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The same again, but with optional bra

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    Great_Khan
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    Dishonored 2

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    The same again, but with optional bra

    Dishonored 2 is one of those awkward sequels that stands up to its predecessor but fails to fix any issues that were present or meaningfully expand on its strengths. The experience is slightly improved over the original but it has less impact because the first punch has already been thrown. The experience isn’t as fresh and Arcane no longer have the "It’s my first day" excuse for all the unfixed issues and persistent mediocre design choices. The idea of the series is still great fun so more of the same is perfectly enjoyable, but there’s still an incredible game buried here and it’s underwhelming for a second attempt.

    How this Stay-At-Home Mom went from groundbreaker to established formula in one simple step!

    It’s impressive how effortlessly the series managed to go from uniquely thrilling to blas¨¦ so quickly. It’s still an unbalanced magical stealth game revolving around teleportation and possession with a surprisingly fleshed out combat system set in a plagued dystopian whale-oil powered steampunk sci-fi mid-19th century Europe with vast levels designed with dozens of branching options which accommodate for magical mobility filled with hefty volumes of collectables to add to a fairly direct plot which jumps from murder to murder with branching gameplay and conclusion impacts based on your penchant for wanton murder and holy crap how does this feel standard already?!

    Mechanically things are largely unchanged but with the choice to play as Corvo the professional assassin or as the Empress who is basically Corvo with new powers which perform the same duties through different methods; Corvo possesses rats to travel through rat tunnels while Emily becomes a shadow monster which can fit through them, stuff like that. They don’t play differently enough to make the selection overly important but it’s a nice touch for replayability and some mild variety. The character shift is more relevant to the story given Emily’s arc over the two games is theoretically compelling, but the inept writing removes any interest the tale could hold.

    Upon starting the game you’re dethroned by an insidious conspiracy led by a long-lost sister of the previous empress which includes every single person in the political hierarchy/law enforcement, and it doesn’t click at all since we don’t know any of the people involved in the slightest. Revelations don’t work if you don’t know the players, it’s like walking in on a twist in a bad soap opera you glimpse once every six years. I genuinely can’t remember if the old Empress even had lines in the previous game, but she definitely never had a bonding scene with Emily so everything relating to her mother issues is as emotional as a furniture store commercial. The intruder sister disappears entirely after the intro before briefly popping back in for a sob story three quarters of the way through the game, it’s genuinely a sad backstory for how she came to be villainous but the way she appears randomly after never being introduced sucks all the gravitas from it.

    Basing the whole game around this unexplained conflict between characters we don’t know or care about lacks a basic grasp of storytelling structure. Characters will announce how much you’ve grown on them despite never having scenes which aren’t mission briefings and you spend the rest of your time slitting throats and sleeping, there’s an almost militant refusal to comprehend character growth or relationships. It ends on a four frame slide show again which is just pathetic, if this was written by a second grader I’d say it was beneath them. At least they didn’t bring back the hackneyed "secret evil friends" twist this time, so that’s nice I guess.

    There’s an item which reveals the secrets of NPCs and it turns out that everyone poisons, murders, robs, kidnaps or abuses kids/family members/employees/the weak; it can be hilarious to hear that someone is a cartoonish orphan murdering dungeon operator who robs hospitals and eats kittens if you rescan them enough. This interesting concept being wasted on simplistic monotone bleakness is a good representation of the design philosophies as a whole. Giving guards and civilians a sense of goodness would make casually slaughtering them more damning of the player and justify the chaos mechanic more. Having them give hints about hidden secrets would alleviate the need for HUD markers or using collectables as a crutch. They could even create interesting secretive, unspoken sidequests for you to insert yourself into like improving the life of someone with a good heart or expose the cruelty of someone vile. These aren’t clever ideas at all but making everyone an orphan beater feels like they didn’t even try.

    Backstreets Back! Alright!

    The setting is a big disappointment, "dystopian plague-ridden whalepunk dawn of industry" should not be boring but they’ve pulled it off twice now. This time around they’ve moved from London to the south of France yet the drear persists. They took my advice and added more whales so you actually get to see them around, it’s great for what it is but it’s still so surface level; it’s simply a bloodied mutant whale sitting on a dock. There’s a boldness lacking from the visual design and level themes. Why isn’t there a level in a whale processing factory which shows the process of turning whales into the many important things society relies on? Why can’t I go into the silver mines or a crazy smelting plant or through the crazed silver throne room of a cruel mining magnate? Why is mental institution Alcatraz not horrific and filled with unpredictable lunatics? Why do they keep giving us dingy streets and apartments when there’s all this wild lore available? Please, Arcane, if you make a third game and someone suggests "street" nine goddamn times in a fifteen level game, sack them.

