Dishonored 2 is a good game, let’s just get that out of the way now. You can add it to the short list of sequels that are vastly superior to their predecessors. If you liked the first, you’ll enjoy the second and hopefully we’ll see more games from this series in the future. On the other hand, as a fan of the franchise it’s hard not to be disappointed by Dishonored 2.
The first game got a bit of a pass because of its originality. It had to build a world from scratch and breathe life into it while also creating an engrossing game to play. We’ve seen developers fail to do this time and again, which is why Dishonored was so heavily praised for its success. Dishonored 2 doesn’t get the same pass.
If you read my review of Dishonored, “Delving Into Dishonored, 4 Years Later”, then you know my only real issue with the game was its story. With a secretive world full of the Void, magic and mystical whales, a basic assassination and revenge story hardly seems like the most interesting tale to tell.
While the story in Dishonored 2 does dive a little deeper into the more intriguing aspects of the world created by the first game, it doesn’t go far enough. The story is a retread of Dishonored by the game’s own admission and the finale is even less fulfilling that it was before.
Again the story doesn’t feel fleshed out. We’re given little nuggets of information that don’t make sense and aren’t entirely explained, yet the game plays out their reveal as if we should be reeling from each revelation. It tries too hard to be ambiguous and suffers for it. Even the main villain’s backstory is left uncolored and questionable by the end of the tale, and the events that play out seem to have no real consequence beyond interrupting business as usual for a few months as Corvo or Emily set about to make things right.
Repeating background aspects of a character over and over doesn’t develop a character. “Corvo was a great swordsman as a teenager. Hey, did you know Corvo was a great swordsman as a teenager? Don’t forget, Corvo was always a great swordsman.” We get it, got anything else to tell us about Corvo’s youth? No? Then move on to something else!
Of course you can’t walk five feet without stubbing your toe on a massive piece of lore text, a lot of which tells a more interesting story than the one you play through in the game. Lore text is supposed to serve to enhance the main story and help build out the world, like a splash of seasoning on a dish. It’s not supposed to be better than the main entrée though. That’s a sign that you’ve fucked up.
Instead of filling the world with a bunch of loot that makes chapters take three hours longer to complete, how about devoting some of that time and energy into creating a more fleshed out an interesting story? Single-player games ultimately live or die by the story they tell. Dishonored 2’s story is passable, but it’s still lacking – and something in the same vein will not be accepted by the general public in the third installment.
Still Widely Improved
That being said, the game is still massively improved across the board. One of the biggest issues in the last gamer was the lack of options players had if they were going for a non-lethal run. This time the game gives you an equal array of options that incapacitate or murder targets as the player sees fit.
The level design, especially in the second half of the game, is incredible. One level in particular felt like a proof-of-concept for an entirely different game but did so without feeling out of place. It comes very late in the game and is over way too quick, but hopefully it’s a peak at things to come.
Arkane Studios has game design down. They hit pay dirt with Dishonored and did everything any fan of the original could’ve asked for in the sequel, but most people are going to forget the series in a week because there’s no real investment made into the franchise or any of its characters. Most gamers don’t care about Corvo and Emily like they do for Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us.
If you want a wildly successful single-player franchise you have to make the audience care about the characters and story you’re trying to tell. Either that or create a massive sandbox like Bethesda does. The Dishonored franchise is going to remain good and mostly forgotten until Arkane Studios can succeed at making us care. It’s disappointing that Dishonored 2 didn’t do so.