RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 12th: Dishonored 2

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.

29 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Godwhacker says:

    Well it’s my game of the year- absolutely loved it from start to finish, although if I hadn’t lucked out on it running completely fine on my PC I imagine I’d be feeling very different about it. I also doubt I’d have enjoyed it as much if I was reloading every time I got spotted- achievements can be such a burden.

    Smart, dense, thrilling, engrossing, and with a plot that was actually worth seeing through this time.

  2. draglikepull says:

    I finished the game with one kill. I don’t know how or when or where it happened. It will haunt me forever.

    Good game, though.

  3. FriendlyFire says:

    So is performance actually good now? I don’t feel like playing the lottery.

    • keithzg says:

      I was one of those lucky folks with a mid-range graphics card for whom performance was actually really great at launch; I’m just lucky I guess, but I haven’t noticed any performance increases at all with the current updates. Unfortunately, I have noticed crashes. About every 1-2 minutes. That entirely lock up drawing, other than the ctrl-alt-del screen which I can then use to log out of my Windows session. Sigh. At least I got one playthrough in.

  4. Ghostwise says:

    There should be a Murder Squirrel theme song. Something with a dated 1960s Hanna Barbera style and some slide guitar inexplicably thrown in to stick to a long-since forgotten fad.

    • Premium User Badge

      tigerfort says:

      Sounds good. And we could club together to buy Pip a Murder Squirrel Onesie for Sacksmas!

  5. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve loved what I’ve played of it, but I have to turn all the graphics settings to “low” so it looks pretty bad in some respects, which is a shame. I wish I could run it so it looks as good as those screenshots!

    • welverin says:

      If you’re someone who can tolerate it, lower your resolution some. That will allow you to turn some things up.

      I have my PC connected to a TV, which I just upgraded, but for years it was only a 720 screen and that allowed me to play pretty much anything with all the other settings maxed out.

  6. Carra says:

    Game of the year for me. The level design is amazing. Especially the clockwork mansion is one of the best levels I’v ever played.

  7. Pseudonym says:

    John, assuming you play like me and you made sure that you always got all runes and bonecharms that the heart pointed you toward, it’s likely that your missing bonecharms were the ones you needed to loot from targets.
    There’s one in the conservatory and a couple in the dust district.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Serrit says:

    Did Alec just glare at the rest of you when you asked him for a paragraph on this?

    • Premium User Badge

      tigerfort says:

      RPS is a family website, and John and Graham aren’t ready for their children to learn the kind of language Alec used :)

  9. thedosbox says:

    I end up as some kind of weird murder squirrel

    Oh Pip, that is how we’re all going to think of you from now on.

    Anyhow, I too made the mistake of going for a no-kill run on my first playthrough. I wish I’d gone with a “roll with it” playthrough instead, especially given the fun combinations to be had with Emily’s powers.

  10. Zenicetus says:

    It’s probably my game of the year. I never had any tech problems so I can’t deduct points for that. The level design is brilliant and the magic mechanics are fun. Adam makes a good point in the article about how each mission is a self-contained story, so it doesn’t matter that the overall plot is a snoozer.

    My only small complaint is that the new city feels as empty as Dunwall did, without the plague as a justification for it (the flies are a partial reason, but not good enough). Almost all the rooms in the buildings are vacant, even the ones that aren’t fly-infested. Most open areas are just packed with cookie-cutter guards who somehow instantly recognize you on sight. Apparently, Emily is terrible at disguise.

    Except for a few scenes at the docks, Karnaca just didn’t feel like anything more than a Disney theme park for your exploits. A bit more openness and more civilian activity would have made the game feel less staged.

    • welverin says:

      Emily is disguised, that’s what makes stand out. People in masks aren’t to be trusted after all.

  11. Paul says:

    True masterpiece, and if not for Blood and Wine, would be my game of the year. The missions design is just so god damn masterful. And yes, I also had to reload every time I fucked up. That urge to handle everything cleanly is just so strong. But now that I have it behind me, second playthrough will be “deal with it” one, I swear!

