My Thoughts on E3: Dishonored 2

Last night, Bethesda held their E3 press conference. It was a pretty cool event with a lot of stuff revealed. A new Quake game is on the way, as well as Prey, a psychological thriller from the studio behind Dishonored. Skyrim has a remaster on the way, and the Elder Scrolls card game beta is now looking for players. Fallout Shelter and Fallout 4 both have updates coming. For me, though, the biggest news came at the very end of the conference, when Harvey Smith took the stage to tell us about Dishonored 2.

I was a tiny bit disappointed at first. The video they showed was about the world of the game, the city of Karnaca. And while the game looked gorgeous and Harvey’s statements about their process of worldbuilding were pretty cool, I was a tad miffed that all we were gonna see was the city of Karnaca.

Then Harvey kept going. And going. And going.

We learned all kinds of stuff about Dishonored 2 last night, so today I’m going to talk about that new information as well as a few speculations based on what was revealed.

OFFICIAL STUFF
KARNACA
Karnaca as a city has been lovingly crafted by the creators of Dishonored 2. It’s a city that relies a lot on wind power, meaning that some devices the characters will need to turn off or on or whatever will involve wind-based puzzles. Wind plays another part in one chapter where the area is ravaged by freak storms that seriously alter visibility and travel. The design team didn’t just focus on Karnaca as it is now, though – they thought deeply about what it used to be. The city’s past is an important factor because it affects what the world looks like. Harvey specifically pointed out that these historical details influence the world in subtle ways, like walls watermarked by past flooding. But the history of Karnaca will influence the world in some pretty un-subtle ways too (more on that in a bit).
The creators of Dishonored 2 want the game to feel as much like a living place as possible, so they paid attention to the layout of the world and gave thought to how the characters navigated it. How do the guards get to work? Is there a path that makes sense? Where do they have lunch? These details influence the design of the world.
While I was initially a little bummed when I thought that they would only be talking about Karnaca itself, I am truly excited for this world. It seems awesome. The world of the first Dishonored game was a ton of fun and obviously lovingly crafted. Now, it seems like they took it to the next level. Hearing Harvey talk about the different factions in the world, about the deep history and the lives of the people there, really put me in the mood to explore this world. I want to read the books, hear the music, visit the restaurants – and, of course, kill the guards.
CHAPTERS
Earlier I mentioned that the history of Karnaca will influence the game in both subtle and un-subtle ways. One of these un-subtle ways will be clear in a particular chapter of the game. You see, in Dishonored 2 each chapter will deal with a specific theme. Harvey said these themes have both mechanical and fictional applications, meaning they’ll impact both the gameplay and the story. We learned a little bit about some of these chapters during the presentation.
The storm mechanic I mentioned earlier is one such chapter. The alterations to visibility and wind direction caused by the stop-and-start nature of the storms force you to react differently to situations based on whether or not a storm is happening. Harvey showed another video focused on a chapter of the game focused on the theme of jumping through time. The nature of this place bends reality in such a way that using the powers of the Outsider is impossible – instead, you must rely on a unique timepiece that allows you to zip between two points in the location’s history. One point is ruined and abandoned – one well-constructed but also well-guarded. The only way to progress is to jump back and forth between these two points, but there are more advantages than just progress. Through a lens on the timepiece you can see the other time, allowing you to position yourself advantageously before you make a jump. Harvey showed how this allows you to place yourself behind guards in order to circumvent or surprise them.
I like the idea of these themed chapters and the changes they can make to gameplay. This should keep the elements of the game fresh and force you to think of your abilities in new ways. My only concern is that if any chapter has a gimmick that makes it frustrating or less fun than the others, replaying the game will lose some of its appeal.
THE VOID ENGINE
On the technical side of things, Dishonored 2 differs from the first in that Arkane Studios and their team developed a whole new game engine to compliment their game. They wanted something that allowed them to pursue their chosen art direction and that enhanced the experience of stealth gameplay. What they created is now known as the Void engine.
In seeing the videos, this new engine certainly compliments the style of Dishonored better than the original engines. The paint aesthetic that the team pursued looks much better in this installment. Additionally, the way light plays along the environment makes a more organic and interesting stealth experience. As I’m not a technical buff I don’t have much more to say about the Void Engine, but from what they showed I think this was an excellent decision. The game looks better than the first and I’m excited to experience Dishonored in a better light (both literally and figuratively).
POWERS
A good portion of the Dishonored 2 presentation focused on Emily and her supernatural abilities. The Outsider has given her a different set of skills than Corvo, some of them serving similar purposes but all unique to Emily.
Two skills we’ve seen before but got to see in a bit more detail in these videos. This is particularly true of Far Reach, a power where Emily launches a shadowy tether over a short distance. This serves to main purposes: movement and grabbing. If the tether hits a surface like a wall, Emily is yanked towards it at high speed. Far Reach functions much like Corvo’s Blink in this way. However, when Emily grabs a person or object, that thing is yanked towards her. Harvey showed off a few combos with this, including one where Emily yanked a volatile explosive towards herself and then dove out of the way to explode a group of soldiers behind her, and another where she pulled a guard towards her knife and killed him. The other skill we’ve seen before that was shown in more detail was Emily’s Shadow Walk. This is the power where she turns into a shadowy being and begins to crawl along the ground. We didn’t see much of this skill, but the video showed Emily using the power for combat, grabbing someone up by his limbs before violently smashing him into the ground. Harvey said that Shadow Walk was an important ability for both combat and for stealth.
We also got to see two new powers. One was Mesmerize. This power creates a sort of illusion that distracts guards, allowing Emily to walk past them both unnoticed and unremembered. The other is Domino, a power that can be used to link multiple targets together. Harvey said that targets linked by Domino “share the same fate,” and this is shown when Emily hits one guard with a stun mine and knocks all four linked guards unconscious as a result.
A power not talked about during the presentation but confirmed in an interview with Harvey Smith before E3 is the Doppelganger power, which creates a sort of Shadow Clone of Emily. The intended purpose of this clone is to distract guards by sending it running off so that they’ll chase it, allowing the real Emily to stealthily move by their post. According to the article, playtesters have discovered other uses for the Shadow Clone. These include placing mines on the clone and sending her as a suicide-bomber into a squad of enemies, or casting Domino on her and then killing her to eliminate all guards linked to her. There’s no telling if these uses of the Doppelganger are going to make it into the game.
This was easily the most exciting part of the presentation for me. I love Emily’s powers and they sound like a ton of fun to experiment with. How far is Domino’s effective range? Is there a time limit? How long does Mesmerize last? Can you Domino guards into the Mesmerized power? Can you Mesmerize your Doppelganger that’s been linked with Domino to some guards? The questions and possibilities opened up by Emily’s abilities are going to be really fun to find the answers to!

