Dishonored 2‘s launch is one of the scummiest things to which I’ve borne witness in quite a long time. After Bethesda made it clear that they weren’t giving out review code until the day before launch – “we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time”, to quote their insufferable press release that definitely isn’t horrendously anti-consumer – they then made it possible for people to play Dishonored 2 early by pre-ordering. In short: give us your money, and you get it before even the press. You know, just in case they manage to download it in time and get some sort of warning up. And because that definitely ties in with everyone “experiencing games at the same time.”
Said press release also noted that, hey, Doom did this, and Doom turned out to be great. Presumably, then, all future games will also do this, and all future games will also turn out to be great. There’s just the mild issue that Dishonored 2‘s PC version is kind of a shambles.
For what it’s worth, this technical review is based on that pre-order release. Being that we’re still waiting on review code at the time of writing, I’ve shelled out money to try to get this information to you as quickly as possible. Take that as you will.
Following a bizarrely long first-time start-up (and, inevitably, three unskippable splash intros), let’s have a look at the options. These are pretty good. Visuals first:
Screen resolution goes up to 3840×2160, FoV can be adjusted, and annoyances like Bloom/Lens Flare/Depth of Field can be disabled. You can even remove headbob, if you fancy, although that’s in Gameplay rather than Visuals. Still, good stuff. I will say that raising the FOV by even a relatively small amount does seem to give a weird fish-eye effect when people are up very close to you (as in the opening, when Delilah touches your face) but it’s pretty rare for this to have any effect.
Note that there are no descriptions as to what a lot of these options do, which is a bit of a shame; I suspect that “Adaptive Resolution” basically determines what resolution the game renders at and then scales it to your chosen screen resolution, but I don’t know for certain. Either way, the game’s “Auto” presets chucked everything to High, which seemed about right to me. Plenty of tweakables there with everything from the standard texture details all the way to fog quality and the ability to turn off rat shadows, which is good to see.
Controls are pretty much standard Dishonored, though there are – again – some positives and some mysteries. Mouse smoothing can be disabled, and there’s also a setting for mouse “friction”, although I have literally no idea what that actually does. Perhaps that’s to simulate playing the game with your mouse on granite?
All keys can also be rebound, which is great, although there’s no warning as to whether or not you’re rebinding a key that’s already in use… which is why I wound up with absolutely no Block button for a little while. Oops. I’ll take the blame for this one, though, because I probably should’ve remembered that CTRL actually does something in Dishonored, and it wasn’t exactly safe for me to rebind it to crouch.
It’s a minor touch, but I’m also relatively pleased with the audio options, insofar as subtitles can be set to Off/Main Dialogue/All Dialogue. Again: minor, but the sort of attention to detail I like to see. Particularly because I’m the sort of person who likes to have subtitles on.
So, if the options are relatively strong, what’s the problem? Well, it’s simple: Dishonored 2 is really horribly optimised.
Bearing in mind I’m running on an i7-3820 / 16 GB RAM / GeForce GTX 970, and that Dishonored 2 reckoned I could run things on High, and that graphical settings can be raised above High to Very High or Ultra… I was kinda expecting that I’d be able to maintain a pretty constant 60 FPS. My rig isn’t exactly top-of-the-line anymore, but it handles most games perfectly on near-full settings. These hopes were dashed when the opulent opening segment, with Empress Emily receiving a delegation from Serkonos, dropped everything to 40 FPS.
I’ll note that my rig is somewhat below the recommended settings (which demands a GTX 1060, although I’m fine with everything else), but significantly above the minimum of a GTX 660. Nonetheless, I’ve got a few more problems than just what I mentioned up there.
Annoyance number one: these drops are far from constant. Most of the time, the game seems perfectly capable of running at 60 FPS. Bigger areas and more people seem to have an effect on this, but oddly, some really minor bits of graphical trickery also screw with this quite badly. Normally, looking close-up at something – a poster, or whatever – keeps the framerate nice and high because the game isn’t rendering much. The flipside of this was when I had a close-up look at a model boat in a glass case, in the very first playable room of the game, which dropped the framerate to about 40 FPS. There was a lovely graphical effect on the glass case, I suppose, but I’m not sure it was that intensive.
Annoyance number two: these framerate drops fuck with the mouse worse than anything I’ve seen before. As an example, one area shortly after arriving in Karnacas dropped my framerate by 30 whenever I looked in a certain direction… and doing so seemed to toy with the mouse sensitivity in a really odd way. It mostly seemed to speed it up dramatically. I say “mostly” because I’m not 100% confident in this, and at one point I actually thought it was slowing it down. It’s possibly doing both, which is arguably worse.
Annoyance number three: dropping the graphical settings doesn’t seem to make that much difference. I cannot, for example, play with everything on Very Low and expect a constant 60 FPS, which feels like madness. It reduces the severity of the framedrops but it doesn’t entirely remove them, and considering how far above the minimum I actually am, that’s pretty bloody worrying. It’s also not a great thing for those who suffer motion sickness, because the unstable framerate, the unstable mouse sensitivity, and the headbob (which can at least be disabled) are rather likely to cause a lot of issues.
For what it’s worth, here are a few bits swapped between the maximum and minimum settings of Ultra and Very Low, so you can see the graphical differences for yourself:
Slightly more troubling is that – from a brief look around at the other early adopters on the internet, via the Steam forums and the like – there are plenty of problems I haven’t hit, and a number of issues that seem to impact those with rigs at (or even above) the recommended. A few people with GTX 1080s have commented on framerate problems. Others have noted stuttering audio and subtitle errors.
I’m having a hard time reconciling a lot of these issues. Dishonored 2 looks good, certainly, but I’m not convinced it looks so jaw-dropping as to require an absolute top-of-the-line machine (particularly when compared to recent lookers like Battlefield 1) and I’m astonished I’m having any sort of framerate issues on the lowest possible settings. About the only thing I can think of, really, is that it’s horribly optimised.
As for the game itself, my current opinions are a little mixed. On the one hand, it’s definitely Dishonored, and that’s just lovely. On the other hand, I’ve had to suspend disbelief rather hard with the opening of Delilah turning up and proclaiming that she’s the real Empress, and then Emily and Corvo are arrested. I mean, that evidence is slightly less compelling than Dishonored‘s setup of Corvo standing over the corpse of the Empress, holding a bloody sword, after the assassins have teleported away.
I’m hoping that the problems I’ve hit are the absolute worst the game has to offer, and this won’t be an Assassin’s Creed Unity patchwork of game mechanics sewn together with bugs and inexplicable framerate problems. Even then, though, I’d have to struggle to recommend you pick up Dishonored 2 just yet. Even if you have a super computer, there doesn’t appear to be any guarantee it’ll actually run flawlessly for you.
For now, hold onto your cash, and wait to see if patches improve the stability of the framerate. Serkonos is, currently, not the sort of holiday destination I was hoping for.