To call me conflicted about the sequel to one of my favourite games ever is… probably an understatement. Here’s why.
Let me be clear about this: Dishonored rocked. I love it for so many reasons my brain can barely fit them all in at the same time; and every time I replay it, I find more. Dishonored just did things right. So, why am I apprehensive now that the sequel trailer has surfaced?
It’s difficult for me to overstate just how right Dishonored was. In many ways, it was a better survival horror game than most actual survival horror games are. It created a beautiful sense of tense despair; it invested me in the story and the mechanics felt fit for the role of the protagonist. Corvo was, at the same time, a well defined character (through his skillset and interactions) and enough of a blank slate for the player to feel as if they were in control – all the more important when The Outsider is most definitely showing you otherwise.
“Our Princess is in Another Castle!”
But Dishonored didn’t succeed because its had interesting mechanics; it succeeded because it successfully married those mechanics to a cohesive story and had the gall to follow through on it. You are betrayed – repeatedly – by your allies. You are spat on, hated, defamed; dishonored in all respects. It leaves you understanding just why the character feels justified in using murder, torture, kidnapping, poisoning, breaking, entering, and stealing. It makes you want to use those tools.
And it doesn’t do that by taking away “your” empire.
This, I think, is where Dishonored 2’s trailer lets it down. Yes, I would love to play as Emily Kaldwin (the child of the empress the previous protagonist failed to save) – but “you have lost your empire” is an insufficient motivation. I doubt that the player will experience the empire ownership.
What made Dishonored special was that as you thought you were just finding your feet – regaining the cause you were fighting for and building up allies and friends – those things and those causes were taken from you again. You were wronged again, and it was your fault. All the things you did – all the terrible actions you took – were for naught.
Dishonored was excellent because it really drove home the reactions of your friends to the terrible things you did. No doubt, you had been wronged and you needed to make amends; when you did a terrible thing it was still terrible. You were never allowed to forget that, and in the end – when all was said and done – you failed to protect your daughter.
If Dishonored 2 fails to explore Emily’s relation to those events; if it fails to explore Corvo’s regrets; if the trailer is indicative of the gameplay direction (action oriented over stealth); if it presents Emily Kaldwin as righteous or justified – it will fail. It won’t fail because it didn’t try, or because the gameplay isn’t fun. It will fail because it loses the whole core engagement of the subject material – that the player is as morally bankrupt as all the other characters, and the player is just as much the villain.
But now, you’ll be off over the horizon on an outbound ship. I wonder. Are you chasing something, or running away?
… and not having that little girl – that symbol of innocence you must protect and treasure – will leave a Void. What will adequately replace it?