Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dishonored 2 review

    Dishonored is one of my favorite games of all time. It is an update of everything I loved about the Thief games but with an even richer steampunk setting. I loved the character of Corvo Attano, even if he couldn't speak, and was emotionally invested in his desire to save his daughter Emily. The dark and rat-infested Georgian nightmare of Dunwall combined the Black Death with the worst of the Industrial Revolution. In short, I was all for Dishonored 2 and eager to see what Arkane Studios would do with it.
Choose but choose wisely.

    So, what do I think? Well, this is a difficult game to review because I'd very much like to give this game a 10 out of 10 but I can't do to the fact so many little things bug me. There's a lot of things from Dishonored 2 I wanted which the game gave me but there's also places where it zigged instead of zagged that lowered my overall impression of the game.

    Overall, I have played the game twice so I don't see a reason not to purchase it but I don't think it's going to be remembered as a classic the way the original should be. Instead, I'm going to summarize my review as, "More Dishonored without much in the way of changes and about as good as the original's DLC content."

    The premise is Empress Emily Kaldwin has been ruling the Empire for the better part of fifteen years. You can see the changes brought about by her reign in the fact there is now a greater egalitarianism in the Empire's city guards, composed now of women and people of color as well as men. However, she is less interested in ruling than late night adventures with her father. Unfortunately, her lack of interest in ruling has resulted in a conspiracy to frame her for executing her political enemies which seems like a strange charge given most rulers did that around the 18th century.

Delilah is a decent villain but feels rehashed.
    Delilah Copperspoon, Big Bad of the The Knife of Dunwall as well as Brigmore Witches DLCs, has returned from the dead to menace the throne. Claiming to be Empress Jessamine's bastard sister, she uses clockwork soldiers and spells to overthrow Empress Emily in the span of a few minutes. You are then given a choice between playing Emily or Corvo again. While the game developers made an excellent decision getting Stephen Russell to voice Corvo Attano (the one true Garrett from Thief), I think this game is "meant" to be played as Emily since it's all about her learning just how badly she misjudged her responsibilities as Empress.

    The majority of the game takes place not in Dunwall but on the island of Serkonos, which is the equatorial island beneath the island of Gristol. It is a very different kind of location than the dark, dank, and cramped streets of the Empire's capital. This is something I have mixed feelings about because so much of the game takes place in a sunny tropical paradise, which seems an odd choice for a steampunk stealth game. While there's hints about the immense poverty and corruption in the city of Karnaka, you only rarely get to see it. Part of what made Dishonored such a great game was how much of a crapsack hellhole the place was. Here, a lot of the "dark avenger of the night" atmosphere is lost when you're wandering around in broad daylight wearing your skull mask.

Karnaka is a beautiful city. Marred, a bit by Disney trams.
    The game's plot is basically a rehash of the original game with Corvo's particularly bad as you have to rescue Emily again and restore her to her rightful place. In Emily's path, you're at least restoring yourself but I think they could have done something a bit different. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't also rehashing the original game's DLCs too. None of this is done poorly and it's all well-handled but it definitely feels like seconds rather than a new meal altogether. I wouldn't be upset if they decided to keep Emily and Corvo as the protagonists for the game series but I hope they can think of better material than another conspiracy against the throne (of which this is the FOURTH in two games).

    What the game lacks in story, it makes up in level design, though. Despite my wish all of the levels took place at night, I very much enjoyed exploring the imaginative levels. The Clockwork Mansion is the stand-out environment with its parts moving and changing based on what levers are pushed. There's also a level which actually has you go back in time, to and fro, due to the assistance of the Outsider. I liked even the less imaginative levels with the Asylum and Conservatory both being extremely well-done. All of them contain multiple pathways to reach your goal as well as numerous ways to eliminate your foes. Assassin's Creed could learn a lot from Dishonored just as it has learned from Assassins' Creed.

Emily has the power of the Darkness! Bwhahaha!
    The characters in the game are a mixture of standouts and ehhh. The targets of Duke Abele (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Kirine Jindosh (John Gegenhuber) are great while Alexandria Hypatia (Jessica Straus) and Breanna Ashmore (Melendy Britt) feel underused. Then there's targets like Liam Byrne and Paolo (Pedro Pascal) who can literally be skipped. I'm also less than impressed with how plain some of the Low Chaos eliminations are.

    In the original game, the non-lethal takedowns of targets were genuinely sadistic and put to lie the idea you were being "merciful" by not killing them. Here, some of them just feel too tame with rare exceptions. I think the only ones which live up to the original game are lobotomizing a man with his own machine and replacing another with their body double as they're dragged off to an asylum. One non-lethal takedown, arguably the most important one, gives the target everything they could ever want and I hated it.

The Clockwork Soldiers are a great Thief homage.
    I will give the game credit for having the levels respond to your actions. At one point, I murdered Delilah's lover, Breanna, in front of her during a magical communication. Delilah reacted to it in disgust and horror. Later, I redid the level and had her disabled before I had the option of calling Delilah up to taunt her about it. Similarly, in the time travel level, there's a number of opportunities to change history which I found quite cool. The game doesn't point them out, either, but you have to figure them out for yourself.

    Gameplay wise, things have been tweaked rather than changed, if that makes sense. There are more non-lethal attacks and there's an option for a limited parkour-like movement which I never used because I was more interested in sneaking softly. There's also a lot more methods of non-lethally disabling opponents but a lot fewer sleep darts you can carry with you. So, you have to be somewhat smarter than just darting everyone like I ended up doing. Also, you need to find black markets to restore your stash rather than just refilling in-between missions.

The villains have a lot of cool relationships.
    Still, I absolutely loved playing Empress Emily Kaldwin and think she's a great video game protagonist. She reminded me a great deal of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate's Evie in appearance but had a much more likable personality even if I think she overstated how important the Empire was to her. I didn't really buy she cared one way or the other about save basic human sympathy. Even so, I'd happily have her be the protagonist of the next game and wouldn't at all mind her father being one too, even if he's getting a bit long in the tooth.

    So what did I think, overall? Well it was fun and perfectly serviceable as a video game. None of the flaws are particularly bad and I've had a lot of games I just couldn't finish lately but this has been one I've done twice. On the other hand, I think the game is very much a sequel. It's very much more of the same and doesn't do the dark, grimy, Industrial Revolution atmosphere of before. In short, it's basically a much lighter and softer version of a game I really enjoyed for how dark it was. I'm glad I played it and think this is a game which isn't remotely disappointing, unlike most of 2016's offerings.


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