Dishonored 2: Mechanical marvels

Dishonored 2 follows in the esteemed footsteps of the first game – both great, involving, story based FPSs. As with the first installment, it wastes no time putting you straight into the game, only this time you have a choice between Corvo (protagonist of the first game) and Emily, the (now) Empress. The choice seems to make a fairly substantial difference to how the game plays out, or at least the reactions to your presence, so it’s not simply window dressing to allow a male or female lead.

You’re introduced to your powers in short order, and spend the game tweaking them via runes and bone charms that are hidden throughout the world. It’s designed to allow you to craft how you want to play: run and gun, hide and sneak, or some combination of both. As in the first game, the vertical movement allowed by your powers opens up the game to great creative ways to progress through levels. There were several levels where I barely touched the ground, instead bampfing around ledges, rooftops and sentry poles with the patrolling guards none the wiser.

The real strength of D2 comes in the level design. Two in particular – the Clockwork Mansion and Aramis Stilton’s Mansion – are stunning pieces of work. The first is, as the label says, made of Clockwork, and you have to learn its mechanical secrets to get through the puzzles and guards. And the the second opens up an entire new time based system that is ingenious and brain stretching to decipher, but the rewards are great when you do.

It’s worth mentioning and applauding how the game treats women: no differently to men. The developers don’t make a fuss about it or single women out, it’s just entirely normal that there are an equal number of female guards and NPCs as there are men. Similarly with the heroes and villains, people are just people rather than being defined by their sex. It’s refreshing and shows how (relatively) easy it is to accomplish balance in a genre that often suffers the reverse.

Entirely worth playing, especially if you play the first one, um, first, as some of the background and echoes of the past come through very strongly in the sequel. Added bonus: if you start now, there’s just enough time to play through before the next expansion – Death of the Outsider – which is due soon.

Witcher 2: Choose their own adventure

After enjoying Dishonored, I felt like getting into a deep swords & sorcery type of game, and The Witcher 2 seemed the logical choice. Settling back into Geralt’s scarred and complex character was like pulling on a comfy t-shirt.

Handsome

It’s a true epic1 of a game and story, and incredibly impressive. From the opening sequences where you find yourself in the midst of a full scale castle siege, to Dwarven citadels, Elven high citadels, and everything in between, the game oozes scale.

As with Witcher 1, the story is well told, the main plot of politics and magic unfurled and intertwined with as many or few side quests as you’d like to partake. There are a lot of long static dialogue scenes, which can be a bit tiresome, but once you sink into the storytelling method it captivates – and you end up choosing every last bit of the dialogue trees on offer in order to flesh out the world and populace.

Most impressive of all are the hugely important narrative choices you can make. At the end of the first act, there is a choice between supporting two factions, and the entire second act is different depending on which choice you make. In other words you could play a quite different game based on one major decision. The developers have effectively created two games in one, not afraid to know that the audience will probably miss out on a huge chunk of content as a result.

The game world seems better planned than the first game, with less running to and fro delivering herbs. After Dishonored it was a bit jarring to suddenly find you couldn’t just jump off castle battlements, instead having to follow the developers rails, but you quickly adjust to the game’s intentions and mechanics.

Character development is improved from the first game, and you can choose quite different play styles based on your preferences. I went deep into swords, basically ignoring the magic and potion based gameplay. Playing on easy mode made that possible, I suspect any of the more difficult modes would require a more balanced approach. By the end of the game I was weaving impenetrable webs of steel with glee, which was fortunate given the challenges some of the boss fights presented.

The dialogue and characterisation is top notch, and, like Witcher 1, the European sensibility results in an adult and decidedly non-cliched approach to storytelling. Characters act and behave as real personalities, rather than storyboard plot devices. The Dwarves are a particular highlight, boisterous and tough as old boots, with lovely Scottish accents to match. And the trolls – genius.

Trolling

Another nice touch is the save game import from the first game2, which impacts starting gear and some (minor) storytelling during this game. Obviously the same thing will apply to Witcher 3, which again will be swayed by some major story choices that are available late in the game. I played through two different endings and was quite amazed by the startlingly different results of the choices made.

I’d guestimate it took about 35-45 hours to play through, entirely worthwhile if you’re looking for a fantasy world you can sink your teeth into. I’m a little scared to start on Witcher 3 with it’s 100+ hours, but it’s definitely in the queue now.


  1. Though it sounds like Witcher 3 ups the epic ante still further 
  2. Which I luckily still had installed. 

Dishonored: choose your own adventure

I remember seeing adverts for Dishonored plastered all over busses driving around Sydney when it was released back in 2012. Another generic shooter I figured, ignoring it at the time. But I also remember seeing some pretty glowing reviews, and the release of DH2 to similar fanfare made playing the first game seem like a good idea. Plus a friend was keen for a playthrough – just the motivation required.

And I’m super glad we did – Dishonored is an excellent first person adventure, leaving the well trodden path of the shooter to deliver something far more entertaining. The keys to it’s success were the fact that you can choose entirely different methods of playing, and that the levels and zones have a refreshing non-linear nature and great freedom of movement.

Set in a steampunkian world that resembles Bioshock Infinite to a degree, you are tasked with clearing your name (hence: Dishonored1) after an assassination. So far so predictable, but once you start your quest the game delivers in delightful fashion.

Never doubt it.

You can approach the game as a run-and-gun shooter, blasting your way through everything, or as a stealth-based Thief-a-like. Compellingly, the choice you make impacts how the world reacts around you from level to level. Too much chaos and the guards are more alert. Too much death and the plague rats become more vicious. I snuck through the entire game virtually undetected using the invaluable x-ray vision – with copious reloads to do so – but the alternate approach is just as viable.

The level design is great, and the early introduction of a Nightcrawler-esque short distance teleport bampf suddenly opens up the game world to vertical and horizontal solutions. You can traverse the streets at great heights along balconies and rooftops, or scuttle through sewers and drains whilst possessing rats. The freedom of movement is very refreshing – trying other games after playing DH brings home the disappointment of not being able to go almost wherever you wish (looking at you Alien: Isolation – ‘no you can’t jump over that tiny wall or move through that obvious gap’).

There are optional goals for each level to satisfy replayability, objects and runes to discover to empower your skills, and the plot is satisfyingly political and mostly sensible (unlike the aforementioned Bioshock Infinite, which whilst fun had a nigh on impossible plot to unravel). DH also throws you straight into the main story, and keeps you there, which means it’s refreshingly short too – probably around 20-30 hours.

Definitely recommended. Looking forward to DH2, maybe when the DH3 bus ads start appearing.


  1. Ugh leaving out the ‘u’ is difficult. Learn to spell, America!)