Dishonored 2 provides a lengthy campaign. In fact, despite putting a lot of hours into the game so far, I still haven’t quite finished it yet. Each level provides a lot of areas to explore, collectibles to collect, and guards to immobilize. The way I play, I don’t leave a stage until everyone I can knock out is sleeping soundly and every thing I can pick up has been purloined. The great thing is that none of this feels like a chore; the game is so much fun to play that I kind of feel crestfallen when I finally have nothing left to do in the stage. Dishonored 2 manages to get a lot of gameplay right. Here’s out list of four things Dishonored 2 does really, really well (and the one thing it gets wrong).
THE POWERS ARE AWESOME
A game like Dishonored 2 hinges on balancing the powers. If the powers are weak or difficult to use, the game can become just another stealthy shooter. If the player feels over powered, the game becomes a cakewalk and the player is never forced to learn how to use the powers effectively. Dishonored 2 does a great job in providing powers that make the game fun to play without taking away the challenge. I’m playing through with Emily currently and my go-to powers are Domino (which links together enemies so that whatever happens to one happens to all) and Far Reach (which can teleport me but also can yank enemies over to me). Once acquired, these powers make dealing with guards much easier; I can link them, yank one over to me (and they all come flying) and knock one out. As soon as I get confident in my approach, however, the game introduces new enemies that are immune to it, forcing me to adapt my approach going forward. The game lets you build a sense of power, but never immunity; as a player, I become confident but never bored. Plus the powers give the game some replay as well. I could easily spend more hours learning Emily’s other powers and I still haven’t even started with Corvo. As much time as I have already spent, I still have a lot to master.
THE CHAOS SYSTEM IS FORGIVING
Games like Dishonored tease the idea that there are several ways to play but – as we have argued before – the most fun way is always the most peaceful. Dishonored 2 encourages you to spare the rod as often as possible by degrading the environment the more you kill enemies. In the original Dishonored, this made some levels extremely difficult as rats increasingly took over the city whenever you killed anyone even by accident. Dishonored 2 takes a seemingly more relaxed approach; deaths (particularly accidental ones) do not affect the chaos level dramatically. This means if you accidentally force pull a guard headfirst into a beam or hide a body in a flooded area, these deaths don’t impact the overall chaos level. I was fighting two guards – while I was lining up my force pull – they accidentally released a swarm of bloodflies that quickly devoured them. It still counted as a death against me but didn’t affect my chaos level. This flexibility means I don’t need to reload my game every time someone accidentally gets killed (something I did a lot in the original Dishonored). Somehow the system seems to recognize whether you are intending to play as a homicidal maniac or if you’re really simply a sloppy ninja, and thankfully it doesn’t penalize us sloppy ninjas.
THE LEVELS ARE VERY WELL DESIGNED
I have not finished the game yet but each level I’ve played so far has been very well designed. Buildings feel like buildings and cities feel alive and engaged. Enemy headquarters feel like functional spaces and not simply obstacle courses for you to navigate. The standout stage, so far, is the Clockwork Mansion (the last section of level 4). That stage introduces you to the villain right away as he taunts you through bulletproof glass. You have to navigate through his mansion both to confront him and to free an important hostage. The entire mansion is designed with rooms that rotate when you press various buttons, turning hallways into billiards rooms and open floor rooms into multilevel balconies. Other games would often move the unused rooms into empty space, but here getting behind the walls into the dingy storage spaces with the unused rooms is essential to survival. You work your way through the level while your enemy tracks your progress and taunts you on an intercom system throughout the mansion. It’s one of the best stages I’ve played this year and I’ve only played it as Emily. I can’t wait to see how Corvo handles it.
THE HUB WORLD IS SMALL
Dishonored 2 takes a very different approach to the hub world than Deus Ex: Mankind Divided did. Deus Ex provided an enormous hub world while Dishonored 2 provides only a small ship to explore and interact with your colleagues before you leave the ship to advance to the next stage. While it seems unusual to separate the hub world so cleanly from the levels (and to have it be so small compared to the original Dishonored), this design allows for much more defined experiences. Deus Ex allowed you to sneak into areas earlier than the plot required if you desired and I cleared out several locations before the plot sent me there, deflating later stages as I picked through unconscious bodies for quest items. Dishonored 2 keeps the stages as separate experiences. While an open world can be enjoyable, it also detracts from the characterization to spend your time in the hub world creeping through air vents and diving into sewers. I remember crawling through the vents at Jensen’s office and thinking: “This is where he works; he knows these people. Who acts like this where they work?” Dishonored 2 keeps the hub world lean; you act like a person in that section and you’re back to being a ninja when you enter the next level. This clean separation between hub world and game level is a smart choice; it makes me understand Emily’s relationships and keeps the narrative more streamlined.
BUT THERE’S NO WAY TO REPLAY STAGES!
It is ridiculous, however, that you cannot simply load up a previous stage and replay it again. The one thing missing from the game right now is an easily accessible “free play” mode that lets you return to these stages to play through with different powers or as a different character. This is especially nagging when a stage as good as the Clockwork Mansion exists; I want to show that stage to friends and family but – as it stands now – I either have to replay the whole game or find a quicksave that’s close enough. I can understand that replaying the stage might break the narrative flow and lead to questions about how to handle objects you find (e.g., Are relics reset for the replay? Do you keep what you find from playing the stage again?) but these issues seem negligible compared to the ability to show off these stages to others. Maybe a future download or Dishonored 3 will correct this little, annoying misstep.