    (no it probably wont)

  12. FecesOfDeath says:

    Personally, I don’t enjoy the Bioshock-like, two-step ability system mechanics of Dishonored 2, even though everything else about the game is wonderful, and that alone has kept me from wanting to play the game for long sessions. Binding ability-usage to only the RMB adds a tedium to the game that could’ve been eliminated with a one-step hotkey system.

  13. RosalietheDog says:

    I adore this game and am thoroughly enjoying my first playthrough with Corvo. I figured I’d spare Emily for a second playthrough, as her powers could compensate for my familiarity with the levels. The latter are superbly designed (although I have not yet seem them all). The thing I like most about the game however is irreducible to level design. More profoundly, it’s about the way in which you move through the world, manipulate its objects and persons (and space and time …). All of that is so uncomparably satisfying.

    The French newspaper Le monde, self-evidently proud of the work of their compatriots, published a very commendable interview with Christopher Carrier on level design. Level designers, as opposed to “level architects”, are charged with transforming the beautiful environments the latter create into environments for play. I recommend it for those of you who read French : link to lemonde.fr.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Thank you for linking that! It’s a great interview, even after being mangled by Google Translate.

  14. Darth Gangrel says:

    “Day eleven of The RPS Advent Calendar, which highlights our favourite games of the year, brings…” day 12 today? There’s a large 12 on the header image anyway.

  15. ButteringSundays says:

    I’ve resented a few games that allow you to play that way, simply because I struggle not to. I don’t have an issue with others doing it, but I’d rather not. But when the option is right there? Then yea I’m going to play this 10 minutes of game for an hour until I do it perfectly dammit! I do this in Hitman a fair bit, and its not even a tricky game!

  16. Stevostin says:

    I’ve got a hard time thinking what could best this as GOTY this year. Please, please, please, I really hope it’s not “another indy game” that I buy, try to play and can’t finish on the life of me (Paper please, or basically each and every pixel art game which is not Terraria). Indy games are GREAT. But they simply don’t embrace the scope and the experience a masterpiece of AAA gaming such as Dishonored 2 can provide.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Maybe it will be an indie game because I can’t think of anything that would beat Dishonored 2 as a major release.

      Stellaris is great, very ambitious, but it has work-in-progress written all over it. I can’t see No Man’s Sky as GOTY material for the same reason. It’s still just an elaborate tech demo. That just about exhausts every major game I’ve cared about (or not), so I guess it will be a type of game I don’t normally play or follow.

      • popej says:

        XCOM 2 maybe.

        Dark Souls 3 is unlikely but possible.

        Edit: Civ 6 of course.

        • Zenicetus says:

          They already listed Civ6. I guess another candidate would be Total War Warhammer, which had a good reception here. There are a lot of 4K fans, and I gather it’s something of a redemption for CA after the mess that was Rome 2. I haven’t bought it myself, I’m just not that into the 4K theme.

          • welverin says:

            Well, last year a daily game got bestest best, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility it could happen this year.

  17. Henas says:

    Definitely a contender for GOTY if not marred by technical issues that have not yet been fully addressed.

    Horribly, another of my GOTY contenders was hobbled by technical issues on launch (XCOM 2).

    Wouldn’t it be nice if everything looked and ran like D44M at launch?

  18. Saarlaender39 says:

    Pip:”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.”

    Hello Pip, my fellow murder squirrel,
    You make it sound, as if there was any other way to play this game.
    Can’t possibly be!?

    ;p

  19. keithzg says:

    If only I could still play it! I got a single playthrough in, but I went to go and play through it again now, and something’s changed (maybe the last patch?) and it locks up entirely approximately every minute or two (can’t even get to the task manager, I have to log out and then log back into Windows). That makes the game entirely unplayable, unless I want to play it in very short random bursts . . .