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RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 12th: Dishonored 2

The Emily Awards

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You could open the next door on our calendar, but it might be more fun to find another way inside. Surely there’s a window round the back that someone left open, or maybe you could get in through the cellar. Day twelve of The RPS Advent Calendar, which highlights our favourite games of the year, brings…

It’s sneaky-stabby marvel Dishonored 2 [official site]!

John: Well, this is the only game I took a week off to play this year. Actually, I’d planned to play Titanfall 2 in that week as well, but accidentally finished it the weekend before. I’d also planned to get all my IGF judging done early too, but ended up just playing Dishonored 2 in forensic detail.

I think the way I played is possibly sacrilegious. The way I wish I could tell you I’d played would be to have attempted a no-kill run, but accepted when things went awry and enjoyed my blundering attempts to recover. But I didn’t. A better me would have done that. The me that is actually me instead pressed the quickload button about as often as W.

See, I wanted a perfect run, and I guess on some level I decided quicksave/loading was another of my powers from Penguin – there, that’s my justification. So I meticulously perfected every moment, reloading the moment anything didn’t go exactly as I wanted. That’s wrong, isn’t it? That’s dirty, right? OH YOU DO IT TOO, YOU LIAR.

Despite this, and despite exploring every inch of every level, excruciatingly taking my time, hunting down every secret, taking out every guard, lavishly luxuriating in every moment of it, I still somehow killed a few people and missed a bunch of bonecharms. The deaths I think can be put down to rats – I realised (having forgotten from the first game) that bands of hungry vermin were prone to snarfling unconscious bodies like cartoon piranhas, and this seems to mark your permanent record. Unfair, I cry.

How I missed the charms I can’t explain, so I’ll blame that on the Heart. Stupid Heart.

And I loved it for playing it that way. Broke it forever, it seems, too – I tried an ultro-violence replay, but with no surprises (and how ridiculously easy the game becomes when played that way) a lot was taken away. If I’d had the sense to play realistically, to carve a path to my goal and accept that I’d not seen everything, there’d be so much more waiting for me now.

Still, that first play was wondrous, and had the game come out a month earlier and more of Team RPS had a chance to play it in time, I’m fairly sure this would have been under Door 24 this year. Absolutely fantastic, no matter how you choose to play.

Adam: I could definitely make a strong argument as to why Dishonored 2 might have made it into Door 24, our pick for game of the year. But even though I didn’t have any technical issues, it’d be hard to have the entire team stand behind a game even if it had been released earlier, and we’d all had time to play it, when it caused such problems for at least one of us.

Running as intended, it’s marvelous though. I couldn’t possibly cover everything that I loved about it in a couple of thousand words, and when I wrote my review I made sure to mention the elements that let it down a little as well. Mostly, that relates to my feeling that as brilliant as the level design is, the story as a whole doesn’t matter as much as the story of each area, and the hundreds of smaller stories that emerge as you play and explore.

Some of those stories are the ones that belong to individual players: that one guard you tormented with the Domino ability and clones, or the chase that ended in a pratfall and outburst of ultraviolence. Some of them are scripted, encounters with characters and events that can change your entire view of what came before.

It’s the design of the world that is most impressive though. Dunwall was such a brilliant creation that Arkane could have justified spending another game exploring it in more detail, or seeing how it had changed in the years between the first game and its sequel, but instead they built a new city, one that feels familiar enough to believably exist in the same setting, but has enough differences to mark it out as geographically and culturally fresh. Though the core stealth and violence hasn’t changed a great deal, it’s been refined and made more complex thanks to improvements in AI and new abilities, but in Karnaca, the execution of your executions feels very different.

Partly that’s due to the density of the design – the playable areas of the city aren’t anywhere near as vast as the playgrounds of open world games, but they’re thick with detail and incident, and when Arkane introduce a new trick, most notably in the Clockwork Mansion and Stilton’s Manor, they create levels that other studios might have stretched out across entire games.

It’s the first game I’ve played since the original Thief games that has made me feel like we might have a new studio to cherish and (eventually) remember as fondly as Looking Glass, and I adore it.

Pip: HELLO! I’m barging back in from my holiday to add that I can see why people love it and that it’s so good at what it does BUT as someone who is not gifted when it comes to steals I’m actually preferring it on console.

That’s because when I’m on PC and a mission goes catastrophically badly I feel a bit isolated or like I’m just screwing up a lot. I also tend towards high chaos murder-runs because of being bad at stealth and those can really get your adrenaline going but also end up a bit… samey?

To illustrate that point, I find I’m often mentally marking out a safe space (usually after an accidental killing spree results in an office full of dead and unconscious guards) and then trying to go out and accomplish things. The latter usually means taking a few steps outside the safe zone, getting into scrapes (aka: murders)and then lugging a new guard back to put him onto the heap. I end up as some kind of weird murder squirrel or a bower bird who has decided to attract a mate using flashy corpses he’s found on the forest floor.

If I’m on the sofa and have someone co-gaming or laughing along with every frantic bit of idiocy it can be far more like sharing a farce or creating a comedy performance and I get a lot more into it. That’s why I enjoyed the first Dishonored on PC a bit more, I think – I was streaming it on Twitch and that had a similar effect. Left to my own devices in my study on the PC now that I don’t really enjoy streaming it can get bogged down as a solitary slog.

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