Welcome to part two of our Game In Progress review of Dishonored 2. This entry covers missions four through six of Arkane Studios’ magical-assassin simulator. If you missed the debut entry, which covers the first three missions, you can find that right here. And be sure to check back in next week as our review comes to a close.
It’s no surprise Arkane Studios and Bethesda chose The Clockwork Mansion to serve as the centerpiece of Dishonored 2’s last big marketing push. With the introductory levels behind you and a handful of occult abilities now in your arsenal, this is the moment the game starts springing to life. Not only is the building that stars in this mission a stunning display of craftsmanship and the first place you’ve visited thus far that isn’t a dilapidated mess, it is the manifestation of the game’s ethos, an extravagant setting where the walls and floors and furnishings can be reconfigured to suit your strategy. Perhaps you’re content with leaving things the way they are, working with the simple pathways and roadblocks—namely, a handful of hulking robot guards—that lie waiting as you creep toward your mark. Or maybe you’d rather experiment, pulling the manor’s reconfiguration levers and watching its rooms transform around you as you search for a path of least resistance.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ll trip that first switch, gawk as the manor’s gilded foyer constructs itself before your eyes, and realize there’s a small window during this metamorphosis where you can slip between the cracks and find yourself in the mansion’s inner passages. It’s a place you feel like you’re not supposed to be, the dingy gray compartments where unused furniture waits for a lever to be pulled and the house to have need for it again. If this ornate mansion is to be the ideal Dishonored location—a lavishly decorated dollhouse with meaningful history written into every detail and a layout that, in this case literally, bends to the player’s whims—than it needs these spartan, secretive spaces as well. They lack the exquisite sights and quiet world-building of the rooms above, but they’re the most efficient way to reach your mark. If The Clockwork Mansion is Dishonored 2 come to life as a level inside itself, than the stark contrast between these spaces represents the constant tension between efficiency and exploration that has come to define my play-through.
As many of you pointed out in the comments, Dishonored 2 is much harder than its predecessor, largely thanks to its guards suddenly being able to see for miles. (They still haven’t learned to look up, though.) This is fine when you’re in the game’s discrete, building-sized mission spaces—the mechanical mansion or the run-down Royal Conservatory in Mission 5—where guard placement feels purposeful and reasonable. But when you’re in the city districts, with their big open streets and multi-story buildings full of loot and lore, it can feel like overkill. These locations are begging to be explored, but they’re often littered with eagle-eyed mooks who are just waiting to ruin your virtual tourism. In some levels, you can’t even get to a store without running into resistance. Frustrated by the constant interruptions, I found myself eschewing the more ponderous exploration that I love so dearly for workmanlike progress, ignoring anything that’s too far off the path to my next objective marker.
That means missing out on a lot of the details that bring context and meaning to your actions, that add depth to the conspirators you’re out to kill (or irreparably harm via the non-lethal endings of every mission). This push-pull between exploration and avoiding anxiety came to a head for me in Mission 6, the entirety of which you can bypass if you just spare some time to solve an intricate logic-grid-style puzzle. If you don’t, you have to either sneak into the territory of one of two warring factions to find the solution, or you have to kidnap or kill a faction’s leader and present them to their enemy. Why go through all that hard work when you could just grab a pen and paper and do some thinking instead?
Part of that reluctance to needlessly put myself in harm’s way seems to stem from Dishonored 2’s choppy learning curve and trouble matching its difficulty to the amount of abilities and tools players have at their disposal. As with the first game, you unlock more powerful abilities and upgrade your existing ones by collecting the runes hidden around each level, often in heavily guarded territory. By the time you arrive in the Aventa District, which houses Jindosh’s clockwork mansion, you’re finally starting to become the badass supernatural assassin you’re supposed to be, but your experience and bag of tricks are still somewhat lacking. Being underpowered and struggling through that level really taught me to fear my opposition, and that was a lesson that carried through to later missions even though I was starting to amass a devastating arsenal of techniques.
It took until Mission 6, which I replayed after solving that puzzle and inadvertently skipping the whole thing, for me to realize that I’m the predator on these streets. Once you’re over that hump and you’ve got options and the confidence to use them, Dishonored 2 is especially good at encouraging you to experiment with your tools by rewarding you with wild, grin-inducing results. At one point, I used Emily’s Domino ability to link the well-being of two guards, grabbed one from behind, and held him as a human shield while his buddy shot him to death, effectively killing himself in the process. Moments like these, besides making you feel like an action-movie star, are windows into just how deep the game goes and how far you can push all the reactive elements it presents. It’s taken a while for me to work up this kind of abandon, to reach the point where I’m powerful enough to treat Karnaca’s guards like the play things they are, but it lends the game’s action the same exploratory thrill that makes existing in its locations so satisfying.
This newfound confidence is perfectly timed, too, as we’re about to enter the game’s final three chapters. I have an inkling of what’s ahead in Mission 7, and I think it has a chance to match The Clockwork Mansion’s novelty and wonder.
- The idea that Jindosh’s robot soldiers speak using audio messages he recorded himself in testing, each corresponding to a different security state or course of action, is so stylistically brilliant. The only problem is it also means you’re hearing the same lines over and over, in the same intonation.
- I didn’t have much to say about Mission 5, The Royal Conservatory, but I did think it was a jarring, in a good way, move toward further integrating the series’ supernatural and horror elements.
- It also has a couple of great level design tidbits, like how the developers used a big, attention-grabbing showpiece to draw you into the room where you can find the method for non-lethally disposing your target.