For a while there, DOOM was the undisputed frontrunner for game of the year (at least, in my humble opinion).
This year’s reboot of the FPS classic from old school gamers’ adolescence was an obvious choice with its incredible speed, challenging levels, frantic first-person gunplay and gorgeous rendition of both Mars and Hell – all made to look lush thanks to the very latest iteration of id’s shiny id tech 6 engine.
Oh and those glory kills! Yoh!
So it was a certainty that the title of GOTY was in the bag. Despite the arrival of some pretty damn good games this year, none of them managed to seriously challenge DOOM’s position as the one to beat.
And then along comes Dishonored 2, a sneak-‘em-up that follows on from – and improves on – its predecessor in every way imaginable, and it’s so good DOOM’s status as GOTY is seriously under threat. Here’s why.
Dishonored 2 Review: Dishonored A Second Time
Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the first game. Players have a choice between playing as either ex-Empress Emily or her father Corvo Attano as they uncover a wide-ranging conspiracy to remove Emily from her throne. The pair are ‘blessed’ by a mysterious entity known as The Outsider, who grants them magical powers.
Once again, players can approach missions any way they choose – they can carve their way through objectives leaving a bloody trail in their wake, or sneak through like a shadow, leaving nobody any the wiser as to their passing. They can opt for a combination of the two if they like. Hell, they can even refuse the Outsider’s powers altogether, leaving them only with wits and weapons to complete the game’s nine levels.
There are story consequences no matter how they play, and an overall “chaos” rating that changes the world in subtle ways as they progress, but players are never truly “punished” for choosing one over the other. Unless you consider a dark ending a true punishment, that is.
Dishonored 2 Review: New hero, new Powers
Players who pick Emily will find her powers are slightly different to those of her father, which are much the same as they were in the first game – though admittedly, Corvo’s are far more fun to use.
While Emily can transfrom into a shadow, mesmerise multiple targets and summon a doppelganger to distract enemies, Corvo can bend time, possess NPCs and creatures and summon rat swarms to sanitise the trail of corpses he leaves after him.
Emily’s standout power is by far “Domino” – the ability to link up to four targets together so that whatever happens to one, happens to all of them. It’s really cool to link them all up, then shoot one in the head and watch as that shot then explodes the heads of the other three in the chain. It’s not only a lot of fun to do (and satisfying to pull off), but it saves ammo too.
Dishonored 2 Review: Domino Destruction
The combat in Dishonored 2 is very well done, and the designers didn’t shy away from letting players pull off extremely graphic kills. To succeed, you have to time your parries and supplement sword strikes with gunshots or crossbow bolts, all of which are upgradeable at the game’s Powers screen and the various Black Markets that scatter the levels.
Taking enemies down requires skill and determination, especially at the hardest difficulty setting; players just need be sure to keep moving and never allow themselves to be surrounded. Also, make judicious use of quicksave and quickload – they are definitely your friends on the harder difficulties. I am only too pleased to report that loading times are fast.
Sadly, as a result of my recklessness, the ending I unlocked was far less satisfying than piling the bodies high was, staying true to the promise of High Chaos and leaving several loose ends maddeningly untied. I can’t say I wasn’t warned, though.
Second time’s the charm
For my second playthrough as Corvo, I upped the difficulty to its hardest and went 100% stealth (Emily’s playthrough was done on Hard). I didn’t kill a soul, and every time I was offered a non-lethal solution to taking care of Emily’s political enemies, I took it. It was far harder than murdering everyone was, of course, but the results were much more pleasing, and later levels were far less dark.
So while the developers’ promise of allowing you to play the way you want to is true, if you want to end up with a world that doesn’t feel as bad if not worse than it was when the game started, I recommend taking the sneaky/non-lethal route.
To be frank, players who don’t take the opportunity to play with both characters and use ever technique available to them will be doing themselves a disservice. Arkane has put a lot of work into Dishonored 2 and this becomes apparent the more one plays it.
