performances as opposing faction leaders. On top of that, the great Sam Rockwell (The Green Mile) shows up for a role that you may miss if you blink. Iíve always been a fan of consistency, so while I don't mind the Outsider's new voice, itís kind of a jarring change. Speaking of consistency, Daniel Licht returns to his role as composer with another sardonic score rife with harpsichords and high-society leitmotifs. With the new setting, Licht is able to stretch his creative limbs a bit; without giving anything away, his work definitely helps sell the city of Karnaca as a world apart from Dunwall. Sometimes all that requires is a different choice of instrument.


Gameplay:

Dishonored 2 picks up fifteen years after the events of Dishonored. The Empire of the Isles is teetering in an uneasy peace. The circle of conspirators that murdered Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, kidnapped her young daughter Emily, and installed the corrupt Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows is a thing of the past, having been put to a definitive end by Corvo Attano, the Lord Protector. Emily now sits on the throne, with Corvo at her side. Things arenít all sailor shanties and whalesong, however; while Dunwall seems to have recovered from the rat plague that decimated its streets all those years ago, the industrial haven and capital of Gristol has seen better days. But things look even worse for the Isles as a whole. Someone seems to have it out for the Empress: a mysterious figure dubbed the "Crown Killer" has been picking off Emilyís most vocal political rivals. Itís clearly a false flag operation intended to undermine her authority, but it, along with countless other problems, seems out of reach. Things boil to a violent head during a remembrance ceremony intended to honor the late Empress. When Luca Abele, the unscrupulous Duke of Serkonos, arrives with an unexpected and unwanted guest, things get really bad really quickly. One bloody coup and one successful escape attempt later, you (as either Emily or Corvo) find yourself aboard a ship bound for Karnaca, the capital of Serkonos. And again offering his support is the devil analog of the Abbey of the Everyman, the black-eyed spirit known as the Outsider. Only by gathering the right information, unraveling the conspiracy, and eliminating those who orchestrated your deposal can you take back whatís yours.

Dishonored 2ís story is predictable in its broad strokes and not particularly engaging in terms of narrative or character. But itís loaded to the brim with winks and nods to those who played the first game, and more importantly, its expansions The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. Some familiar faces show up, some in unexpected ways, others not so much. What Dishonored 2 succeeds at most is world-building. The lore is simply fascinating, and its development throughout the gameís fifteen-to-twenty hour run time is to be commended.

As was the case with its predecessor, Dishonored 2 is split into a sequence of elimination missions. From your rescuerís ship, the Dreadful Wale, you are dispatched to a series of regions across Karnaca. Through whatever means you deem necessary, you must make your way through each area, locate your target, eliminate him/her, and exfiltrate. This may sound simple to those who havenít played the original, but itís anything but. You see, thereís no right or wrong way to play; the only limitations are the ones you impose on yourself. If you want to be stealthy, you not only have that option, but you can grow your character to become more adept at that particular playstyle. If you want to put the Crown Killer to shame, the same applies. For that matter, everything in-between works just as well.

Level design, once again, is outstanding. I would single out a few gimmicks for special mention, but I wouldnít dare spoil them for first-time players. All I will say is that they are a master stroke in cohesive world-building. But there remains a familiar comfort to the patterns that Arkane employs in quest-building. You invariably start out in a hub area, where kill-on-sight is the exception rather than the rule. Collectibles, lore, and loot are there for those who know how to seek it out, and special actions make a welcome return. Factions are frequently in play, and the element of choice deepens further still. As you get closer and closer to your target, things start to funnel in on themselves. Guards get a bit tougher, a bit more alert. The margin for error shrinks. Things get intense, but opportunities for exploration continue to abound for the intrepid completionist. Your actions will be remembered, one way or anotherÖ


Difficulty:

Dishonored 2 is a wild card when it comes to difficulty. Its challenge factor is directly impacted by several factors. Naturally, youíve got your variable difficulty level, which impacts enemiesí level of overall awareness and proficiency in combat. But Dishonored 2ís toughness is about much, much more than that. For example, when the Outsider visits you during your fateful voyage to Karnaca, you are given the choice of whether to accept his Mark or refuse it. Accept it, and the addition of supernatural abilities results in your tactical options expanding several times over. Refuse it, and youíre left with a more restrictive experience; your sword, crossbow, gear, and natural abilities are all youíve got.

