Dishonored came out of nowhere to be one of the best games of the year, and turned Arkane into a developer to watch. So the expectations surrounding the sequel were sky-high. And Dishonored II largely doesn’t fix what isn’t broken. But that also puts the developer in something of a bind, since you can’t deliver a classic twice.
Dishonored II sticks to its predecessor’s look and style, with the familiar painterly visuals and exaggerated mugs, just in a better resolution. And it sounds the same, just with a cleaned up sound design and a new score. If you liked the original game, you’ll like this, which isn’t unexpected. Still, it would have been nice to see Arkane push the franchise a bit further, especially its story, which more or less just drops the same plot in a different setting. There is also the occasional graphical problem, although at least it’s one of ambition:
Again, it wasn’t broken, so Arkane doesn’t really fix it. The sequel does add a set of new mechanics in the form of Emily Kaldwin’s power-set, and you can also choose to ditch powers altogether early on for an extra challenge. But in the broad strokes, you’re still sneaking around, stealing everything you find, and choking out chumps.
Arkane has, this time around, delivered a master class in level design. While the overall game hasn’t changed — although some new basic mechanics have been added and the controls have been delightfully and lovingly tuned — adding Emily and her unique powerset to the mix could have derailed everything. Instead, they’ve created levels that work both with Emily’s hookshot and backstabbing-heavy powers and Corvo’s teleporting and possession. Playing a level as either of them means playing it through in strikingly different ways. It also leads to some truly hilarious moments:
The challenge has also been upped substantially. Arkane’s team spoke, after Dishonored came out, of studying how players used, and misused, the tools at their disposal, and it shows. Even on normal difficulty, while the guards are still a bit blinkered, they’re also more numerous with overlapping patterns. More traps have been laid. Finding the resources to upgrade your supernatural powers, in particular, are tougher, involving more puzzle-solving and fighting your way through giant nests of wasp-like mosquitoes. Word of advice: Keep incendiary bolts and grenades handy, not for enemies, but for those annoying little monsters.
Toughest, though, is trying to fulfill the side missions. Non-lethal takedowns are much tougher this go-round, for example, and the game throws other situations at you that require you to be quick to react or quick with the save-scumming. You’ll need to read your environment and react fast if you want the absolute best ending.
Thorough players will probably put at least 20 hours into the main campaign, just playing as one character. If you want to play through both, double that, and then there’s the elusive achievements for getting through levels without being detected, or killing anybody…
It’s not clear yet if the game, like its predecessor, will have any DLC. (Bethesda hasn’t answered that question yet, so it may eventually arrive.) But there’s no DLC pass you’re being bothered to buy, no microtransactions, and no minigame in the menu that wants you to buy “cards” or “loot boxes” or some ridiculous thing with real money.
The game ultimately presents a bit of a conundrum: On the one hand, Dishonored II is incredibly fun, and absolutely what players of Dishonored wanted out of a sequel. On the flip side, though, it’s worth asking how far Arkane can push it before the franchise feels like it’s repeating itself. This is an excellent second act, but if they decide to do a third, it’s encouraging they’re starting to explore where else this franchise can go.