    Mechanically the level design is astounding with seemingly endless paths and options which somehow don’t fall apart under the weight of your cripplingly overpowered magic. Teleporting around picking off well designed guard mobs is always enjoyable, but they’ve failed to give it a visual, contextual, or thematic sheen to make it stunning and second time around that’s less forgivable. It certainly isn’t any worse than before, but given it was a weakness then it’s a shame they didn’t elevate it… often.

    Shining like beacons through the drab slog are two and a half levels where the inspiration is present and it gloriously shows the lack of it everywhere else. You can tell that people were excited to be making the Clockwork Mansion, the Witch Coven Museum, and the Time-travel Manor and they stand out as clearly the best content the series has provided thus far. The clockwork mansion plays into the character of the target brilliantly and has mechanical depth I can barely comprehend even after lovingly scouring every inch of it. The inventive genius of its creator is reflected through a labyrinth of shifting rooms and hidden walls that can be moved around dramatically at will which is already awesome, but it digs even further into the concept by allowing you to sneak into the walls of the machine and zap around mid-transformation to reach otherwise hidden areas, or ride pieces of moving furniture to completely skip areas and paths. It’s faultless and possibly my favourite level of anything from this gen.

    The time travel manor similarly utilises a mechanic to raise the stakes, giving you the ability to move through obstacles during a time they weren’t there and stalk your foes through time itself and it feels so good. It doesn’t having the insane variety or flawless design of the clockwork but I loved it anyway; it really doesn’t take much to elevate the standard. The witch infested museum is genuinely threatening thanks to the unsettling artistry and dangerous enemy types throughout, and I liked the depiction of a coven basically being street trash who found a dark way to avoid oppression. Sadly the entire level clears out of enemies after you beat an easy plotted quest which is a bummer given how much I liked that first section. Between these three levels you can see just how brilliant the game can be when it takes a chance and also how little flair is present most of the time. It doesn’t take much, the museum in particular doesn’t play differently to anywhere else; that little spark that makes all the difference.

    I sure do love unfair stealth

    Despite the disappointing inability to take the next step towards being an essential title Dishonored 2 is still a demonic mosquito’s bloodsack of fun. It’s recently dawned on me that I’m really into the sub-subgenre of stealth I’m calling "Unfair Stealth", named for the poor guards who have no hope against the force of pure maliciousness that stalks them; the player. A "true" stealth game has you playing by the same rules as the guards; JC Denton may be better at hacking doors and swimming than some guy who couldn’t make it in the NFL and had to take up security for booze money, but the basic rules of physics still apply to him. Not so in an Unfair Stealth game. Shadow of Mordor Guy can leap from the heavens with only the pulverised sternums of orcs to break his fall and climb vertical walls faster than they can run horizontally. In Dishonored‘s case you can teleport through the vision cones of enemies while they can barely look up at all, allowing you gleefully warp along overhangs joyfully choking out anyone who isn’t using the buddy system. When you add the abilities to become a shadow, magically multi-kill enemies simultaneously, or stalk them from the future it’s downright cruel.

    And I absolutely love it. Dishonored is certainly much harsher with its stealth than the manic blood orgy that is the Middle Earth series; guards move unpredictably at times and have their locations altered for a long time if they think something’s up, while mass aggro is frequent and fighting multiple threats is difficult, but that sense of being a devastating spectre of sleepiness remains. The genuine threat that violence brings adds more weight to the stealth given it’s so unfairly in your favour, and having moments where you panic and gut a guy in the middle of the street because you hadn’t seen an extra guard is both fun and fairly frequent. The addition of quicksave/load is handy for keeping ghost status but linking it to L2 and R2 is foolish on the PS4 since the triggers are easily pressed when sat on a table due to those comfy nubs; if I had a dollar for every time I came back from getting a new drink to see I’d been quickloaded to five minutes ago I’d have… well six dollars.

    And that about does it for the positive portion of the review, Warp Stealth Captain Snooze is a jolly good time, the level design on a mechanical level is outstanding and the balance between feeling like an overpowered demigod while still needing to plan, strategize and execute is completely dead on; executing a multi-phase strike plan on a mob you’ve plotted in advance feels insanely badass and it’s one of my favourite feelings in games. The gameplay is at the level to make the game one of the best titles of this generation, it’s just a shame about everything else.

