Following Bethesda’s announcement towards the end of October, they’re no longer sending out review copies of their games in advance of release. Instead, they’re now sending them to reviewers and media just 24 hours in advance. This strategy worked out in their favour earlier this year, with DOOM getting near universal praise, but will it be the same for Dishonored 2? I’ve played the first two hours of the PC version of the game, and below are some of my early thoughts. Expect a review on the way in the coming days.
Graphics, Presentation & Performance
The graphic options are reasonably extensive, with a lot of the settings having everything from Very Low to Ultra. Following on from the previous game, you can even disable/enable rat and bloodfly shadows. There is a rather claustrophobic vignette that appears only when Emily or Corvo are crouching, which unfortunately cannot be disabled. Despite the accommodating spectrum of these options, I was unable to maintain 60 fps at 1440p with my current PC setup(Specs: r9 290, i5 4690k, 16gb ram). What I settled on was 1080p with mostly High settings and some of the more demanding on/off settings switched to Off (volumetric lighting, depth of field). This allowed me to maintain 60fps with dips down into the high 40s. I have to admit this is pretty disappointing, while the art style is just as gorgeous as its predecessor, the visuals don’t seem like they should be all that demanding.
After that is where things started going really pear-shaped. I was playing with my compromised settings, putting up with the occasional frame rate dip, when I leaned around a corner and saw the FPS counter drop to 18. I turned down all the settings to Very Low and all the on/off settings to off and the frame rate didn’t change. To be fair this particular room, the throne room right at the start of the game, is quite detailed with lots of flowers adorning the columns and there’s several dead bodies littering the floor. But I’m afraid something weird is happening here, check out the following shots, taking note of the FPS counter in the top left.
Facing towards the back of the throne room I get a solid 60fps, but after turning 180 degrees it drops to 32. Going back to the door through which I first entered the room it drops even further to 18 fps. Keep in mind this is all on the lowest possible settings at 1080p. I figured it was perhaps a driver issue. So I did a clean uninstall and then installed the drivers Bethesda specifically recommend for AMD cards. Frame rates were exactly the same in those particular areas of the throne room. I then considered that perhaps this was an isolated incident, it was early on in the game after all, perhaps it’ll even out from here on. Unfortunately this is not the case. Any time I faced a particular open area, as you can see from the following screens, the frame rate tanked. Now bear in mind not all of the below shots are on the lowest of low settings (I turned some of them back up after testing the throne room) but to be honest with such weirdly specific and enormous dips, I don’t think it’s got much to do with settings.
Narrative & Characters
The craziness starts just as quickly as the first game, in Dishonored 2 you’re mourning your mother, the next you’re being arrested as a traitor. The narrative, the world, the lore, all of it is as intriguing and engaging as the first game. It actually feels great to be in this world again. There’s no disconnect between the two games either, Dunwall feels like Dunwall and Karnaca (which I’ve only just arrived at) fits perfectly with the universe set up in the original Dishonored. The new/returning characters all have me intrigued, and wanting to learn more about them.
One rather significant change is that your character now speaks, whether you play as Emily or Corvo they’ll now comment on things you see and do in the world. So far this has been enjoyable rather than irritating. Emily will for example reminisce about simpler times of smoking her hookah with friends, or lessons with her mother. At one point, after killing a traitorous City Watchman, she commented that he wasn’t fit for the uniform, her voice full of spite. It definitely heightens the emotional connection with Emily and her plight.
Enemies are a lot tougher now, especially at the beginning when Emily has no powers. Unlike the original game, they no longer have to have their whole bodies turned toward you to spot you. If you raise their awareness meter even a little, they’ll continue on their patrol but their head will be turned towards where they spotted you, making it quite difficult to get away unseen. Guards will notice if doors have been opened (even if they weren’t in earshot when you opened it) and when approaching them from behind, if you’re in their peripheral vision, they will spot you very quickly. It’s quite brutal.
I actually recommend playing without objective markers and just allow yourself to explore the levels organically. It’s a lot more rewarding to stumble across tucked away audiographs or hidden treasure. I noticed there were places I couldn’t get to as Emily in the first area (as she didn’t have blink yet) that I assume you CAN get to with Corvo. This could make multiple playthroughs interesting and adds a factor of replay-ability. It may also be worth mentioning that you can choose to reject the outsider’s help, forgoing supernatural powers for the entire game. I may only have seen the first handful of areas (as well as the Clockwork Mansion at the EB Games Expo), but I’m comfortable in saying that the level design is just as good if not better than original game. The scale of everything seems grander in general, you can climb higher, streets are wider, that sort of thing. It feels great.
Emily will fill out her journal as she progresses through the story, adding extra depth to her character, as well as keeping all the different political machinations fresh in your mind. It’s a nice touch that you have to actually interact with her journal to unlock these updates. Another welcome little addition is that maps you find out in the world will be saved in your journal, for future reference.
So there’s my thoughts on the first hour or two of Dishonored 2. While there’s a lot to love here and I’m keen to keep playing, it’s a real disappointment that such a beautiful and fun game is being held back by some quite significant technical issues. Time will tell if it’s a simple fix that’ll get patched in the coming days, or if this is just how the game will perform and that’s that. Unfortunately we’ve no way of knowing ahead of time, the game will be out by the time this article goes up so any message of ‘buyer beware’ is essentially useless. Getting reviews out a week or two before a game releases is important for this very reason. If developers don’t suffer any financial repercussions for selling a buggy game with poor performance, we’ll keep getting more games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity or Arkham Knight on PC.