Dishonored 2 isn’t a perfect game. It’s a very good one. One of the best of 2016 in fact, but it’s not perfect, no. Though I do think it’s a perfect sequel in every sense of the phrase.
Before I get into that, though, I would like to quickly go over what a sequel should be. Aside from continuing a universe and throwing a number 2 at the end of the title, a sequel holds a responsibility to the fans of the original game. Those who enjoyed a game so much that they just want more of it, and it’s up to the developer to strike that perfect balance between giving them more of the same, but also freshening it up a bit without alienating anyone. Change a game too much and complaints will run rampant, such as in the case of Gears of War: Judgment. Change it too little and you’ll get games like the new Assassin’s Creed titles that feel like the same game every year.
When Arkane Studios announced Dishonored 2, I was both elated and worried. The first game was a surprise hit and a breath of fresh air in a time where the modern shooter was on its rise. Dishonored was the game that 2014’s Thief wishes it could have been, a perfect blend of stealth and fps taking place in a fully realized steampunk universe. Would Arkane be able to wow us again with another one?
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Arkane not only succeeded in doing just that, but they did so in such a simple way. They let us choose. Instead of debating on whether or not to change up the system or keep it relatively the same, they decided to do both, and then they give the player the option to pick if they want old or new in the shape of Corvo or Emily, respectively. It’s an entirely natural choice – do I want to continue as the now grizzled old man I became attached to in the first game, or do I want to become the now matured young woman I had grown protective of in that same previous experience?
In choosing Corvo, I am getting the exact same abilities I have now mastered and I can now test those skills in a new world and see if I’m really as good as I think I am. Instead of giving Corvo new powers, some upgrades were added on top of the normal ones. They kept the core experience the same and gave the new ideas to his daughter. In choosing Emily, I am experiencing the world anew again, given mechanics reminiscent of Corvo’s but with a twist. Not only do I now have to master those new powers, but I also need to learn the world alongside it, just like playing the first Dishonored all over again.
After choosing one of the characters, we are thrown into a very familiar scenario – you have been dishonored, you are being hunted, you have no powers, escape Dunwall tower and get to the boat. Aside from the welcome addition of our player character now having a voice, this is the same introduction to the dark world that Arkane has created that we got the first time around. It’s familiar, yet new like a sequel should be.
It isn’t until we get to the ship that we experience the next iteration as to why this sequel is so great. You know those powers that everyone seems to love so much? Well, Arkane is so confident in the fact that they have mastered their level design that they give you the option to completely deny them. You wanted a new experience? There is the choice. Granted, the first game could be played without using any of the powers, but by utterly removing the option to fall back on them at any point; it kind of ups the ante a bit, no?
The rest of the game is then a refined version of the original, with a lot of quality-of-life additions one would expect from a sequel. The levels are bigger, there are more bone charms and runes to collect, the shops are now in-level, the rat plague is now the bloodfly plague, the lore is even more fleshed out, they took that winning formula and just did it again. Arkane didn’t try to squeeze in some ridiculous new mechanic or attempt to tack on some shit multiplayer. There is even the same number of missions – all with that same play it your way mentality the series has been praised for.
They also didn’t take anything away. There is no missing item. There is no mechanic removed. All they did was add and refine. The only feature missing from the game (and I will admit, it is weird to not have at launch) is the mission select option, which is coming for free in December anyways. In a time where games are coming at us left and right lacking content, Dishonored 2 is a stand-out.
Sequels come out all the time and with varying degrees of success. Sometimes the weight of the first game is too much for the developers to handle, and other times the second iteration feels too different to be considered a sequel. Dishonored 2 hits the perfect balance. It’s familiar, yet new. It gives us, the fans, the option to play how we want. It doesn’t ruin a formula, rather refines it. It gives us more of what we loved, and developers should study this perfect sequel when looking to continue their own franchises.