A DISH BEST SERVED STEALTH.
The first time I played Dishonored was on the PS3. It was the first game I ever played on the PS3 when I bought the system--this was shortly after it had pumped out The Last Of Us, but all I wanted to play was this Dishonored thing I had heard such wondrous things about. I played it, but promptly made a decision that I hated it after only a few days. 6 months later, playing it again on a PC, I was completely enthralled; I loved it and still love it.
Fast forward to Dishonored 2, and I fell into the same trap. Ignoring the basics while being too passive, I forgot what made the original game fun for me: going fast and loose, yet smart and adaptive. Dishonored 2 is a game that kind of requires 2 playthroughs, much like its predecessor--though for slightly different reasons. Whereas you might want to try a second build in the original game, D2 dares you to try a completely different character with unique powers for your next go-around.
Dishonored 2 follows the same quasi-whalepunk setting mishmashed with the occult voidmasters and Jets v. Sharks gang drama of the first game, but trades in the rat plague for evil mosquitos and political villains for outright witches and Thomas Edison. In this outing, Lord Protector Corvo and his not-so-secret daughter-turned-emporess Emily Kaldwin are victimized by DLC Villain Delilah Copperspoon, who is essentially a lich from Coyote Ugly. Once you pick your character, the other is turned to stone while you flee the kingdom of Dunwall in search of more information on your mystic adversary. Most of the game now takes place in Karnaca, Corvo's birthplace; Karnaca is a bit different from the cold stones and drippy streets of Dunwall in that there's a broad ocean in the distance, opulent mansions, towering mining towns, and railway hamlets with special little trolleys above the streets. Tallboys aren't around anymore, but there are more than enough elite guards and gangsters, smarter and more numerous than before.
The scenarios and stages themselves are brilliantly realized in Dishonored's aesthetic, which has a bit of an exaggerated impressionist twist. Overlooking the in-progress vistas of the mining town or marveling at the extravagence of the Jindosh Mansion, I was entranced by every corner of this game; the detail is just breathtaking and absolutely kicks the ass of last year's ZeniMax game, Fallout 4. I'm thinking Todd Howard's team should take notes and move their engine to what Arkane is using, simply due to what is possible in terms of physics, as well. As far as performance goes, I'm sure everyone is aware the PC release had a rocky start, but the PS4 version has been pretty adequate. There are some slowdowns when using a special Timepiece item later on, as well as random hiccups, but for the most part I've been impressed with how stable things are considering this is a heavily modified last-gen id tech (Void Engine, as they call it) running on duct tape and a prayer.
Gameplay is what you'd expect from a Dishonored sequel, as it's once again a compromise between hardcore stealth and brief bursts of using your witchcraft to do anything from control rat hordes to pulling dudes with a symbiote arm to linking people together in a ridiculous domino effect. For those of us that need familiarity, there's Corvo with all his previous skills intact--some of them boasting new upgrades. If you want to go in with a completely new bullpen of powers, Emily has some truly fascinating abilities, ranging from the aforementioned domino and symbiote arm to a fun doppelganger trick, a totemistic mesmerize, and a murderous shadow-walk. I admit that spreading out my ability points too much lead me to get frustrated; being a jack of all trades but master of none may not always work out. Upgrading Far Reach to pull and pick off enemies from a distance changed the game for me, just as upgrading Doppelganger to the max creates an army of mirages that completely baffle the opposition. It's in this system that replays are earned, as there are so many incredible combos and playstyles to try. The story itself may clock in at about 9 missions, but with each one capable of sucking you in for 2+ hours across multiple areas, and the possibilities of using multiple strategies on 2 different characters, you'll easily top 30 to 40 hours alone messing around.
Admittedly, I had some sour moments in my initial playthrough of Dishonored 2: getting lost in the Clockwork Mansion and then accidentally sequence breaking the game to the point of defeat in the Stilton Estate lead to some frantic moments where I regrettably went higher on the Chaos spectrum than I would have liked. Even with moments of fleeting frustration, the uniform excellence in level design shines so goddamn bright; the Clockwork Mansion still holds so many secrets and passages to victory never thought possible. The nailbiting encounters with witches in their terrifying manor still stay with me, as do the sneaking into various factions' strongholds before the Stilton mission and the dilapidated state of the grim Addermire Asylum.
Dishonored 2, much like DOOM and Titanfall 2 this year, is remarkable in how tightly constructed and contained its overall storyline is--every level is a very well-crafted snowglobe just itching to be shaken up and turned upside down. Like the previous game, Dishonored 2 is a masterclass in chaos and stealth in harmony, providing you with double the options and beyond this time around to maximize your creativity and fun. It's yet another masterful outing by Arkane and friends, and one that I'll be replaying even more than most games on my year-end list.
Amazing and topical!