One scene I remember was from the fourth mission of the game, the Addermire Institute, in which I came across a letter by one of the Institute’s nurses saying how upset she was about being unceremoniously fired. In my blood-soaked Emily playthrough, said nurse was found hanging by her neck from a rafter in the same office I found the letter, but in my Corvo playthrough she was nowhere to be found.
Presumably, she’d not been upset enough to kill herself and was off somewhere, still very much alive. It was a subtle but effective touch that reflected how the world was responding to my actions. There are myriad other examples found throughout the game, but you have to know what was there from a previous playthrough in order to really appreciate them.
Dishonored 2 Review: Superbly designed
Dishonored 2’s strong candidacy for Game of the Year 2016 is buried in its overall design, but particularly its levels. The trouble Arkane went to in order to make the game’s nine levels playable no matter the player’s chosen approach is nothing short of incredible, as every one features clever but believable vertical design.
This lets Corvo exploit building design to Blink from building to building, allows Shadow Form Emily to take refuge in hidden nooks and crannies enables Corvo-possessing-a-rat to slip past checkpoints. Each environment contains a surprisingly large number of hidden places and in-game events that a casual playthrough would miss.
Furthermore Dishonored 2’s levels all contain some sort of highlight that’ll have you thinking about it in the shower the next morning (or maybe that’s just me).
Two such levels are the amazing Clockwork Mansion you explore in the fourth mission that reconfigures itself in clever ways using nothing more than smart mechanisms and some ingenious clockwork inventions. The seventh missio has players jumping between two nights that are three years apart; actions in the past have marked and dramatic effects on the present, which the player can exploit to the story’s benefit. It’s sheer genius.
So while some might moan that there are “only” nine levels in total, they are nine incredible levels that can be played through several times each without the player following the same path twice.
Dishonored 2 is also visually head and shoulders above the first game, and while it still looks and feels like you’re playing a game set in a painting, there’s more detail in the world and its characters, which as a lover of top-notch visuals I appreciated greatly. It conveyed the ugliness, the desperation and the corruption of the world perfectly, and more importantly it ran at my screen’s maximum refresh rate of 60Hz the entire time.
On that note, I didn’t experience any of the major performance issues reported by the Dishonored 2 fan base shortly after it launched. I played on PC on a system with a GTX1070 and 8GB of RAM, and the game was silky smooth from start to finish. Installing the 1.2 beta patch (which apparently addressed many of those problems) didn’t change anything for me for better or worse. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. But if you’re not so lucky, opt into Steam’s Dishonored 2 beta programme and download the 1.2GB patch and see if it helps if you’re reading this before December.
The game world was further fleshed out by some pretty solid voice work from the supporting actors (enemies, random civilians and some of the named characters), although some of the Hollywood voice talent didn’t do their characters justice. Vincent D’Onofrio, who voiced Duke Abele, sounded more like the cockroach he played in the first Men in Black than a Duke, and Rosario Dawson who played ally Megan Foster sounded so flat and uninspired that I had to look up who voiced her. The voice acting in the game isn’t shockingly bad, it’s just not amazing.
After playing through the story twice, I can firmly say I believe Dishonored 2 to be the very best stealth game I’ve ever played (play Hitman -ed.). The game’s spells and skills make traversing the levels a true joy, the levels themselves are brilliantly designed and the story and characters will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. That the world shifts and changes subtly according to how I play is just gravy.
Arkane continues to work on the game, too, as there’s a planned patch coming in “early December” that will officially fix a lot of the technical issues, but more importantly it will also introduce a New Game Plus mode that lets you re-play the game with your previously-unlocked abilities available from the get-go.
This is fantastic, as I found I hadn’t unlocked nearly as many abilities as I’d like by the end of both my games, as clearly I didn’t go after enough Runes scattered about the levels in order to unlock all of the sub-options that enhance abilities even further.
Dishonored 2 Review: Verdict
Dishonored 2 isn’t just worth your time and money, it’s a master class in game design in the stealth genre. Sorry, DOOM, but it looks like your crown may be recalled.