The first Dishonored was well received, being a new IP that was bringing something fresh to the table, even if it was looking a bit strange. It seemed like a video game where the joke was they had pulled a bunch of different ideas from a hat and made it work. The Dishonored universe dives deeper than one might imagine and what Arkane studios has created is wonderful. It is, for this reason, that Dishonored 2 might be one of the most immersive experiences to come out this year.
Yes, one can rush head first into the game carving a linear path through their targets to get to the end goal if they so desire. If one takes their time, though, a game unlike any other is shining all around. Dishonored 2 is a living, breathing thing and to take that for granted would be a shame. To quickly touch on Dishonored again, Arkane knocked it out of the park so much in the first game that they literally made visible their ideas about the world they had created. It was all around in the form of books, maps and other such lore, and they delivered on this vibrant world, steeping the player in it. Dishonored 2 takes that same great world design only to amplify it on a greater scale. If Dishonored was the tip of the iceberg, this is diving down underneath and seeing how big it really is. Here is a world Arkane can play in for quite a while, with many stories yet untold.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
What first stood out in Dishonored 2 was the level after getting through the short prelude of Dunwall, once one arrives in Karnaca. Here, one can see the massive city spread out before them and fully take in the scope of the space they are about to enter. Creating a sense of scale of how small one is (especially an Empress) goes to show how human the player is. It pulls from films such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which opens with a slow pull back shot of men descending into the rainforest (similar to the jungle setting of Karnaca) that surrounds them, giving one the feeling of fragility and understanding how insignificant one can be. This exact feeling is communicated effortlessly when arriving to Karnaca emphasizing the context heavily. Here is a world larger than the player while being entirely unfamiliar. Welcome to Karnaca “The Jewel of the South at the Edge of the World.”
Karnaca is a fictional city of genius, the reason being, the player can clearly see where they will be going throughout the game, while showcasing a realistic world setting. It’s telling the audience how the trick works, yet doesn’t give anything away. Upon arriving in the first area in Karnaca, being dropped off by fresh acquaintance Meagan Foster, the player enters Campo Seta Dockyards, presenting one of the best intros to a level in recent memory. Stepping off the boat, one can see all around them a world going about its daily routine. Dock workers can be seen doing whatever it is that needs being done, while others are conversing in hushed tones only to lower their voices if the player gets to close. The sun beats down giving one the feeling of heat only brought on by the summer. Upon moving forward through the level, the player can begin to see the infrastructure of how the distract works. Blood is literally being drained down the streets, giving the word “gutter” true meaning. Planks are haphazardly thrown across this drain system so people may walk over it without having to step in it (it hardly helps). The distract is the dockyard after all and Karnaca being embedded in a gulf gives way to a fishing economy, while also allowing for heavy trade with other nations. The player has an easy time grasping how the world works because it is all around them and all one need do is stop and take it in. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.
The level design is impeccable, with each level presenting something riveting that has a steady heartbeat. Every little detail that goes in to each district of the city one traverses through is flawless. Of course, it sticks to the level design of the first game with multiple ways to get through a level, but what it expands upon is how the world is made up. Dishonored 2 isn’t so much about saying, “hey, here’s this crazy level” as much as, “hey, here is a place that would exist in this world and everything one can do in this space is believable.” The architecture of the levels themselves lends to a believable play space. Where in other games certain features might seem out of place, in Dishonored 2 every detail is purposefully placed. An easy example is of course the Clockwork Mansion in Dishonored 2, which is a marvel in and of itself for level design. Looking at other areas of the game, though, one can begin to see how rich this world truly is.
