Dishonored 2 Review — Metal Gear Stolid

by Jed Pressgrove

The worst plague in Dishonored 2, a game full of rats and bloodflies, is the absence of emotional conviction. During the first mission of Dishonored 2, the script leads you to believe the two main characters, Corvo and Emily, are father and daughter, but the voice acting sounds like two disengaged performers reading their lines for the first time, and the dialogue (“Let’s see how quiet you are, young lady”) urges you to play along rather than understand the relationship. With a cliched pause in the story, the game asks you to choose to play as the father or daughter. Once you make this decision, the other character is turned into stone by a one-dimensional villain. Not only is this separation uninteresting given that Dishonored 2 fails to build a convincing human dynamic in the first place, but you might not care or remember family was involved in the setup by the third or fourth mission.

Just about everything in Dishonored 2 carries a slapdash, blase attitude. Take the cutscenes before the missions: sapped of color, they look like cheap themes for your console dashboard, and their snooze-worthy exposition could use a sudden noise, music cue, or facial expression (as in the NES classic Ninja Gaiden). Between missions you get on a boat and talk to a captain for no compelling reason, an inconsequential approach compared to how Titanfall 2 propels you to the next challenge through continuity of action. The faces of the characters, which often don’t even look halfway alive, reinforce a sense of detachment and reject the articulate humanity in the faces you see in The Witcher 3 and Beyond: Two Souls.

But Dishonored 2 assassinates its emotional potential the most with its lackadaisical execution of play concepts. The game claims you can “Play your way,” which is more honest than the original Dishonored’s bogus appeal to morality, but the options (for example, possessing a rat vs. turning off a machine) seem made for toddler brains compared to the world of possibilities of the first two Fallout games. More problematic, developer Arkane Studios doesn’t grasp the basics of stealth and playability. For example, you can sneak up on a guy resting in a chair, but if you are crouched directly behind the chair, you can’t execute a takedown. To do that, you must face the chair at an arbitrary angle.

Even worse, enemies show little evidence of consistent intelligence. In the first mission, I was able to run past a dozen or so soldiers and board a ship without much harm or commotion. At times, foes won’t notice you while you’re almost under their nose, and other times they can see through solid objects to detect your still presence in what the game laughably calls “stealth mode” (when you crouch to enter this mode, the edges of the screen go dark — who the hell are the developers kidding?). Even games not marketed as stealth titles, like Dark Souls and Far Cry Primal, feel more logical in what they allow the player to do around enemies.

Like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dishonored 2 tries to make up for its regressive understanding of stealth with an upgrade system. You gain superpowers by finding runes, which, idiotically, only show up when you equip a heart in your left hand, the same hand you need for teleportation, for instance. Essentially, the powers are there for you to revel in delinquency; you don’t need them, as you can easily take out enemies with a gun and sword, but the latter concept is so boringly designed that you feel like you need something to give you a jolt. After all, honor and its inverse have no meaning in such a cold, stupid game.

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2 comments

  1. The emotional disconnect is an interesting point to start discussion on. When it comes to stealth games, I’m at a war with myself in order to play it “perfectly” – no discoveries, no alarms, nothing. I was almost obsessive with my need to perfect Dishonored 2 in my first play-through, and I realize now I was inserting my emotional needs for perfection instead of going with the flow as I more often do with Deus Ex or Invisible, Inc.

    They made a structural mistake by moving the story immediately from the city where your heart supposedly lies and into the outlying territories. You’re forced from the conflict that “matters” to the fiefdoms, making the focus the hierarchy instead of the family. There’s something distasteful about being shuttled around by a black victim of the royalty and their endless power plays as she plays servant to the PCs obsessive desire to take the whole thing down instead of following their heart (which is a good point in your review, your heart leads you to more power and pitying comments on the surroundings instead of reflecting on your family frozen in stone).

    Which may be why the most satisfying level was the clockwork mansion. You’re targeting someone with a far clearer connection to your goal than any of the others, and the shifting terrain of the mansion basically nixes the “play it your way” ethos as you have to piece your way through the mansion instead of just deciding if I’m going to kill this guard or teleport there. The terrain is a proper obstacle to navigate instead of a choose your own adventure book with five pages.

    On the stealth mode note, it just doesn’t make any damn sense. If you’re stealthily moving around it follows that you’re more in-tune with your surroundings than not. Why in the world would obscuring part of the screen be “stealthier” than your standard vision? I can just keep the world unobstructed and teleport around to make less noise.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Andrew! I don’t necessarily see a problem with one’s emotions leading to a desire to be perfect in a stealth game. The issue here is that Dishonored 2 offers a highly illogical system of stealth with the pretense of “Play Your Way.” More than a few times I thought, “We might as well go back to Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.”

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