Dishonored 2 Revisited
I started up a New Game+ the other day, and it's cemented in my mind just how good this game is. I'm uncovering entirely new paths through the levels, and seeing how the game weaves the consequences of your play style into the world around you. Levels that I previously took three hours to complete, meticulously avoiding conflicts and minimizing casualties while searching for the runes and charms that would help me do that, take me an hour or less on my more haphazard, more murderous playthrough.
In one level in particular, that normally functions like a devious trap, I looked for and found a way to avoid setting the trap in motion to begin with. I thought I had been thorough the first time I explored it. How novel to discover, in this day and age of "we want you to see all our tricks" design, there was a still more clever way, one which circumvents so much of a carefully crafted level.
The chill in one character's voice, when I tell her I've killed the woman I'd gone to speak with instead of, you know, actually talking to her stops me cold. It's a small but kind of perfect moment. My character's inner narrative, spoken aloud, has only reinforced my playstyle. His words drip with revenge, a willingness to go to any lengths to restore what he believes is rightfully his. He does not pause to question, so when suddenly out of the blue, someone wonders whether a person really had to die, it's like waking up from a nightmare. The effectiveness of the moment is certainly helped by what I, as a player, know: I've taken the alternate path in a previous playthrough. I can guess the consequences of taking this life.
So while the story stumbles, the narrative reactivity is top notch. That it does all of this without quest givers telling you explicitly what to do, without an overabundance of ventilation shafts, without feeling like its funnelling you down limited paths (although I have played the game in two starkly contrasting ways, there is more variation possible in your choices and outcomes) is what makes it a refreshing delightful surprise. That it does this without sacrificing the clarity or readability of levels, without losing the player, is a challenge to all other level designers who limit players' options in the service of readability and clarity.
If this list were limited to games that actually came out in 2016, Dishonored 2 would be sitting in the number one spot, no question.