Dishonored 2 was one of the most anticipated AAA titles of 2016 – but the game's performance on PC affected its reception.
Now that both the hype and criticism have died down, we take a look at the game's current condition.
After all the commotion, the game has emerged as one of the best titles of 2016 – a position I support. But problems with performance still cast a shadow over the game's PC edition.
So after a series of updates, where does the game stand?
When released, Dishonored 2 was plagued by low framerates, stuttering and crashes. In fact, every time I clicked on a window outside of Steam, the game would unceremoniously close.
Fight scenes were hampered by freezing frames, while trying to escape was like watching a clumsy slideshow.
However the echoing disapproval from the PC gaming community didn't go unheard, with developers Arkane Studios soon releasing patches to improve performance. The quick band aids turned into better patches, eventually solving many of the game's issues.
Once the patches were installed, I could get to enjoying the game in the way it was meant to be. Performance issues continued as the game took all of my 8GB of RAM - meaning that it couldn't perform if I was running other memory hungry programs like Chrome or OBS.
However the game achieved markedly better performance, meaning that I could finally enjoy it. So here's what I thought…
For Dishonored 2, the game developers increased their efforts to give players more choice when it comes to play style. The original game received some criticism for favouring one end of the chaos spectrum, but I can confirm that the sequel gives you the freedom to choose. It even lets you choose between two characters – Corvo Attano and Emily Kaldwin.
Your chaos level is determined not only by the number of foes you kill, but also how you choose to solve missions – by either dispatching the target or finding an alternative way.
Even individual NPCs have different chaos penalties attached to them - so if the NPC is a real tool, killing them doesn't attract such a heavy chaos penalty. It's an interesting concept, making you think of NPCs as more than just faceless guards and background props.
For my first playthrough, I chose Emily and used a low chaos play style. At first I struggled to keep my chaos level down (after all the guards kept insisting on fighting), but as my skills became more refined, I was able to be more stealthy and tactical.
Firstly, being able to choose Emily is a very welcome feature for me – I relish the chance to play a strong female character and hate them being relegated to the tired damsel in distress trope. I also find the premise of the once defenseless princess (Emily in the first game) becoming a great defender against tyranny.
Her character is interesting and multidimensional - her thirst for vengeance is balanced by other characters' calls for mercy. Meanwhile, she doesn't escape without some blame for the kingdom's current status - as she sat for too long ignoring issues in some of her territories.
Then there's the play style. I found low chaos to be quite challenging, but your effort is rewarded with a more optimistic outcome to the story. However high chaos is an equally valid play style – although it results in a more cynical conclusion.
I actually found high chaos to be a bit easier than low chaos. Don’t get me wrong though, you can't just blaze through enemies. You still have to be tactical and have a strategy, you just leave a bit more blood behind...
Some level of stealth is always needed for the game – there's no real storming the figurative and literal castle gates. But there are moments where you can wreak havoc and destruction, such as when I rewired a watch tower to target enemies instead.
Magic & technology
While The Void and The Outsider were central to the first game and play a huge role in Dishonored 2, you still have the choice to play the game without any magic.
However the supernatural powers of the player are a key ingredient to the game for me – adding that extra level of fantasy to the fictional world. Emily and Corvo have different powers, meaning that you can devise different strategies with each character.
With or without supernatural powers, technology is also an important strategic element in the game. You can rewire machines, stifle their power source to disable them, use brute force against certain mechanisms or find a way to avoid them altogether.
The pinnacle of the game's steampunk technology is in The Clockwork Mansion – the setting of one of the game's missions. Here the game reminds you that despite the supernatural elements to the world, cold steel and churning gears also wield extreme power.
Challenging in all the right ways
Did I get frustrated? Yes. Did I die a lot? Too many times to count. Did I sometimes rage quit and go find solace in my fortress of solitude (i.e. my bed)? Yes.
The game is challenging – especially if you're new to the franchise or stealth games in general. But it wasn't the type of challenge that drives you away from the game, but rather pushes you to find the solution to various situations.
After spending the first few hours stumbling around getting shanked by traitorous guards, I actually ended up being good at the game. I learnt which skills suited which situations best. I also learnt the important lesson that sometimes in an impossible situation you should just run away as fast as you can (it totally saved my skin a few times).
This non-linear gameplay helps with the game's replayability - there are multiple ways to get past obstacles or challenges. When I started my second playthrough with Corvo, I sometimes stumbled onto situations and side missions I hadn't encountered before. The different characters also change the tone of the game - with Corvo's approach being a bit more brutish and NPCs being more wary of him.
But the thing that is most reassuring for me about the game is Arkane Studios' and Bethesda's continual efforts to improve the game.
Some of the elements I felt the game were missing were actually added in later patches - such as mission select.
The Game+ mode, which was also introduced through a post-release patch, was a welcome addition to the game. It allows you to take the character you have completed the game with, and restart the campaign with all the runes from their previous powers. This gives you a very overpowered character, which is great if you want to take some time just to savour the mechanics and fighting in the game, rather than focusing on the story. You also get to unlock the powers of the other character, allowing you to experience the full spectrum of The Outsider's bestowed abilities.
I have watched as the mixed reviews on Steam became more positive after patch updates, and was comforted by the fact the developers added elements to the game which just enhanced the experience and replayability.
The game now also has custom difficulty settings, making sure that everyone can enjoy the game at a difficulty which suits them.
The biggest criticism of this game has been always been its performance on PC - but a series of patches has gone a long way towards fixing this issue.
The important thing is to make sure you have the minimum requirements for the game - meaning 8GB of RAM, a Nvidia GTX 660 or better and at least an i5 processor.
But when it comes to the content of the game, Arkane Studios has done a superb job at expanding on the original game to create a superior sequel. The compelling storyline and dynamic combat system, along with consistent action and challenges, will please fans of the original game while drawing in others unfamiliar with the franchise.
With its updates and continued efforts of the developers, I have no problem recommending this game - just make sure your PC can handle it.