SPECULATION
Okay, at this point I’m going to talk a little bit about some things I’m curious about, but that have not really been confirmed.
POWERS
A while back, some information about Dishonored 2 came out that said Corvo would ultimately have the same powers he had before. Instead of giving him new abilities, his abilities are more nuanced and the skill trees for them offer more possibilities. If this is true, that means we know Corvo will have the following six powers: Blink, Dark Vision, Possession, Bend Time, Devouring Swarm, and Windblast. Now so far, Emily has five known powers: Far Reach, Domino, Mesmerize, Shadow Walk, and Doppelganger. If we can assume that she’ll have the same number of powers as Corvo, that means Emily still has one trick up her sleeve that we have not seen yet. So what is that trick?
Personally, I think there’s a good chance that Emily’s last power – if indeed there is one – is probably her version of the Dark Vision ability. We’ve already seen with Blink and Far Reach that mechanics that are particularly important find a way to be present for both characters. Corvo and Emily move through the environment differently, yes, but they both still have the ability to do so. I believe that the strategic advantages given by the Dark Vision ability are too beneficial to only give to Corvo. Particularly since his powers are more given to brutishness while Emily’s are geared towards subterfuge. The ability to see enemies and items through walls seems very much up Emily’s ally, which makes me think that she will probably have some sort of power that is similar to but ultimately different than Dark Vision. How will that work? I have no idea. Maybe hers will be a pulse that she sends out, scanning the area rather than just causing her eyes to see differently. Or maybe she has to place a shadowy eye somewhere and then it will allow her to see through any obstacles in that area.
It is, of course, perfectly possible that Emily won’t have a Dark Vision equivalent, but that’s my personal prediction about her final power.
THE VILLAIN
The person who dethrones Emily in this game has only been referred to as an “interloper.” The implication is that this person is either supernatural in nature or possesses supernatural powers, possibly another person chosen by the Outsider. Who could this villain be?
Some have suggested that the Outsider himself is the villain of this game, but I find that hard to believe. Gameplay video has shown the Outsider interacting with Emily by pulling her into the Void, and we know that Emily has been chosen by the Outsider to bear his mark. Additionally, it doesn’t seem to be in his character. The Outsider doesn’t meddle in any affairs directly. He chooses people who “interest” him and gives them the power to meddle on a grand scale. This puts him on both sides of any conflict – he’s just as “interested” by Corvo as he is by Daud and Granny Rags. The Outsider isn’t inherently good or bad – he’s outside of those ideals, influencing the world by using his power to make it a more interesting place. I don’t think he’ll be the villain of this game – but chances are pretty high that he has made the villain very powerful.

That’s pretty much the extent of my thoughts on Dishonored 2 right now. I am crazy excited for this game. It looks incredible and I believe that it is improving on the first game in all the right ways. If you have your own theories about this next title, feel free to post them in the comments. And if you aren’t yet, be sure to follow the blog on Twitter or Facebook so that you won’t miss any of my social media coverage of the upcoming press conferences. I plan to be live-tweeting tonight at 9 PM EST when Sony goes live, and tomorrow starting at noon EST for the Nintendo treehouse streams. I hope you’re enjoying E3 2016 as much as I am!

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