Neal Sweeney ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Four years after the original Dishonored the series returns, this time on a new generation of hardware and boasting some new tech of its own, hoping to surpass the critical acclaim of its predecessor and establish Arkane Studios as a leader in the stealth-action genre.
Fifteen years have passed since the events of Dishonored, in which the royal empress Jessamine Kaldwin was assassinated and the blame placed falsely upon Corvo Attano, who was then responsible for clearing his name and restoring the rightful order. The game starts on the 15th anniversary of that death, in which a much older Empress Emily Kaldwin is attending a ceremony to honor her death. Emily has had to carry the burden of the throne, the years wearing on her as she attempts to rule with the guiding hand of her father Corvo, while feeling unfit for the job.
Suddenly the rug is pulled out from under her feet, another disruption to the throne, and this time in the form of a coup. The Duke of Serkonos, an island in the empire, has brought along with him an immortal guest who goes by the name of Delilah Kaldwin. For those of you who have played The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches DLCs for Dishonored, you’ll remember Delilah, just not by the last name Kaldwin. She was the woman who was tracked down and imprisoned by assassin Daud, the same Daud who murdered former-empress Jessamine. The two strut right in the front door of the throne room, where the duke proclaims that Delilah is the sister of Jessamine Kaldwin, making her the rightful heir to the throne.
From the throne room, with a surrounded Emily and Corvo, players are given the choice to take control of one or the other for the remainder of the game. The choice is a fairly simple one, but there is a set of key differences between the two. The first is that Emily doesn’t have a cool mask like Corvo and instead pulls up a neckerchief, and the second is that the two characters each have a unique set of powers. Corvo’s arsenal remains largely the same, however this time around powers can be upgraded and modified, allowing for some new playstyles not seen in the first game. The teleportation ability Blink can be upgraded to slow down time while players use it, and Possession can allow players to inhabit the bodies of enemies they’ve killed. But Emily’s abilities are entirely new, and offer up some intriguing options. Domino allows players to chain the fates of multiple enemies; when one is killed or incapacitated, they all are, and Doppelganger allows Emily to summon a copy of herself that can distract enemies. All of her abilities, like Corvo’s, can be combined in interesting ways; for instance, a player can summon a doppelganger and link it to a few enemies using domino, then strangle the copy to incapacitate them all. It’s a great addition to keep things fresh for those who have played the first, and offers up an even greater dimension of replay value. Additionally the ability to upgrade the powers themselves allows for a greater sense of customization and tailoring a specific playstyle. Indeed, Dishonored 2 continues to offer players a great array of ways in which to tackle its campaign, even sporting an option for players to ignore the powers altogether and simply play with physical abilities. And, of course, the achievements for completing the game without taking a life and without being spotted, Clean Hands and Shadow (Ghost in the first game), are here once more.
However, there’s one more interesting differentiation between the two characters: their voices. Corvo was a silent protagonist in the first game; players were able to select dialogues at certain points, but there was no narration to accompany them, while Emily was fully voiced, but a non-playable character. Erica Luttrell as Emily and Stephen Russell as Corvo both do an excellent jobs at portraying their poorly-written characters. Sadly, the characters feel like they’re narrating their own actions, simply telling the player what they need to do, as opposed to providing commentary on the situation. You do hear the thoughts of the characters at some key junctions and during the cutscenes between missions, but largely they feel undeveloped. This feels emblematic of the game’s narrative at large; the events feel straightforward and while there is certainly lore-building in place, the game’s main thread feels a bit thin. Dishonored itself was also bare bones, but the latter third of that game provided an interesting twist, where Dishonored 2 doesn’t.
Surrounding that narrative are missions that are more heavily themed, with most of them offering up something that feels fresh and unique. The Clockwork Mansion as seen in the game’s original CG trailer is just as intriguing as you would expect, the walls shifting and moving around right before the player, allowing them to sneak between them and access hidden areas. The towering Clockwork Soldiers providing intimidating foes, and the lavish mansion is truly exemplary of the game’s unique visual design. Likewise, Stilton’s mansion, as seen in this year’s demo from E3, is spectacular, and could be called the best mission in the whole game. In the mission, players need to uncover the mystery of how Delilah earned her immortality, and how to end her reign. But it’s not as simple as sneaking into a dilapidated mansion and getting information, for the mansion has been affected by the Void, an alternate dimension where all of the game’s supernatural powers stem from. Essentially, players are given a looking glass that grants them the ability to travel back some number of years, allowing them to switch between two different versions of the same location. It’s a fascinating concept, and one that is well executed. Players can switch between the two times to solve puzzles and circumnavigate obstacles, as well as to get a vantage on certain enemies. However, it has a pretty significant issue that’s seen in the rest of the game: technical performance. Opening the looking glass to look at both of the mansions side by side will cause the frame-rate to suffer without fail, and several other set pieces did the same.
Stilton’s mansion feels exemplary of Dishonored 2 at large; the game is filled with interesting abilities and mechanics and a beautiful visual design, but has tech that sometimes can’t carry the weight. The story feels underdeveloped and lackluster, offering little variation from what players might have expected from it, with protagonists that feel like walking narrators. But the core game here is still excellent, it builds on its predecessor to add new, intriguing dimensions, leaving options open for players themselves to discover. Dishonored 2’s gameplay and missions push themselves forwards and strive for greater heights than the original. If only they brought the story and tech along for the ride.