I don't think I'll ruffle any feathers by saying Dishonored was a great game. Using elements taken from of the likes of Bioshock, Thief, and Deus Ex, the game told a personal story about one man's quest for revenge played against a grandiose backdrop of political intrigue and betrayal. It was a game where every little part worked so perfectly together, which is why I'm sad to report that while Dishonored 2 is certainly a good game, it doesn't work nearly as well as a whole as its predecessor.
Dishonored 2 suffers from what I like to call 'bigger sequel syndrome'. It's still recognizably Dishonored - you still bound across rooftops and wrap guards in chokeholds until they lose consciousness. However, it's Dishonored with 'more stuff'. More enemies, more powers, more of the trickster demon known as the Outsider. The problem with this is Dishonored was already a very well-budgeted game, content wise. The small number of powers available were all necessary, and they allowed you to interact with the environment in many interesting ways.
However, much like another immersive sim from this year, the new powers on display are hardly as useful as the old. There are so many cool and unique things you can do with Corvo's possession ability - so many that the new Doppelganger power (Which lets you summon a decoy version of yourself to distract enemies or engage in minor combat) looks absolutely laughable by comparison. This isn't helped by a newfound focus on combat for Emily's powers, and the likes of Mesmerize (stun enemies) and Domino (link the fates of enemies so that knocking out one knocks out all, etc) have literally no use if you don't want to engage guards.
It's a shame, as all the new and somewhat boring powers are attached to the more interesting of Dishonored 2's protagonists. See, Dishonored 2 takes place years after the good ending of the original, and our heroic bodyguard Corvo Attano has raised his daughter Empress Emily Kaldwin into what I can only describe as a warrior Disney Princess. She still goes to events and rules fairly, but also indulges in a more rebellious side by sneaking out of Dunwall Tower at night and exploring the city. Oh, and she also just so happens to be able to fight on the same level as her father. Naturally, she's a much more interesting character than the rather plain and somewhat cookie-cutter Corvo, so when the time came to pick who I would control throughout the game, I stuck with her.
While it's certainly nice for our protagonists to have an actual characterization, I can't say that I'm too impressed by some of the voice acting. Corvo Attano sounds fine, cleverly voiced by Stephen Russel - the same man who provided Garret's voice in Dishonored's chief source of inspiration, Thief. However, my main problem comes from Emily's voice actress Erica Luttrell, who is fine in dialogue, but delivers the inter-level monologues in a fashion that rubs me the wrong way. I genuinely don't know what emotions were trying to be conveyed at some points because most of the monologues were oddly flat. The writing is fine, though, and I was genuinely pulled into this chapter in the lives of Corvo and Emily thanks to a newfound focus on them as characters. Unlike the first Dishonored, I walked away from Dishonored 2 actually feeling like I got a feel for who Emily and Corvo were as people, rather than just powerful vehicles for some stealth action.
However, as far as the writing goes, what really must be applauded is Dishonored 2's spectacular worldbuilding. With only a few notable exceptions, most of the game is spent away from Dishonored's brilliant city of Dunwall, and in the Tuscany-flavored city of Karnaca, dealing with socio-political issues entirely different from those of Dunwall. While you may have had to deal with an in-fighting revolution and deadly plague transmitted via rat swarms in Dishonored, Dishonored 2 has you up against a well-oiled military coup and an infestation of over-sized mosquitos known as bloatflies. The glowing, blood-red bloatflies may not be anywhere near as aesthetically coherent with the world as the plague rats of Dishonored were, but they're certainly much scarier, and their territorial nature lends them much better to navigational puzzles.
As with the first Dishonored, the real star of the show here isn't the characters, nor is it the story. No, it's the actual layout of Karnaca - a city so brilliantly put together that I took my time to explore every last nook and cranny of each level. Every room is jam-packed with minute details and plenty of collectibles, and they're all so well put together that I'm still baffled as to how the level designers overlooked the very simple task of implementing anything that could make these new powers work. Because while the levels may be great, they still feel like levels made for Dishonored, not Dishonored 2, and it got to the point where I have to wonder why even include Emily and all these new abilities when they barely get any interesting use?
In fact, that's a question that sums up Dishonored 2 as a whole. It's a fine game that still has all the working components of Dishonored, but crams it full of new ideas that just don't gel with it. To go with a food analogy, it's kind of like cake. Eat a perfect piece, and it's delicious. Try stuffing in more, and you'll spend the night wondering where it all went wrong.
Dishonored 2 was reviewed on PC (Affiliate) via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Dishonored 2 is a functional follow-up to a classic that is mired by the addition of all sorts of unnecessary elements.(Review Policy)
- Fantastic Level Design
- Characters Actually Have Character
- Interesting World
- Stuffed With Useless New Powers
- Occasionally Spotty Voicework
- Doesn't Improve On Its Predecessor