The eagerly anticipated sequel Dishonored 2 released late last week to critical acclaim, though not without its imperfections. Perhaps most notable among the imperfections, the "whalepunk" stealth title has had some serious performance issues on PC. Though Bethesda says a patch to address those performance issues is on the way, it has not yet been released at the time of writing.
Dishonored 2 currently sits at an average score of 91 on Metacritic based on 24 reviews — and there are some themes across what those reviewers had to say.
Stories All Around You
Much like its predecessor, it's entirely possible to rush your way through Dishonored 2, butchering everything in your path and not paying much mind to your surroundings. Yes, it's possible, but perhaps misses the point. The Dishonored franchise delivers a rich setting of supernatural wonders with its every stage and setpiece full of small details which help build the gameworld. Dishonored 2's central narrative, however, is coming across a bit flat, if not rote. Fans of the original title might not be surprised by this; the setting of Dishonored is so enchanting, dazzling its players with the stories untold, that the story it actually tells can't possibly live up to the magic.
The wonder of Dishonored is taking it slow and absorbing the virtual world around you. Rushing through and butchering your enemies simply to see the next cutscene not only does the game a disservice, but does a disservice to you, the player. In the words of Game Informer:
Given the excellent environmental storytelling, the rushed and underdeveloped main story beats surprised me. From the abrupt usurpation of the throne to the final showdown, Dishonored 2 never slows down enough to create meaningful context to the events or banter between the main characters. [...] The narrative isn’t bad, but could have been much more impactful with better execution.
Many Ways To Play
Every mission in Dishonored could be completed in a variety of ways both lethal and non-lethal, offering players a choice between justice or revenge, but never mercy. Diehard fans gladly played through the game multiple times with each playthrough at least a little different than the last, if not completely so. Dishonored 2 builds upon that replayability with new playable character Empress Emily Kaldwin alongside the returning Royal Protector Corvo. Not only will the two characters see some narrative differences, but each of them has their own unique skills, resulting in divergent stories and gameplay.
Among our social circles, we were hard pressed to find anyone who didn't play Emily the first time around. Finding someone who wasn't also going to play Corvo after the fact was just as difficult. Who could resist Emily's Domino ability, enabling her to take down an entire room of baddies in one single, well-executed stroke? At the same time, Corvo's ability to possess and control his enemies is an old fan favorite, its siren song still calling to us since 2012.
If you must get your fix of outright butchery, it's entirely possible to play both characters completely differently in separate playthroughs. Perhaps you see Emily as a slow and methodical hunter, planning the perfect mission in which she accomplishes her goals without shedding a drop of blood. On the other hand, you view Corvo as a man on a mission who will drop as many bodies as it takes to get it done. Play one, then the other; each playthrough will be a completely fresh perspective of Dishonored 2.
If replayability is something you look for in games, you can't go wrong with Dishonored 2. As IGN's Lucy O'Brien states at the start of her review:
No two playthroughs are the same in Dishonored 2. Developer Arkane has doubled down on the original’s play-your-way formula with two separate sets of skills, a deep and multifaceted world, and a dizzying array of level designs that affect your approach to each new area. Whether you choose a stealthy or bloody approach, each one of your playthroughs is an addition to the wide range of stories that can be told within this wonderfully twisted universe.
Unfortunately, for those players who love narrative games but find their immersion easily broken, there are some areas where Dishonored 2 was expected to improved upon Dishonored but didn't. Much like Dishonored 2's narrative not quite living up to its environmental storytelling, its script — and its performances as a result — often come across as stiff and amateurish despite the star-studded cast. Lines often sound unnatural, conversations failing to flow like a conversation should, only exacerbated by their implementation into the game itself.
Animations stutter, a new line begins without the one before it having completed, and Dishonored 2's rich gameworld seems to freeze in time for the exact duration of a cutscene. Cutscenes rarely feel like a smooth transition, but rather an aside where the main characters step into the limelight while the extras bow their heads in the shadows until they're done talking — right down to the flora and fauna.
As Polygon's review preview states, these were problems in the first Dishonored title as well, but they're problems many players expected to be resolved the second time around:
It’s not like the original Dishonored’s voice acting was fantastic. It was home to some surprisingly underwhelming performances from actors like Susan Sarandon! But Dishonored felt like a subversive, under-the-radar release that relied on effective art design and old-school mechanical sensibilities to punch above its weight. Dishonored 2 is a Major AAA Fall Release, with a massive marketing budget and prime release date. The standard it sets for itself with regards to presentation is higher, and it doesn’t meet that heightened bar consistently.
Is It Worth It?
Dishonored 2 has its imperfections, but it would simply be unfair if it didn't. Rare is the game which is so universally enjoyed; even if the narrative stumbles from time to time, no critics we've seen consider it bad. Any weaknesses its narrative might have, its strong gameplay makes up for it in spades. In the words of GamesRadar:
In the end, any criticisms of Dishonored 2 feel like nitpicks of a thoroughly entertaining, mechanically complex, impressively realized world, just like the first.
If you played the original Dishonored, you can't go wrong picking up Dishonored 2. And if you haven't played the original Dishonored, you can't go wrong picking up both of them, either. Dishonored 2 stands just fine on its own two feet, but playing the first before the second will only enrich your experience — and make that Emily playthrough even more satisfying.