What’s Dishonored 2 Really About?


I finally just finished up Dishonored 2, and while I’m not going to “review” it, I have a couple fairly broad things to write about my experience with the game overall. Its later parts certainly live up to what I’d played at the time I put it in my 2016 game of the year list. What stands out to me coming off it though is that while Bethesda and Arkane billed it a stealth game about eliminating targets, I spent a whole lot of time doing nothing related to eliminating targets.

There was a point in the final level where I was about to enter the area where the final boss resided and I remembered I’d forgotten to figure out some extra objective way back at the beginning of the level, so I spent a few hours backtracking. This was supposed to be the climax of the game and I just put it on hold because I wanted to find more generally useless crap.

I think titling the game “Dishonored,” therefore basing the story to being about a character regaining lost rank, along with the whole format of eliminating targets one way or another, are restrictive elements. The real fun part of Dishonored 2 is just exploring the levels and finding everything in them. In the last few levels I think I cared more about finding all the runes and other collectibles than completing the main objectives.

There was a more serious example of the situation I described above. This is a slight spoiler, but there’s a level you can skip entirely if you solve a logic puzzle. The whole purpose of the level is finding an alternate solution to the puzzle, but you can also just take the time to solve it yourself and skip a good few hours of the game. I fully explored this level, breaking into certain areas multiple times and repeatedly getting into fights just to find all the collectibles. Repeatedly I passed by characters and objects that could have solved the puzzle for me, only to finally go back and solve it myself.

In most open-world games these days collect-a-thons are sort of bemoaned in the gaming community because they tend to be thrown all over the place, requiring maps and other markers telling you exactly where they are. They tend to feel like busywork. In Dishonored 2 it was actually pretty fun trying to find all that stuff, primarily because of how well designed the levels are. I just wanted to fully explore them and really see how intricate they were.

You’d think you’d do that anyway by simply working towards the main objectives, but the truth is there’s a lot in each level that has nothing to do with those objectives. Each level has all these other little stories that are there just because. Sometimes investigating the story of a room or something might lead to some nice loot, a rune, or a secret path.

Oh, and I spent a lot of time basically robbing people. One of the big things is figuring out how to rob the black market shops in each level, but in general I just picked up money and pick-pocketed people all over the place. Some of the extra things to investigate simply lead to stashes of gold bars. The Dishonored games take after the Thief series and maybe they do a little too much, because it still makes the most sense to rob people in them. Money seems to serve as payoff for exploration and stealth in Dishonored 2 more often than eliminating the targets.

This is what I meant when I said titling these games “Dishonored” and making them about targets sort of held them back. Maybe Thief and Hitman had the right idea by simply making each game about doing something rather than a sort of theme. Thief is about thievery, and its designers are able to design every little bit of the game to be about thievery. Dishonored is about thievery more than it is about eliminating political conspirators. I had the same thought about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. However much time I spent completing that game’s actual story was probably matched by how much time I spent breaking into people’s apartments and stealing their credit chips. Before I even started the first story mission I spent 15 hours just exploring the hub area.

Basically, actually completing the main objectives in Dishonored 2 felt like the side game.

The other thing that dominated my thoughts while playing Dishonored 2 is that I probably didn’t use the supernatural powers the game gives you as often as I should have. I ended up not realizing the potential behind many of the game’s tools until well into the final level.

I actually mulled going through my first run of Dishonored 2 without super powers at all, but I got suggestions not to do this. Playing the original Dishonored without powers was pretty illuminating. It revealed just how deeply-designed the game is — that it’s actually possible to finish it using basically nothing but the protagonist’s bare hands. Part of me wanted to take that “efficient” approach to the sequel. At the very least it forces players to really pay attention to the level design.

One of the main appeals of the Dishonored games is supposed to be using the powers to break all the design and logic. I guess I just played it a little more like a regular stealth game, but it still proved to be a very good one which just does more credit to it. If I ever get the time for a new game plus I’ll try to explore the powers more.


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