Bethesda are known for big titles. When they announced the original Dishonored people thought it looked a little quirky and were a little reticent, but they were also intrigued. The new IP did not let us down and added a solid addition to the pedigree gaming stable that Bethesda manage.
Dishonored 2 released a few weeks ago to a solid reception from the critics, but similarly huge numbers of PC gamers struggled with bugs, stuttering and PC optimization issues. This happens. We know this happens to games we have been looking forward to for a long time. But it still stings when you spend your savings on a game that just isn't playable at release.
But Arkane Studios have been rolling out patches and working alongside the graphics card companies to get driver updates into the hands of gamers in an attempt at eradicating these issues.
I have waited dutifully to play a good game without bugs.
2 weeks have passed since its official release.
I will wait no longer.
It is time for us to see what sort of game Dishonored II is on today’s PC.
Considering how many sequels there are around, they can still prove to be doozies to review. What are they supposed to be? Just the same as the previous game, only a different story? That is certainly sometimes enough. Occasionally, a lick of paint and a loving slap on the rump is enough to usher them forth from the stable and into the light.
Dishonored 2 is a sequel in what may very well be the best possible sense of the word. It retains pretty much everything that made the original special and intensifies it. Of course, as time and technology advance we can expect graphical improvements as inevitable, but the biggest stride forward for Dishonored 2 comes from just playing.
It's a game that encourages you to play. To muck about. As a sandbox of murder and mayhem, it's nearly unparalleled. Not just in terms of the suite of intriguing abilities that each of the two main characters can employ, or in the ingenious and multifarious ways these abilities can be chained together in ingenious and occasionally macabre ways, but in the environmental setup for each encounter.
The map of the city of Karnaca is significantly different from that of Dunwall, not just in that it has a sort of 'French Riviera if certain bits of it were covered in eterlan dust storms' kind of vibe, but also in how you'll approach enemies and challenges from above and below a lot more. Freedom of movement is usually on the player's side, either through Corvo's teleport or Emily's weird swinging arm-tentacle thing, allowing you to choose the best way to approach those innocent guards over there in order to creatively neutralise them. Want to drop into the fog, slow-motion murdering three of the guards and then disappearing before the final one even turns around? Yes! You're Batman. Well done. Or unleash a swarm of rats into a well-to-do conservatory? Gross! You're... Ratman, I suppose. There are always a million and one ways to approach any encounter, and this is a huge part of Dishonored 2's appeal. And, in this reviewer's opinion, the main reason to play the game.
As a stealth em up, the guards are pretty hostile and in number can take you down swiftly in the early stages of the game. This forces you to explore the environment. However, unlike a lot of stealth games, it’s not enough to simply be stood quietly in a shadow when a guard walks past, they will see you and then call their buddies over to give you a thrashing.
The stealth system is well implemented. It considers a number of factors between you and the person looking for you and then applies a variable around how much distance there is between you. For example, are you above or below the guard’s normal field of view, are you silent, are you in shadow, are you crouching, are they actively looking for you. And so it is that distance variable applied to each of those that really makes it feel more, realistic. Stand behind solid objects and stay quiet and you are good at all distances. Sneak through shadows right past a guard as they look to their left and you are all good. Remain motionless in bushes 4 meters from a guard as they cast their gaze over your way and they will see you.
And so you start to look up and down at your options. Perhaps climb above, through a building to get to a better vantage point for an attack or go into the lower streets to pass an area by.
Their well thought out environments offer a number of routes through an area, with over head and underpasses normally scattered around the place. The cleverness in these levels is that while the play area has borders, it normally doesnt feel like a confined space. Some games just cant shake this problem, and they often have to give way to scripted smoke and mirrors. Dishonored 2 on the other hand gets it right, giving the player plenty of space, options, abilities, enemies to keep you way too distracted to stop and think about any spatial limitations. And in fact the environment plus the abilities very much becomes the star of the game.
Story-wise, there's perhaps not a huge deal that is going to surprise or amaze, however the clever motifs and subtle narrative flair that made the original so amazing are just as present. While the main storyline has varying morality endings based on a relatively straightforward body count, each encounter has its own version of the 'multiple endings' mechanic that makes you feel like your actions throughout the game have very real impact on the world around you. Listening in on the dialogue between enemies can often reveal the results of your previous actions, and change noticeably in different playthroughs based on your actions. While this might sound simple (and in a way it is), it goes a very long way in establishing and maintaining a suspension of disbelief. Which is quite a feat when you're teleporting over rooftops and possessing people's bodies.
You can visit black markets and upgrade your kit to be more stealth focused, with sleep poison darts and knockout takedowns or you can go Full Boil and drop bombs on people’s heads. And the game encourages it as there is no reason not to try alternating between both as you move from one encounter to the next. However, in some major encounters you are forced to give way to the more direct approach to beat up key villains or you dont stand a chance.
Is Dishonored 2 playable today, now that numerous drivers and patches have been released? While I didnt encounter any game breaking performance issues, the worst being an annoyingly sluggish menu screen as my mouse crawled around it, and so on the whole the game runs smoothly. But then I was using an MSI GTX 1070, a powerful i7 CPU and 16GB of system memory. In my playthrough of Dishonored 2 this PC returned around 70FPS at 1440p at very-high graphics settings. Seems a little demanding, but still a good looking, smooth flowing game. So if you have the hardware you should be ok.
The mouse/keyboard control layout I used was ok and allowed me to customise my keyboard and all mouse buttons. But on more than one occasion I accidentally fired a weapon when I meant to do something else. I put this down to the default control method being a little un-intuitive, especially the right mouse buttons default use.
A final major plus with Dishonored 2 is that you can choose to play as one of two protagonists. Each with a different way of playing, different scripted lines, different powers and what with the way the game tracks certain choices opens Dishonored 2 up to a number of playthroughs. Dishonored 2 is one of those games that makes you nod and say, I can see why it is a full price AAA game. It delivers tonnes of fun, a brilliant environment with many hours of gamepla, multiple run throughs due to the two different characters choices. If the story delivered the same impact as the rest of the game then this title would no doubt become a timeless classic. As it is its a brilliant bit of gaming that makes it hard to put down. And it puts a smile on my face to think that in probably a handful of months we will be able to get a game of this calibre for a discounted price probably due to some summer sale.
Special thanks to Tom Francis for the review title.