Such great heights.
To say Dishonored 2 is a stand out game of this year for me is an understatement, as a fan of older series such as Dues Ex and Thief, the impact and influence titles like this have had on Dishonored is both obvious and a joy to behold. It goes beyond the simple fact that much like Dishonored, these titles let you play the game with a focus to stealth or combat, but also in the fact that the level designs share a certain openness and verticality rarely seen in many series, that they set and follow consistent rules and systems, which let the player understand the wider world and shape how they approach the game with these rule sets in mind. For example, the game see’s the return of the Gates of Light from the previous title – electrified fences that can be passed through by those it has been set to allow, shutting one of these down will cause a nearby guard to investigate the power source, using a rewire tool to make it dangerous to guards however will not only elicit no response from the guard, but may see them walk through it if doing so was part of their normal patrol route, often to great comedic effect as any guards who saw the death come running to investigate, often ending up walking through the gate themselves. Similarly, hiding bodies over leaving them visible has similar impacts, with guards remarking on the fact people are missing or dead depending on if the body is found or not.
Dishonored 2, much like its predecessor certainly wears its heart on its sleeve regarding its influences and this is obviously apparent when it comes to level design. The general attention to detail, overall openness and large amounts of pathing options promotes an amazing amount of freedom of approach. With a verticality to their design that could be described as dizzying, in an industry where many games like to keep things reasonably flat and level. This approach also allows for the game to avoid the same criticisms I leveled at Deus Ex: Human Revolution with its reliance on vents as a method of making stealth more approachable and easy to achieve. The true standout in terms of this would be The Clockwork Mansion, at this stage I’d go as far to say as its singularly one of the most well thought out levels I have encountered in my decades of gaming, half way between Lemarchand’s Box from Hellraiser and one of the most fun stealth playgrounds imaginable. Rooms change at the flick of a switch, walls appear and disappear… The inner workings of it all are fully accessible and available to aid you in your attempt to sneak through the level, the entire affair is an utter delight to behold and play through. More traditional levels while not having quite as wild and varied options of The Clockwork Mansion often leave you wondering just what you may have missed, since there is certainly plenty to explore, at the end of each level you are told just what was found and what was left during your play through in terms of coins, paintings, Outsider Shrines and similar… Despite trying to be thorough in my approach I found that if often seemed I’d missed large chunks of the level and left them unexplored based on this. Further to this is the fact there are side missions often hidden throughout the world, from something as simple as finding a handle for a water mains through to trying to find a weapon in your targets residence there is a lot more to do than just the base plot of the game itself.
One thing I have noticed is that the AI seems to have had quite a significant upgrade, even on the easier settings, it felt a lot more aware of my presence in the game, knowing to keep looking around areas where I’d mistakenly made a noise or been visible for just a touch too long. While it’s possible to get around the enemy soldiers and other NPC’s it does seem significantly harder this time around, adding more challenge to the stealthy approach I prefer.
My one major complaint here is the story. While enjoyable, it seems to lack a lot of what made the original game so compelling. There is a certain repetition of what we saw in Dishonored – a plot to overthrow the current ruler followed by a series of assassinations by the player to undermine the plotters and restore the status quo. Sure, much like the original you don’t have to kill your targets, and in some cases its beneficial to not do so, since leaving some of them alive allows you to recruit them to your cause. It just seems unfortunate that for so much time, energy and effort to have been expended on realising such a beautifully rendered, polished, well designed and thoughtful game world we are given a plot that while entertaining just lacks anything of real substance, ultimately rendering the game to be a stealth sandbox with a plot to make sure you don’t dally too much.
Sadly, there is also another ‘but’ to what would otherwise be a mostly glowing review. The release has been dogged by performance issues for many PC gamers, I’m fortunate enough to have not encountered the worse of these and indeed any issues I have encountered are more likely, I suspect, down to the fact I game at 4K more than any issues with the game or the engine itself. But of course, it would be remiss to not acknowledge that these are problems encountered by many owners of the title and indeed have been acknowledged by Arkane themselves. From my own viewpoint, running on an i7 6700K and a 980Ti (both water cooled) I’ve been seeing an average of the high 50s to 60s with the odd drop to the mid 40’s while having everything cranked to max, no AA and running at a 4K resolution. Arkane are working to patch this however and at the time of writing I have just finished installing the second patch designed to improve performance, giving better system detection and more control over refresh rates to help players who are suffering with severe frame rate variance.
Problematic launch and complaint of the plot being more of the same aside, this is a hell of a game and a hell of a follow up to Dishonored and I am looking forwards to seeing just what Arkane have in store for the series next. I’d recommend checking on forums etc to see if your hardware configuration is showing to have issues and perhaps hang fire for further patches before running out and buying – AMD users and 1070 owners pay particular attention to this, since reports suggest these are the more likely to be impacted – overall though, if you are able to run the game with no real problems, or can deal with either dropping settings or putting up with performance issues I’d honestly say this is a hell of a buy and certainly up there for Game of the Year once the issues are worked out.