If you’re not familiar with these Dishonored games, and I don’t particularly blame you this is a Starcraft forum after all, they’re basically a first person game spiritually connected to the Thief series that can’t decide if it wants to be a stealth game or a violent action game and tries to compromise between the two. Each level consists of the player being sent into a rather sizeable urban environment with some bigwig on your shitlist that needs to be taken care of and a couple dozen armed guards have been deployed to complicate matters. The player must decide whether they want to depopulate the area in an appallingly gruesome fashion, sneak about all unnoticed like or give the guards sleeping darts and chokeholds and form their unconscious bodies into the shape of a dick.
The core design ethos that underlines Dishonored 2 is “let the player play it their way!” which I can’t help but think reads better as “let’s give the player an unnecessarily large set of tools to solve fairly easy problems”. Let’s say you pick the violent psychopath method which I did since having spent the last decade stimming Marines into Drone lines I have something of a bias towards impatient gameplay styles. You can walk up to people and attempt sword attacks until they’re dead, you can stagger them with either an unblockable lunge or a parry which opens them up to instant murder, you can just fucking shoot them with your gun that almost always instakills them and has ammo lying around everywhere or you can just snipe them from afar with your silent wrist mounted crossbow. If they come in a small group you can cook a grenade and chuck it, plant a mine around a corner and lure them all into it or just use a magic power like the ability to slow down time to 1/100th the speed or have them all devoured by rats. If they do manage to land hits on you through all this just start downing health potions like you’re former Prime Minister Bob Hawke at the cricket. Even on the hardest difficulty slicing your way through the paltry amount of dudes is just too fucking easy. I have munition Cornucopias for pockets and can harness one of the fundamental powers of all existence, they have swords and a t-shirt, just doesn’t seem fair does it?
But it’s also a stealth game and if you do want to stealth it up I’d suggest lowering the difficulty until you get the hang of things since the guards on Very Hard are so good at spotting you I can only imagine they have been sat down Clockwork Orange style and forced to play pixel hunting adventures for three weeks straight with no sleep or pissbreaks permitted. That said the stealthing’s fairly lacklustre too. For one thing it breaks the first rule of a stealth game which is that the player should feel pressured not to get seen because getting spotted results in the player getting repurposed as sausage roll stuffing and as I’ve established above that’s not the case. In Dishonored 2 I’m stealthing because I want to, not because I have to and I find this dissipates the tension. It also doesn’t help that if I am spotted I can just sprint away and teleport somewhere up high where nobody can follow. Or I can just sprint and teleport my way across the level carefree like I’m a streaker in my moment of glory. Who cares if I get spotted, fuck it I’ve got places to be, the guards haven't been trained to crash tackle dickheads running rampant and I'm gonna get the low chaos result either way.
Oh yeah, one holdover from Dishonored 1 is the Low/High chaos rating. Romp around gleefully slicing up policemen as if expecting one of them to have Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket located in their neck and you get the high Chaos rating whereupon NPC’s chide your decision to solve problems through violence and maybe the environment gets a bit bleaker I suppose. Play live and let live with the nice policemen and presumably the opposite occurs, perhaps with an ending featuring our cast of characters holding hands and skipping merrily ‘neath a rainbow whistling jaunty tunes. It does feel a bit mean spirited to hand the player so many different ways to exterminate their fellow man and then chide them for it- fuck you Dishonored 2 this was your idea- but I can appreciate the subtext to a certain degree. Killing people you don’t like from a lofty position of power does seem like the easy way out and after all if your input to a world trapped in an unending cycle of violence is to contribute some of your own I suppose it’s commendable the game should go to some length to acknowledge it but it lacks any impact because I can’t muster up even the merest dingleberry’s worth of shit for what’s going on.
I can see what they’re going for with the world building in these Dishonored games. A society outwardly energised by the significant advancements of an technological and industrial revolution neatly juxtaposed with the intense physical, moral and spiritual decay of those within it. The frankly herculean amount of effort put into environmental design, random documents to collect and read, impressive skylines and other mundanities would be really impressive if it was part of something that had a degree of likeability. There’s no wit or charm or colour or joie de vivre to any of the actual people, just an endless parade of serious faced gritty bastards pursuing diabolical agendas. I can’t form an emotional connection to anyone and can’t get any investment going. Christ do I feel sorry for graphical designers in these sorts of games, they spend hours working overtime away from friends and family only to have their hard work go appreciated for on average about three seconds before the player runs off looking for something else to slit up .
If you took my lunch money and said I could only get it back if I said something nice about Dishonored 2 then I would confess there’s some momentary thrill to be had in the whole elite infiltrator schtick. It handles itself well enough and the violence has a certain thunk to it, but come on guys, implausibly skillful violence is the low hanging fruit of videogames. A bee on it’s backside on the bottom of the Mariana Trench could reach that fruit with a mild erection. I expect more from video games especially ones I pay 60 Greenbacks for in a moment of drunken impulse. What’s particularly disappointing is that almost everything I wrote about here could easily apply to Dishonored 1. Did everybody in Arkane studios seriously think Dishonored 1 was a masterpiece without flaw? That game came out five fucking years ago surely somebody must have pointed some things out, like how forking out extra cash to hire some fancy pants TV actor who proceed to phone it in something hardcore is an unnecessary extravagance.. Ultimately, Dishonored 2 is toothless, lacks focus and I find myself completely unwilling to get into it, pretty much like your gran.
Well, ok, I guess that clockwork mansion level was pretty good.