Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developer Arkane Studios
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Release Date November 11, 2016

Dishonored 2 is the hotly anticipated follow up to the much loved and highly rated Dishonored. A stealth action game, Dishonored 2 is set 15 years after the original game. Emily Kaldwin is the Empress and her father, and protagonist of the first game, Corvo Attano is her royal protector. When an otherworldly figure appears and usurps the throne, either Emily or Corvo (depending who you choose to play) must flee Dunwall to the coastal city of Karnaca to regroup, track down your enemies and take back what is yours.

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Writing this review has turned into quite a stressful predicament. I was unfortunate enough to pick this game up for PC, a version of the game that has some fairly horrific technical problems. Some problems are relatively benign – dodgy AI, poor pathing that sees enemies walking into walls, enemies getting stuck in the scenery, a fair bit of pop in. Some of the problems, however, are less so. The major problem is framerate. Dishonored 2 on PC is a disaster when it comes to its framerate. It suffers from frequent and major drops in frames. Sometimes the game runs at 60fps, other times it languishes in the late teens.

This all happens at random. There is seemingly no pattern to when the framerate will fall through the floor. Sometimes I would be caught in the middle of a particle-effect heavy dust storm and the game will be running like a dream. Other times I would be indoors, looking at walls and struggling with a chugging, 18fps. There’s a section of the game that essentially runs two levels in parallel and it was amongst the most stable experiences I had in the game. It’s mind-bogglingly random, breaking in the most unusual places.

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There are other problems. Input lag is an issue. The game will occasionally hit you with loading times lasting minutes. And I did experience a couple of hard crashes. Basically, Dishonored 2 is a poorly optimised mess of a game. While not as bad as other examples that spring to mind, it’s bad enough to be noticeable and have a major affect on the overall experience. But I gritted my teeth and played through the issues because the underlying game is pretty great.

In the end I’ve had to balance the obviously excellent game against the experience of actually playing it, which at times was bordering on tortuous. All of the issues I’ve listed in this introductory section have varying degrees of negative impact on an otherwise good game. But these problems exist, and it would be foolish to ignore or dismiss them. There’s no way to write around it without being fundamentally dishonest. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual game.

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After an opening level that sees the main plot send you scurrying through the familiar streets of Dunwall, you’ll quickly arrive aboard the Dreaded Whale – the boat that you’ll be calling your home base throughout your journey through Dishonored 2. You’re also given a new city to play in: Karnaca, a bright and sunkissed coastal location that juxtaposes its exterior sunniness against a city in turmoil.

Its leaders are tyrants, its streets are a battleground and it’s in the grips of a bloodfly infestation. While the setting is excellent and quite varied, story and dialogue is not Dishonored 2’s strengths. The main story just about fulfils its role in getting you from point A to point B, doing a decent job of shuffling you between some incredibly well designed and creative levels.

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To describe the dialogue as clunky, though, might be doing Dishonored 2 a kindness. Human beings don’t talk like the ones in Dishonored 2. Whether the game is slamming its themes in your face (just in case you don’t get it) or just doing a Godawful job of replicating what it thinks is a Human conversation, it’s notably terrible. The first ten or so minutes of the game, where a complete stranger barges into the throne room and claims she’s the rightful heir to the throne with no proof and everyone just sort of accepts this immediately and without question, should serve as a warning.

But that’s fine, really. The dialogue and the story just kind of become white noise after a while. The real star of the game is its thoroughly satisfying gameplay loop and its excellent level design. While the gameplay suffers thanks to input lag (and suffers even worse when the games framerate chugs), when it’s running well there’s a lot to love about the way Dishonored 2 plays.

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Both Emily and Corvo play very differently from one another, with access to different sets of powers and abilities that make this a game with genuine replay value (there’s even an option to forgo powers altogether). Each power set is similar, with both characters sort of having equivalent powers to each other. Corvo has Blink, for example, which allows him to instantly teleport across distances. Emily, on the other hand, has Far Reach, a tool for traversing a level that sees the deposed Empress sprouting shadow tentacles and flinging herself across levels.

Neither character is specifically geared towards stealth or combat, with both having access to abilities that will help them ghost through a level or tear through it in bloodstained fury. It’s entirely up to you. Either protagonists supernatural abilities are a ton of fun to play with, giving you some really interesting tactics in how you approach any given situation (though Domino, which allows you to link up to four Human targets and have them share the same fate, was by far my favourite and most used). You need to gather collectible runes hidden throughout Dishonored 2’s various levels to unlock or enhance abilities, but you’ll be glad to do it.

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The greatest tool in Dishonored 2’s arsenal is its very impressive level design. The nine missions in the game are divided into sections – before you can get to wherever you’re going you’ll first have to navigate the streets of the various districts of Karnaca. These hubs let you get a feel for the city and its citizens, through either talking to them or breaking into their houses and reading through their diaries. You’ll also probably need to navigate your way past (or through) enemy checkpoints to reach your ultimate destination.

Exploring the city and unearthing all of its secrets is a great experience in its own right. There are an incredible number of ways to progress through any level. You can brute force your way through the main path, sneak around, above or over it or bypass it altogether with clever shortcuts that contain their own perils to overcome. It’s all here and all of the levels incredibly robust, designed to handle whatever you can throw at them. Any type of play style, or combination of playstyle, is completely supported by the structure of each individual level and the weapons and abilities you can have at your disposal.

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You’ll need to be adaptable, however, as each of Dishonored 2’s levels comes with some new twist on the core gameplay mechanics. I previewed this when I wrote about The Clockwork Mansion earlier in the year. The mansion is littered with switches that change the layout of rooms around you, in what is a fantastic piece of level design for a stealth action game. As I played the game I was delighted to find that every level comes with its own unique hook – whether it’s visibility-limiting dust storms, enemies that can teleport like you can, time travelling between two versions of the same level and many more.

How you choose to approach the game will grant you either a Low Chaos or High Chaos playthrough. The more carnage you reap and bodies you drop, the higher your chaos level. You’ll also be able to affect this by making various choices at key moments, usually whether to outright kill a target or find another, more involved way to “eliminate” them. While this will determine what kind of ending you’ll get, it also affects the immediate game as well. Should you “go loud” in the Clockwork Mansion, for example, extra Clockwork Soldiers will activate in response, making passage through the level a lot trickier.

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It’s all designed around making Dishonored 2 the ultimate playground for its stealth action gameplay. The game specifically references and encourages you to “play your way” and this is one of the few games that truly means it. Everything has been built around allowing the player to approach any given situation in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Or whatever’s most fun. In this regard, it’s bloody brilliant. Shame about the bugs.


Summary

Dishonored 2 is a fantastic game almost completely ruined by the technical performance of its PC port. If you’ve had no issues, then I’m really happy for you, because you got to experience the game properly. However a large portion of the PC player base is having severe issues with the game right now. If you haven’t bought the game yet, you should either get it on a console or add it to your wishlist and wait until it has been patched. It really is that good. Its standout level design encourages you to play however you want, with a suite of weapons and abilities to back that up. It’s just that, right now, it’s an unpleasant experience to actually play thanks to constant, sustained (and random) framerate drops and baffling input lag utterly killing what could have been a strong contender for Game of the Year.

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