First, an apology. As was the case for so very many people, the latter half of 2016 was fairly horrific for me, which meant that I went a bit AWOL from TLF. Hopefully 2017 will be less evil (fingers crossed, but breath not held), and I want to start out by getting back on the As-I-Play horse.
The game is Dishonored 2, released in November of 2016. I played through Dishonored and loved it the way only a fan of the old-school Thief games possibly could—recognizing that there was so much about Thief that inspired Dishonored, but that Arkane had also done some really fun—Blink—new things with the concept of a stealth game that rewarded its players for not killing all of their targets.
Dishonored 2, so far, has kept those things. Blink is still there. Dark Vision and the ability to turn myself into a rat and crawl through tunnels is still there. They’ve improved somewhat upon the “assassin” theme, though—one of the weirdest narrative elements of the original Dishonored was the idea that Corvo (the player-character) was an assassin, yet you could play the game without actually killing anyone, including your targets. That veneer is gone—so the choice to play non-lethally makes a good deal more sense.
What I also really like about Dishonored 2 is that I have the choice to play as either Corvo or his now-grown-up-daughter, Emily, the Empress. spoilers ahead Emily is functionally deposed in the first five minutes of Dishonored 2, so she’s not really an empress for the sake of playing (thank goodness… my experience playing games as a princess—say, in Fable 3—has not been positive), but an outlaw who was trained by her father (in the tutorial missions, if you choose to play them—they give background on why on earth an empress would be able to sneak up on someone and choke them into unconsciousness or stab them to death) in the arts of assassination so that she would be able to defend herself if for some reason he couldn’t.
I am rather curious—so maybe some of you who have played as Corvo could chime in here—about the narrative line for Corvo… Is it the same story, where Corvo plays in the same timeline and world as Emily, or are they alternate timelines? As far as my Emily knows, Corvo has been turned to stone by the evil Delilah (Delilahs are almost always evil… has anyone else noticed that?) who has usurped the throne and pretty much started slaughtering everyone. This therefore means that Emily’s job is to rescue the prince (her father) and save the kingdom.
The first level is the simple task (ha!) of escaping her own locked room and palace, and either killing or locking up (in a secret room with a month’s worth of food that can only be opened by a ring on her hand) the traitor who enabled the coup to begin with. The second takes Emily through the streets of Dunwall, which—even though it’s been a while since I played the first game—were pretty familiarly grey and blue and filled with fish. Okay. It’s a sequel. I get it.
There are some differences, though. No plague rats (just normal ones), so that has been “solved” since the first game. I also start to notice that among the guards and civilians I encounter, there are women and black people (it’s hard to tell if there are other skin tones represented, mostly because everyone in Dunwall is really dirty). So I’m now playing a stealth “shooter” in which I don’t have to kill anyone, as a female protagonist, and in a game that seems to have a much more representative population demography than most games I’ve played.
So far, so good, Arkane.
At the end of the level, Emily escapes the city to a boat—the Dreadful Wale—where someone named Meagan will help her. Meagan, as it turns out, is both black and missing an eye and arm. And she looks like she could hand me my carefully-trained assassin’s butt on a silver platter. She’s also been proactive rather than passive—she’s not there to just give me quests (narratively speaking… in gameplay terms, of course she’s there just to give me quests), she’s actively involved in a resistance based in the South, and had come to Dunwall to get my help in stopping what was happening there.
Great. A proactive, strong, black female character with disabilities who can kick serious butt. She’s not the protagonist, but it’s certainly better than the litany of white guys who made up most of my quest-givers in the first game. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not she will betray me… since pretty much everyone in the last game did (and she does have a creepy portrait of Delilah on the Wale).
My new mission, for now, anyway, is to help her discover what happened to two people: Anton Sokolov, an ally from Dishonored, and Alexandria Hypatia, a doctor trying to cure the new vermin-plague-of-the-game, the swarming bloodflies (which are super annoying, even moreso than the rats). Okay, so I have to save a woman, and a man, so that’s egalitarian, right?
Hypatia and Sokolov are both supposedly being held at a creepy decaying sanatorium on an Alcatraz-like island in the harbor, so my next mission becomes getting there… through a city that is about as far from Dunwall in terms of atmosphere as you can get. Karnaca is bright, sunny, and not at all wet (other than the ocean, obviously). Yes, it also has heavy reliance on fishing and whales (which I actually get to see, unlike in Dishonored), so the whaling theme remains, but the city itself is much more pleasant.
This also means that if one is trying to be stealthy and hide in the shadows, Karnaca is a nightmare, because everywhere is brightly lit. But that’s what makes stealth games fun, right? (The answer is actually yes… I’m having a blast with this game.)
The actual sanatorium—the Addremire Institute—is back to being wet, dank, and creepy, but it’s a falling-apart sanatorium, so I’m pretty sure that’s an aesthetic requirement. I’m hopeful that there will actually be more levels like Karnca—aesthetic diversity of place as well as diversity of characters. I’m also enjoying the various subplots—what happened to Hypatia, the murder-mystery of the Crown Killer which seems to underlie the coup in some way that’s still unclear, the rising influence of the religious radical Overseers (who are pretty obviously parallels to the evangelical religious right… while also being reminiscent of the Catholic Inquisition and Thief’s Templars).
Dishonored 2 retains enough of the familiar elements of its predecessor to remind me that I’m in the same world and empire—the annoying electrified “walls of light,” the steampunk vibe, the ubiquitous rats—but is also (so far) different enough in terms of plot and setting that I’m not immediately bored. While it would be nice for Emily to have some unique powers of her own—and so far I’m not seeing any, but I’m not very far in just yet—it’s also a good thing that Arkane kept the best powers—like Blink—in the game.