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Friday, 30 December 2016

Dishonored 2.

Hey, quick reminder that there won't be a post tomorrow, owing to New Year's, but we'll be back on a normal schedule from Monday onwards.

Dishonored 2.

I've made precisely zero secret of how much I love Dishonored. It was a perfectly balanced stealth game with just the right level of difficulty (and a lot of anti-frustration measures) without being unfair, with a gorgeous and distinctive (if not actually unique, given how many aesthetic cues it took from Thief and the wider steampunk genre) aesthetic, some great voice actors (including Lena Headey!), and a rich, deep game lore.

Needless to say, I was pretty psyched at the announcement of Dishonored 2. A lot of people were, especially as a barrage of fake rumours every E3 had managed to single handedly kill any belief we might have had that a sequel was actually coming. Excitement only grew when it was revealed that you could play as an older Emily (or as Corvo, but who cares about that guy), and that Delilah of DLC fame would be the main villain.

Set ten years after the events of the first game, Dishonored 2 sees Emily forced off her throne when Delilah unexpectedly reappears, claiming to be Jessamine's half-sister and supported by a conspiracy originating in the southern city of Karnaca. Fleeing, Emily and/or Corvo must dispose of the members of Delilah's conspiracy, discover the secret to her immortality, and depose her. Along the way, s/he will receive help from mysterious ship's captain Meagan Foster and natural philosopher Anton Sokolov.

Sokolov is looking a bit older these days.

While it continues with the semi-painterly style of the first game, this game's graphics are vastly improved over the previous game's, and with the passage of ten years, the aesthetic has shifted from steampunk Victoriana to steampunk 1920s art deco, which combined with the Spain-inspired setting of the game and the familiar onset of ruin and decay that characterises Dishonored, creates something truly interesting to look at.

If you're wondering why I'm starting on waht the game looks like despite that usually being an afterthought, it's because the gameplay has actually not changed much at all since the first game. Dishonored's gameplay was pretty well put together anyway, so that's not necessarily a flaw -- there's no reason to attempt to drastically innovate on something that works -- but it does make it difficult to talk about.

(There is a level with a time-warping mechanic that plays significantly differently, but to be honest, while it's a potentially interesting mechanic, the result is a level that's actually a little bit boring.)

A Clockwork Soldier.

The main gameplay shift is that you can play as either Emily or Corvo, with different powersets between them. Corvo's powers are the same bag he got in the first game -- teleportation, rat summoning, wind blasts, time manipulation, and so on. Emily's powers are framed as much more neutral, with the potential to be either destructive or stealthy depending on how you upgrade and utilise them: A power that creates a shadowy tendril can be used to zip around like Corvo's blink, but it can be upgraded to snatch people up and slam them bodily into walls; a power that creates decoys to distract people can be changed to a power that creates proxies to assassinate people in your stead; other powers, like Domino, are neutral in a much simpler way, as the ability simply 'shares the fate' of multiple targets, allowing you to knock out or kill three or four people in one go.

Of course, the two-character system isn't perfect. From a gameplay standpoint, playing as Emily, with her entirely new powerset, is much more interesting than playing as Corvo, and it works better narratively, as well. There's very little narratively satisfying about Corvo, whose story fairly thoroughly ended, taking up his assassin's mask again to save Emily once more, from an enemy who he has no real connecton with. Emily, meanwhile, gets a whole character arc where she learns about her empire, and what it means to rule -- and in the bargain, gets the much more satisfying narrative of saving the man who once saved her, and vanquishing an enemy that may be one of the last family members she has, and whose life is a grim and twisted reflection of her own.

Instead of rats, this game has bloodflies. They are functionally the same, except they fly.

The only other gameplay shift of note is the removal of Tallboys, who are replaced with Clockwork Soldiers, an enemy that is much fairer for players to deal with regardless of if they're playing stealthily or violently, and which provides a challenge no matter what play style you're working with.

Like the first game, this one isn't really sure what to do with itself for an ending, and so just kind of winds its way to a slightly anticlimactic close, but the story is fascinating and fun to play through nonetheless. While I find myself somewhat preferring the first game, I think that could change as I play through the second one a few more times, as I do think it's the technically stronger of the two. Either way, it gets a fairly wholehearted recommendation from me.

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