Dishonored 2 has guts.
There’s a moment, half-way through the game when you’re presented with a very fancy locked door. Upon the door are five names and five symbols. It’s a combination to solve, something we’ve seen plenty of over the history of video games. While you could guess randomly, the solution can be earned by playing through a mission set in the surrounding town, tipping the scales of a battle between a religious sect or a criminal enterprise. Siding with either one can take several hours, but the outcome is the same: the combination for that fancy lock.
Or you can skip the ENTIRE level by solving an intricate word puzzle placed right next to the gate.
I can’t really fathom the hours that went into designing The Dust District mission. The level design, the written and recorded dialog, the AI pathing, the QA testing and countless other very expensive tasks that go into making a large game like this.
But of course the maniacal inventor who created a super fancy lock like this would also leave a riddle on how to solve it right next to the lock. That’s just what these guys do, just to rub it in your face about how smart they are. (I was far too dumb to solve this puzzle, by the way.)
And that’s what I mean by guts. In the spirit of world-building and giving the player as much power as possible, the developers of Dishonored 2 were willing to risk people missing all that hard work in favor of a word puzzle that maybe took an hour or two to write. Guts, man.
It’s especially impressive considering the attention of detail and care that goes into the smallest aspects of this world. I’ve written before about that level of care, but on a grander scale, Dishonored 2 takes some massive swings with its environments. Two levels in this game, The Clockwork Mansion and A Crack in the Slab, are some of the most memorable and interesting missions I’ve played. In any game. Ever. They’re a masterclass on the underappreciated artform of level design.
Within this world, players are free to do as they wish. Many of these choices weren’t readily apparent to me until my second playthrough, when my careful tactics of hugging everyone to sleep gave way to a violent bolero of blood. But unlike many games that offer an illusion of choice and impact on the world, Dishonored 2 delivers. The world is straight-up changed by your actions. Not just by a dialog box you select before the closing credits, but by every interaction you have with enemies and friends around you. Your actions decide the fate of this world, and because of the effort put forth in creating it, it makes the feeling of accomplishment all the more meaningful.
At every turn, Dishonored 2 bleeds caring attention to detail and respect for player control. What you do with that control is up to you.