    It sounds like you didn’t polish enough

    Dishonored 2 has the worst sound design of any major release I’ve ever played. The game is constantly in a battle of voice track prioritization and there’s a sloppiness to the mixing which makes it a cacophony of voices trying to drown each other out. Automated level announcements will speak over the top of audiologs you find. Random passing troop chatter will occur over the top of special scripted events. In the second level there’s a generic atmosphere setting speech occurring somewhere in a major courtyard that is insufferably loud and overpowering for every single adjoining building and it drowns out all NPC chatter in the region, even context sensitive lore-building. I had to throw away my stealth run to throw a glass at the face of the orator to get them to shut the hell up so I could go out about my business without gouging my ears out. It’s never ending.

    Unconscious guard piles will grunt endlessly in a humorous but stupid mound of pained moaning. Timed events will trigger when you enter areas regardless of your height, location, or view and there are no indicators of the source of the sound so scenes are missed and random civilians die while you bumble around trying to figure out what the hell is going on without running out and getting shot in the face. It’s really bad at handling enemy and NPC reactions in regards to verticality; you can shoot a piece of wood with a crossbow two stories down and people will still hear the non-descript distant thud and know to react with bowel evacuation.

    While the shonky sound is the most apparent issue going around there are other sloppy moments. The visual effects used to demonstrate damage or wetness from swimming are beyond excessive with the screen turning an opaque deep red or distorted to the point of details being annoying to identify respectively. Some unconscious bodies seem to die randomly, I’ve had guys die when I’ve put them softly into a bath, or just died when I sat other sleepyheads on top of them while others have lived being angrily thrown off a second story balcony. While it was only the optional tutorial I did manage to have the game glitch out on an objective marker within a minute of starting which is ridiculous. Sure I was able to just skip the tutorial but that’s gotta be some kind of record, Big Rigs didn’t finish either but it took more than a minute to find out.

    Enough with the collectables already

    Dishonored 2 is a very long short game. There are only "nine" missions and most of those only feature two or three main goals to complete due to the amateur hour writing. Obviously, that’s massively at odds with the idea of sprawling levels with multiple paths to sneak through; what’s the point of having 350 rooms in an area if you only need to go through 60 of them to complete the tasks at hand? Arcane’s solution is to make all the alternative paths worth a gander by clogging the place up with doodads to stuff in your pants and Christ does it feel aggressively padded for it.

    Every level is filled to bursting with runes to boost your magic powers, bonecharms to increase your passive abilities, blueprints to enhance your gear, secret black market stores to stock up on tools, paintings to sell, safes to unlock through hidden passcodes, and secret off the beaten path locations or optional tasks like freeing dogs to maul guards. All this is included on a final mission report which judges you for your thoroughness, psychologically belittling your inability to scour every little nook and cranny for dozens of collectables per stage. There’s always that sense of "maybe this bonecharm will be good like that one which gave me infinite magic right at the start" and it becomes exhausting quickly. The sheer time spent looking for this stuff outweighs time spent on real goals by such a margin it’s impossible to not feel like your time is being actively wasted. Obviously the original had this too but it feels even more excessive this time around given this twice as long.

    The ratio to actual task to gathering is a joke; levels can take upwards of 3 hours to clear while grabbing everything while my "I’ve had enough of this crap" focused runs near the end could take less than 20 minutes. I spent nearly 32 hours on Dishonored 2 and only 8-10 was spent on main tasks. Again, sneaking about magic choking dudes is fun, so the act of going to optional areas isn’t a bad thing, but the incentive is so half assed. The third level has an optional non-lethal solution the has you traversing extra rooms you’d miss if you rushed it violently but there are still entire wings that exist solely to hold collectables, this design philosophy is everywhere and it’s underwhelming. This is where proper sidequests, alternative objective paths, or deeper lore trawls could help push the game toward greatness instead of completionist item hoarding.

    Disappointment doesn’t mean bad

    Dishonored 2 is a game that leaves me a bit bummed out for not only failing to extract the brilliance that is hidden under a thin layer of mediocrity, it didn’t even really try. It’s still a lot of fun, those mechanics and the functional aspects of the level design are outstanding and I had a great time overall, but it’s still underwritten, openly padded lazily and the world should be more impressive than it is. This feels like a game that needed another 3 months at both the start and finish of the project. The planning phase to create a visual style worthy of the gameplay and a writing depth worthy of the scale of the environments, and the last 3 months to get the goddamned sound right.

    I know I’ve seemed negative in this review but it comes from a place of love, it’s a really good game but there’s a phenomenal one just out of reach. If you liked the original you’ll still like this, if you didn’t it’s not gonna win you over. It’s probably a great starting point if you’ve never touched the series since it doesn’t do anything worse than last time and it features a couple of levels which are noticeably better; it’s how Arcane hasn’t built upon that incredible framework that brings down the mood.

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