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 undetected 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 more basic action is so boringly designed that you feel like you need supernatural abilities to give you a jolt. After all, honor and its inverse have no meaning in such a cold, stupid game.