Review: Dishonored 2 (PC)

Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: First-Person, Stealth, Action
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: Mature
Price: $39.99
The first Dishonored game masterfully joined first-person action with stealth elements in a way gamers had not experienced since the original Thief and Deus Ex games. Arkane Studios set a high bar for themselves as they set out to work on the follow-up. Unfortunately, Dishonored 2 was plagued by game-breaking bugs and lacked optimization on the PC.
However, Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks remained committed to the game. They released a series of patches that addressed issues that the majority of gamers were experiencing. New features were also released through free patches that rounded out the game experience. Once patched, Dishonored 2 has become a worthy successor to the first game and serious contender to the stealth game crown.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: The narrative makes reference to a plane of existence called the Void. The Void is a dimension separate from the normal one. However, the Void both influences and reflects the normal world and serves as both the source of magic and the final resting place of the departed. The game world adopts a dualist view of human persons—people are composed of both material and immaterial substances, the latter of which goes to the Void after a person dies. The dead who dabbled in black magic or suffered tragic deaths have their ‘spirits’ linger in the Void, all others fade into non-existence.

The Void is a twisted realm, with no sky or stars and the occasional flying whale.

The Void is a twisted realm, with no sky or stars and the occasional flying whale.

The Void has god-like being called the Outsider. Certain groups of people worship the Outsider at Shrines throughout the normal world. These shrines serve as conduits into the Void for those the Outsider has taken interest in. He grants these marked souls supernatural abilities to use to whatever end they see fit, as entertainment for the Outsider.
There is much contrast between Judeo-Christian view of God and the Outsider. The Outsider became “divine” millennia before the game takes place and therefore does not transcend space or time and is not a creator. He also lacks the essential properties attributed to the Judeo-Christian God, namely the three “omnis”—omniscience, omnibenevolence, omnipotence.
Dishonored 2 hosts depictions of dark rituals involving human sacrifice. The player finds and can craft charms that grant boosts to their characters abilities. Crafting these charms requires whale bones, however one charm in particular requires using a human skull. One of the game’s missions involves witnessing a séance used to communicate with a deceased character and bring them back from the Void.

There are shrines to the Outsider scattered throughout the world. Even he finds them distasteful.

There are shrines to the Outsider scattered throughout the world. Even he finds them distasteful.

Language: Characters utter several four-letter words throughout the game. The frequency of the usage will vary depending on the player’s choices.  More aggressive play will result in more frequent use. A euphemism is used for male genitals.
Sex: Some NPC’s can be heard reciting a limerick about masturbation. There are several references to adultery and incest. No visual depictions of sexual acts exist within the game.
Violence: There is a lot of blood and gore in this game. However, choosing not to kill bypasses much of the gore. There will still be some graphic depictions of corpses, including several that have been brutally mutilated. In an aggressive play through, the protagonist assassinates enemies with a series of brutal and visceral strikes which are quite graphic and bloody. 
Drug/Alcohol Use: Several characters drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes/pipes.
Positive Content: The game has a strong female protagonist in Emily Kaldwin. If the player chooses a play style with a low kill count, the story depicts character growth and maturity for Emily. She grows from a sheltered monarch to one that identifies with the plight of her people and strives to better it.

Review

Dishonored 2 is a beautiful game with amazing art direction. It takes place in a post-industrial/steam punk universe and most of the missions revolve around urban locations. However, what the game lacks in variety of settings, it vastly makes up for in attention to detail. The character animations are fluid and they make the NPC’s feel alive. Performing an assassination or a non-lethal takedown feels up close and personal and definitely leaves an impression. The rag doll physics are a bit wonky when using certain abilities, but it is not enough to break the game’s immersion. The developers included paintings throughout the game that are a beauties to behold and make the world feel “lived in.”

One of many beautiful paintings present throughout the game.

One of many beautiful paintings present throughout the game.

The weakest part of Dishonored 2 is its narrative. The story is not laughably bad, yet it pales in comparison with the attention to detail given to the rest of the game. In any other game the story would be passable, however in Dishonored 2, it sticks out like the proverbial thumb. It is a direct continuation of the first Dishonored game, including the DLC story missions. If one did not play all the previous content, or has forgotten the story elements, one could easily find themselves feeling like some exposition is missing.
The main antagonist’s motivations feel a bit mustache-twirly, making the character two-dimensional. The twists in the narrative are pretty obvious and as a result fall flat. The dialogue is passable but the weak narration makes it hard to care about the characters and what they have to say. The saving grace is found in the lore and background information that the player can learn from missives and audio recordings. These go a long way in fleshing out the world and making the setting much more three-dimensional than the protagonist’s own companions.
Dishonored 2 truly sets itself apart with its gameplay. Like it’s predecessor, the game presents the player with a lot of latitude in approaching the many challenges they face. First, the player can choose which character to play, Emily or Corvo. Each character has distinct animations and has access to unique supernatural abilities. Will the protagonist be an avenger, meting out draconian punishment to the guilty, a saint, holding all life in high regard , or a butcher, indiscriminately dispatching all who are unfortunate enough to cross their path? The player can also choose whether to play aggressively or take a more stealthy approach.
The stealth mechanics are nearly flawless and present a real challenge to players attempting to go undetected through their entire play through. The player alerts enemies to their presence through line of sight and sound. The game’s difficult level determines the acuteness of enemies’ senses. A menu added in one of the game’s patches has options to tweak the detection parameters individually. Even on medium difficulty, enemies will easily spot the player if they simply gallivant about each map. A stealthy non-lethal approach will double or sometimes triple the amount of time required to complete each mission. This is especially true if one is looking to earn the corresponding achievements.

Choices, choices, choices...

Choices, choices, choices…

The level design is magnificent. There are always several paths to reach the mission target. The brilliant level design is most evident when playing the game in Flesh and steel mode. In this mode, the player has chosen to turn down the supernatural gifts from the Outsider and must rely only on their stealth and gadgets. Even when playing in this mode, there are multiple paths available to the player each mission. 
Dishonored 2 features several different endings depending on the player’s choices and play style. Unlike its predecessor, the endings are not determined simply by kill count, but also take into account many discrete choices made throughout the game. For example, in one mission the player can choose to side with one of two rival factions, or they can side with neither and dispatch with the leaders of both factions. The choice the player makes, along with the amount of chaos they generated through kills, will determine the fate of the region that mission takes place in. This allows for many variations to the good/neutral/bad endings. However, the endings feel anti-climatic because they are not full-blown cut-scenes, but instead, still images accompanied by narration. Including cut-scenes in endings is a reward to players for their perseverance and effort, particularly when the game looks as beautiful as Dishonored 2 does. This omission is a disappointment.
Arkane studios has outdone themselves and produced a worthy follow up to their smash hit. It was a bumpy ride for the PC with copious bugs and performance issues rendering the game almost unplayable at launch, but after many patches, the PC release has truly come into its own. The Dishonored series is arguably one of the best stealth action series of this decade. With the first DLC announced for release later this year, it is a great time to pick up this masterpiece. 
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Danny Vargas

I am a devoted husband and a loving father (claims to be validated by my wife and kids). I am a Software Developer by day and an aspiring Philosopher by night...and day. I enjoy analyzing the cross-section between faith and geek culture and, in particular, attending to the unique advantages and challenges being a member of geek fandom present to the pursuit of Christ-likeness and spiritual formation.

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