I have a confession to make. While I enjoyed the original Dishonored four years ago, and while I had fun when I got to play its sequel for an hour at an event about a month ago, my initial thought when my review copy of Dishonored 2 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) arrived at my house this week was, “Uh, okay.” But as I started to play it, as I grew confident in my abilities and got caught up in the action, my feelings for this first-person stealth action game grew well beyond just “Uh, okay.”
Set years after the first Dishonored, Dishonored 2 has you seeking revenge on someone who either took your throne or the took your friend’s throne. For you see, Dishonored 2 gives you the choice of playing as two different heroes: Corvo Attano, the main character from the original game, and Emily Kaldwin, who was the little girl Corvo rescued in that first game, and is now the Empress in the Empire Of The Isles. Er, rather, she was. Either way, you have to use your skills as a sneaky assassin to take back the throne and return the kingdom to its rightful ruler.
Mechanically, Dishonored 2 is more like a sneaky version of the BioShock series than anything else. And not just because it takes place in a steampunky version of Victorian England. Unlike a lot of first-person shooters, which usually have you using only one weapon at a time, here you use two, one in each hand, and usually independently. But you also have access to a Star Wars-esque mix of swords, guns, tech, and magic powers. So while you always have a small sword in your right hand, your left can be used to hold your gun, a crossbow, some kind of magical device, or just be the hand you use to cast a spell. You also, as in BioShock, enjoy a red beverage to restore your health, and a blue liquid to replenish your magic powers, as well as unlock new skills or augment your health and other attributes.
In other ways, though, Dishonored 2 is more like Half-Life 2. While the world looks somewhat BioShock-esque, the cities feel more like those in Half-Life 2. Thanks to all the guards and security systems you have to deal with — and, of course, disable — this game has a decidedly oppressive vibe.
But where Dishonored 2 feels simultaneously Half-Life 2-ish and BioShock-esque is in its fluid and and intuitive controls, which will be instantly familiar to anyone who plays a lot of first person games, especially such recent shooters as Titanfall 2 and Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Those two are especially apt comparisons since Dishonored 2, like them, also has a fair bit of platforming (though nothing as creative as the former), and the running and jumping feels far more natural and comfortable than in such other first-person games as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and the new Doom.
Along with being able to get around creatively, Dishonored 2 is also, of course, about getting around quietly. Which is why, not surprisingly, it employs many of same mechanics as Splinter Cell Blacklist, Metal Gear Solid 5, and even such stealth-injected games as Battlefield 1. You can distract people by tossing bottles, move dead bodies where no one will (hopefully) find them, and peer through keyholes to see what’s happening on the other side. Plus, you always know if your enemies are aware of you by looking at the the icon above their heads. Which comes in handy if you’re hoping to surprise them.
Of course, being a stealth action game, Dishonored 2 also gives you a choice of what to do to your surprised enemies. Not only can you kill them quietly, or just walk away, but you can also knock them out or just steal the coin purse from their belt and then walk away.
You also have some cool tricks when it comes to the stand-up fights in Dishonored 2. Like many games with swords, you can block an enemy’s swing, and even knock them off balance if you time it right. But you can also, if you time it correctly a second time, either deliver a fatal blow or spin them around and grab them in a choke hold.
Of course, being such a skilled and stealthy assassin is only worthwhile in Dishonored 2 because you get to do it in interesting and varied places. Granted, you spend a lot of time fighting guards and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, but in going from point A to point B, the game usually gives you multiple pathways, and almost as many ways to complete your objective. For instance, one of Emily’s “Far Reach” powers allows her to leap to a point you designate, which makes it easy to jump up onto the roof off a building, and to to the roof of an adjacent building, and so on and so on….
In addition, there’s almost as much to do if, on your way from Point A to Point B, you stop at Points C to look around, maybe grab some ammo or a bite to eat.
It also helps that your enemies are reasonably intelligent. Granted, it doesn’t seem like they’ve played many stealth action games, since they all fall for the same tricks, but they are good enough at their jobs to make this challenging.
As for how Dishonored 2 changes because of the two characters, it’s more than you might’ve expected but not as much as you might’ve hoped. If you play as Corvo, this feels very much like the original game. But if you play as Emily, it feels different, enough that you’ll want to play it both ways, though not enough that to make this feel like two games in one.
While Dishonored 2 is an engaging and challenging game, regardless of who you play as, it’s not without its problems. For starters, the controls are a bit jerky, though this is somewhat minimized if you turn down the sensitivity (I went from 41 to 20) and the head bob (100 to 50 for me), and goes away after a while regardless. Unfortunately, you can’t turn down the sensitivity of the R3 button, which is used to bring up your spyglass, something I did a lot during sword fights while trying to out maneuver my enemies.
There are also times in Dishonored 2 when someone’s sword would hit me even though they were too far away. Similarly, while it’s a nice touch that enemies will sometimes run off, the effect is somewhat negated when they run into a wall and try to keep going for a few seconds.
It can also be annoying that some special abilities only work when equipped, as opposed to passively. Emily’s power The Heart, for instance, identifies collectibles and other items of interest. The Heart even beats when you’re near something you should look for. But it’s annoying that you have to switch to The Heart, find the object, and then switch back to something more practical. Especially when you run into a guard while using The Heart to find something.
Similarly, while you can also replenish your heath by eating food like you did in Wolfenstein: The New Order, it’s annoying that you can accidentally eat something even if you’re at full health.
Dishonored 2 also has a problem so common these days that I cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant game review I write: some of the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading your mission objectives, some parts of the menus, and any books or notes you find.
Even with these issues, though, Dishonored 2 is still a solid stealth action game, both on its own and as a continuation of the first game. Sure, I may not have been all that excited to play it at first. But I am excited to play it a second time.