The Dust Distract, formally known as Batista, and where Corvo grew up, is an astounding level. It seems to combine all elements presented throughout the game, making for one of the best levels in the game. It’s a district where the Duke of Serkonos has decided to have the Silver Mines (which also make up a large portion of Karnacas economy) run 24/7. This combined with the geographical layout of the district, it being in a wind tunnel which the city uses to power much of the city itself, creates for clouds of silver dust constantly falling upon the area, hence the name. Before even entering the district, this speaks volumes. Here is a situation quite easy to understand. Because of a man’s greed for wealth, those below him (literally) suffer. One of my favorite dialog exchanges comes out of this area. Emily is commenting on how greedy the Duke is with how he operates the Silver Mines and Sokolov, who has brought her to the district, comments “and what are your cups made from lady Emily?” Shots fired Sokolov; shots fired. If one hasn’t been paying attention to certain cues about the distract, the first dust cloud to descended upon the district is quite frightening. Of course, after spending some time there, the player can pick up on the intervals at which this will be happening. It’s seeing this play out in succession though that has such a profound effect. The player witnesses firsthand the effects of industrialization upon the very people who make it happen. All so those in power can profit.
Aside from the impeccable level design, is of course what occupies the spaces themselves. The minutia of detail being the binding agent for Karnaca. Because there can’t be a city without people, Karnaca is full of them. Quite possible my favorite walk of life, as well, for the year in video games. While many games have commented on social injustices and certain hateful phobias, here is a world more real than the games mirroring our own. Karnaca is a port city, which means different walks of life are constantly coming through. Combine that with the history of Karnaca and one is left with a lush fleshed-out world, that has meaning and purpose. These people’s lives matter, and they are all of different ethnicities, backgrounds and religious affiliations. This of course means certain infrastructures will butt heads, but it’s more the political powers in play than it is the people themselves, aside from the obvious aristocracy belittling the working/poor folk. It’s seeing the daily lives playing out around the player that shows just what these people must live through every day. The Empire of the Isles is in a time of turmoil, even before the coup that has so recently dethroned Emily, and it’s apparent in the state Karnaca is in upon arrival. The citizens have been dealing with a corrupt government leader, and an infestation not seen since the rat plague is devastating the populace, because said leader is occupied with his own personal agenda. All of this having led to unrest and turmoil within the city. Entire buildings have been seized by certain authorities and others have been condemned all together due to the Bloodfly infestations. None of it feels out of place or cheap, it’s just what is happening. Entering these spaces is even more haunting. Unlike the Rat Plague of the first game, the Bloodflies have a much more visual impact on the goings on in city. Showing this damage creates for a far more enriched experience as a player can begin to feel the pain that this city is going through.
Upon further exploring the intricacies of the world, the player is of course greeted by the stark religious and even magic affiliations throughout the world. In the first Dishonored, players were introduced to the black magic that comes to govern the lives of those in the world. It saturates everything and is even the leading factor behind certain political factions rising and falling. Of course, while much of the populace of the Isles doesn’t seem to understand it, there are those on either side of the fence saying it’s either dangerous or something to be coveted. It’s interesting to see how the aristocrats view/use magic compared to the downtrodden. What plays off this heavy use of real magic in the world comes a certain religious sect that rears its head again in Dishonored 2. This would of course be the Overseers. What stands out the most, though, was the influence the Overseers have in Karnaca. While in the first Dishonored they played a key role in governmental happenings, in Karnaca it’s more that the government is allowing them to reside in the city, while working with another religious affiliation dedicated in quite the opposite way of the Overseers to the magic that is inherent throughout the universe.
Without diving further and further into the world that is Dishonored, which could be expounded upon all day, it’s easy to see why this world is a breath of fresh air. It’s a gamer’s paradise, allowing for full immersion into a game without having to worry about the hows or whys of questions being posed about our own world yet it’s still commenting on the world the player is a part of as a whole. The political commentary alone is worth anyone’s time. It’s nice as a player to be able to relax and enjoy something that is entirely unfamiliar and mystical which allows for a full immersive experience. This is a rich fictionalized world and it’s not an MMO, it doesn’t take place on earth as we know it and it has freaking magic. What’s not to love? The lore of the world itself is just one more thing to get lost in, but that might have to be dedicated to another piece, because there is just so much to say about the world of Dishonored. It will be interesting to see if Arkane keeps making games in this world; being able to go to the Pandyssian continent (the largest landmass in the world of Dishonored) would be amazing, because as any lore nerd of Dishonored knows, it’s a land untamed and untouched. How cool would it be to venture into depths unknown in a world unfamiliar, what creatures and mysticism await in the darkness where light has yet to be cast?