In 2012 Arkane Studios released Dishonored onto the gaming public and it quickly became gaming royalty. As a father I don't have as much spare time as I used to, so when I tell you I've finished Dishonored (and DLC) four times that might give you an indication of how much I love this title. This review is obviously based on the PC version and while I will cover performance in the relevant section, please just be aware that early indications show Dishonored 2 is suffering from poor optimisation. Use this information and be smart: hold off buying it until either myself or someone else can confirm Bethesda have fixed it.
So the stage is set fifteen years after events of the first game, Emily is now a grown woman and has been ruling as empress over Dunwall. As we found out in the first game, the Royal Protector Corvo Attano is actually Emily's father. As you might expect Corvo has been training his daughter in the arts of combat, stealth and survival in case the day ever came when her enemies would take another shot at her: that day is here.
Ying and Yang
As is now well know you can play Dishonored 2 as either Corvo or Emily and each comes with their own skills/powers. As the game opens Emily's court is overthrown by a witch known as Delilah, claiming to be her aunt and rightful ruler of Dunwall. It is at this point that the decision of who to play the game as is made, my choice was to play as Emily due to the fact that many of her powers are new where as Corvo still retains many of his old powers (as you would expect). I have to say I felt this opening scene to the game was rushed and didn't work for me. How on earth does a small army just march into the city of Dunwall, enter the Royal chamber (with two robots covered in swords) and casually take the city?
On the plus side, this does mean that you take the reins in a relatively short amount of time. In my play through I decided to choose Emily as her newer set of powers would serve the review better. In no time at all, I had escaped to the coastal city of Karnaca and even met the Outsider on route to pick up my supernatural powers. Again, the meeting with this being from the Void felt generic and rushed. I know it's small potatoes but he doesn't really explain why he is bestowing his mark on you other than for shits and giggles. From here you take on various missions from the ship known as the Dreadful Whale, a vessel that becomes your home away from home for most of the campaign and a place rest while you plan your next move.
Too many times you see developers forgetting what made their own game a success and I am happy to see Arkane have not done this. As far as I'm concerned the secret sauce which made Dishonored so fun to play was the way Corvo moved around his environment. Like a panther you could slink around a room of guards with ease, watching your enemies and waiting to strike. This awesome movement system has thankfully been replicated and dare I say improved on for the sequel. When you are in stealth you will sink under tables and other low platforms. Climbing on objects is fast and fluid, even when the ceiling is in the way Emily (or Corvo) will sink a little lower to fit into the space provided.
If you read my retro review for Dishonored you will know I applauded the excellent level design and thankfully Arkane have managed to not only hit that same standard but in many places knock it out of the park. Even in the first few missions I was constantly feeling overwhelmed (in a good way) by the sheer amount of choice at my deadly fingertips. This makes playing Dishonored 2 feel tantalising, a playground of stealth and clandestine manoeuvres waiting to be tapped into. Aside from your expert skills with weapons the other side of the coin is the supernatural powers bestowed on you by the Outsider. As I've already mentioned, Corvo plays very similar to the first game but not wanting to just leave it at that each power can now be upgraded with extra perks. For example Corvo's ability to slow time can now be played with to a far greater degree: in one promotional video we see him catching a falling body by manipulating time: very cool. Emily is, of course, the new kid on the block and so while some powers cover the same basic function (blink/far reach) she also has some fantastic tricks of her own. My favourite has to be the Domino power which lets you link up the fate of two or more enemies. At that point what you do to one happens to them all and it's gloriously funny to watch.
Another excellent gameplay feature that has transferred to the sequel is the way missions give you choice. The most obvious of these choices is the targets themselves, like before each one can be killed for sure but there are always other non-lethal ways to 'eliminate' the mark and these are often hilariously cruel. There are always a catalogue of ways to get from point A to point B. Maybe possess a fish and swim through a grate, possess a guard and just walk in, disable the defences by removing their power source or even just hack your way past the guards. Playing on PC also means you can do a quick save at any time then start to have fun trying new ideas, then hit F9 and try again: Phil Connors never had it this good. The weapons that Corvo and Emily use are fun and don't stray from the first game i.e sword, crossbow, grenades etc. There are some new ammo types to play with but don't go in expecting a whole new arsenal.
Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and rainbows because while everything I've said is true there does currently seem to be a noticeable input lag to your actions and the actions of your enemies. I have even seen some soldiers dodging when no attacks have been sent in their direction. In short, under the hood of the game, something just doesn't feel quite right and I hope this can be addressed by the team at Arkane.
You can't get these at IKEA
Even today the painterly art style of Dishonored still looks amazing thanks to many textures looking like a moving impressionist painting. Dishonored 2 embraces this technique and then takes it to a whole new level, creating a world that is both stunning and dripping in details. Honestly, every room you enter feels like an individual place that someone lives in and has made their own. Paintings, books, maps, strange devices and so much more make these interiors difficult to walk through without exploring every crack and crevice. You will see the warm light from a low burning fireplace illuminate the bumps in the walls where the paper has sagged, posters that have now been hidden behind new furniture and so many more sumptuous details that most art teams would never consider. I also love the texture work that has been done on paintings, like in the first game, when you get close you can actually see individual brush strokes and a sheen from the canvas.
Light and shadow have also once again been used to add another layer of atmosphere to the environments. You will see the shadows of Bloodflies dancing on the walls, shafts of sunlight breaching cracks in the ageing wood and some of the most impressive architecture ever seen in a game world. I have to give a special mention to the Clockwork Mansion which is mission four in the campaign. You must enter the maze-like home of the inventor Kirin Jindosh and rescue your old friend Anton Sokolov. You not only take on an army of clockwork robots (which are amazing to fight) but the walls and floors themselves shift and change. You progress while having your actions constantly mocked and analysed by Jindosh until you get behind the walls (think Portal 2) which he doesn't like one bit. This one level alone is worth playing the game for as it shows off exquisite level design we rarely see.
I also have found the city of Karnaca to be overall a fantastic new location for the series and even though it feels like the old game this city does have its own personality. Seeing electric fans on walls reminds you technology has moved on, I have to say at times I felt an almost Half-life 2 flavour to the setting but I can't exactly put my finger on why. With the warmer climes of Karnaca Bloodflies now sit in wait for players who rush into buildings without checking first and these little buggers bite. Like the rats of the first game, you can throw a corpse down to keep them happy while you pass or just kill them with fire. Like the rats before, the number of Bloodflies you encounter is related to how much you kill as the flies use dead bodies to lay their eggs and then as a rotting hive: lovely.
So even with so much to praise I have seen some graphical problems here and there, sometimes delays in textures loading in or actually moving around on the mesh they should be attached to. A strange texture flickering problem has also been reported on some water surfaces, I have seen this once myself but only briefly. I think overall Arkane have done an amazing job with the visuals in Dishonored 2 and for me personally it was just as important to make the first and second game feel like they were aesthetically connected.
Blaggards and Butchers
The cast of voice actors in the original game was quite astounding from Brad Dourif (Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings), Michael Madsen (famous for Reservoir Dogs) and Chloe Chloe Grace Moretz who played the voice of young Emily Kaldwin. For the new game, we have a lineup of equally awesome actors with the stellar talents of Sam Rockwell and the unmistakable growl of Vincent D'Onofrio who does an outstanding job as the Duke. Some of the lines in the game do fall a little flat, especially in regards to the voice of Emily and the new voice of the Outsider. However, the writing does keep things bobbing along at a pretty brisk pace and so these performances do facilitate this.