Even with all of these options, Dishonored 2ís flexibility is what really makes its challenge factor shine. With each playstyle comes its own intrinsic difficulty level; compounding that with all of the variables you set for yourself results in an incredibly personalized experience. If you fancy yourself a superpowered avatar of indiscriminate slaughter, you will likely have an easier time of things, albeit one that is no less satisfying for what it delivers. However, Dishonored 2 brings back the option to play in total stealth without killing a single person. I accomplished this feat on my first playthrough, and even though I chose the default difficulty, it was murderously difficult. Enemy artificial intelligence is observant, whip smart and often incredibly difficult to predict. And Iím not just talking about the humansÖ


Game Mechanics:

Dishonored 2 controls almost identically to the original. Regardless of whether or not you accept the Outsiderís Mark, youíll be moving about, using (or not using) your weapons in much the same way as you did in Dishonored. Sword in the right hand, equipment in the left. Whether itís a crossbow, a grenade, or a mine is up to you. Mapping your favorites to the D-pad is easy as pie, but the radial wheel that pops up upon holding (LB) is simple enough, too. Combat features the same blend of blocking, countering, evading, and fast reflexes, and slow-motion kill moves make the proceedings more entertaining and bloody than ever.

Naturally, the Outsiderís involvement makes things more interesting, and itís here where Dishonored 2 really comes into its own. A sandbox is only as good as the toys youíre given, and thereís certainly a wealth of playthings here. Times two. Yes, Arkane could have left well enough alone and settled for a copy and paste job. Emily would have inherited Corvoís powers and that would have been it. But Arkane didn't leave well enough alone; they got ambitious and doubled down on the creativity. Emily and Corvo may control identically to one another, but their Void-powered abilities are, for the most part, functionally different. There's a bit of overlap, however, in the fact that they both possess a teleportation skill (Blink for Corvo, Far Reach for Emily) and can make use of Dark Vision to see through walls and highlight important objects.

Corvo is given the Samus Aran treatment if you choose to play as him; stripped of all his powers, he must earn them once again if he is to return to his former glory. His skillset is unchanged from the original, however. So if you were a fan of powers such as Possession, Bend Time, Windblast, and Devouring Swarm, you have the option to regain and tweak them to your liking in Dishonored 2. So while Corvo's playstyle is short on surprises, it comes across as a classic stand-by.

Given the personal nature of the story, one gets the sense that Emilyís playthrough will be established as the "canonical" one. Itís just as well; her abilities are fascinating, especially if youíre the kind of player who likes to mix things up and play with your enemies the way that cats play with mice Ė or better yet, a chess player with several pieces on the board. My personal favorite of her powers is Domino; when you link two or more characters together with this power, their fate is shared. So whatever happens to one happens to everyone else sharing the link. Using Emily's illusion powers in conjunction with her naturally-honed killer instinct yields effective and often hilarious results.

Regardless of who you choose to play as, character growth is handled identically between the two. Powers can be unlocked and upgraded by finding and spending Runes; since these are tied into exploration and completing sidequests, this is a way for each player to get the most out of their playthrough. Also returning are Bone Charms, which bestow passive benefits. Corrupted Bone Charms return, as well; each one offers a powerful boon -- but comes with a catch. Itís up to you whether or not the pros outweigh the cons, and again, it has everything to do with your playstyle.

Dishonored 2 is an inferior sequel, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder to myself "how could it not be?" Dishonored simply was that good. So it doesnít quite escape the shadow of its superlative predecessor, but that hardly means itís unworthy of your time and money. Because make no mistake: it absolutely is.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:



Sony PlayStation4 Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization- Microsoft Xbox One Super Dungeon Bros

 
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