It is worth mentioning that the living heart from the first game makes a return and it's now far clearer that this is actually the heart of Jessamine Kaldwin, the late Empress and Emily's mother who was killed at the start of the first game. I'll be honest, even though the clues were there I didn't clock this until now but I guess that's something I love about this web of lore the team at Arkane have created: there's always something more to learn about. What makes the heart even more insightful this time around is that it will give you the secrets of any NPC you point it at. Just be aware that some of these hidden stories are not for the faint of heart. Like in Dishonored, you can also use the heart to locate Runes and Bone Charms: Runes let you buy/upgrade your powers and Bone Charms let you activate small (but sometimes powerful) boons. You can even have a go at crafting your own Bone Charms which is a nice addition.
Is it PC?
As I have said many times before I believe that PC is currently the best gaming platform bar none, it offers programmers and developers a broad spectrum of power and options that are unfettered by the constraints that a console game has to be governed by. When the development team takes the time to make a good version of a PC game there is just no comparison and it's these mind-blowing visuals that are fuelling a PC gaming revolution. This is why it is increasingly frustrating to see developers deliver PC ports in varying states from simply unoptimised, to broken train wrecks that are not fit for sale.
As I will mention the sound in this game has some problems with delayed activation (linked to the lag maybe?) and there also seems to be a problem with sound occlusion. When walking around a building with a few floors it sometimes sounds like NPCs are right next to you even though they are a few rooms away. However, I have to say the overall quality of the sound is fantastic, from the expertly implemented music to more subtle effects like the low hiss you can hear when walking past gas-powered lights. The flutter of Bloodflies is also very creepy and lets you instantly know to be on your guard.
I wanted Dishonored 2 to be as near to perfect as possible and I certainly didn't want to have to spend time (and precious words) covering technical problems: alas I must. On release, the version of Dishonoured 2 I played was not well optimised at all and this became apparent by very quickly. When looking at the minimum and then recommended specifications for PC, many systems that should have run this game with no problems are seeing crippling frame rate drops and overall poor performance: especially in open city locations. What makes me think this is down to shoddy optimisation is that the frame-O-vision doesn't get better when gamers tried medium and even low presets. There are also reports of sound issues, textures not loading properly and crashing on all systems.
The problem is that this could become a vicious circle: in that Bethesda may just say screw it and not even bother developing games on PC anymore. Obviously given the amount of amazing games that would deny the PC platform I hope that day never comes to pass. Come on Bethesda: just show that you actually give a hoot about your PC customers and throw some of that testing budget our way. Given you have just stopped sending review copies out to media sites this is not the way to win the trust of your fans.
The question is can I recommend this game on PC? Well if the technical problems get fixed then I would say this is a must own title and is certainly in the running for game of the year. However, given the fact that most people I know are having some problems getting a stable framerate this makes my recommendation come with some caveats. I have soldiered through the poor performance because of course, I have a review to write but if you have the chance I would wait for a few weeks to see if Bethesda can address some of the issues. So far they have failed to acknowledge any problem and have even posted a guide to players understand system requirements: this doesn't fill me with confidence we will get a patch. The sad truth is that while I know this is an exceptional game the lighting fast gameplay that Dishonored was known for is being ruined by constant input lag and choppy framerate. It's like selling someone an Aston Martin with shopping trolley wheels on the back. If you own a very powerful system (I'm talking 1080 and above) then you shouldn't have any problems running this game at a decent frame rate so knock yourself out.
When you are such a big fan of a game it is almost impossible to quell your expectations for a sequel. You hope and you pray that the same qualities that made the first so wonderful to play have been replicated for the new game: in this case Arkane have. Of course adding new ideas and concepts is also a vital ingredient to the formula and overall I think Arkane have done more than enough to sate the thirst of fans. Dishonored 2 is an absolutely astounding game that is clearly cut from the same cloth as the first. Harvey Smith and his team are gaming legends for me and I applaud their talent which has brought us so many enjoyable game worlds. I just hope they spend a bit more time now to iron out the wrinkles which will elevate Dishonored 2 to its rightful place next to the greats of gaming.
Thank you for reading my review of Dishonored 2 on PC, I hope you found it useful. If you don't already please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic and come back soon. If you like what I'm doing here I would also appreciate it if you tell every gamer you know about my site.