Dishonored 2 is the sequel to Dishonored. The game, developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, hit consoles in 2016 and was overall met with high praise. While it has been quite some time since it’s release, the series as a whole feels more relevant than ever. You play as either Corvo Attano or Emily Kaldwin. Corvo is the returning protagonist from the first game and current Royal Protector whose job is to protect the Empress of the Isles, his daughter Emily.
Despite her best efforts, Emily struggles with her duty as Empress and tries to reel in the ongoing corruption within Dunwall that continues to grow worse as a new deadly plague devastates the lower class. But when her long-lost aunt, Delilah makes a claim to the throne, decorum is thrown out the window. Through the rest of the game, Emily must travel across the Isle and uproot the corruption and evil ruling the Isles in an attempt to win back the throne. While there is an option to play as Corvo, as a woman, I find Emily’s story to be more empowering.
I restarted Dishonored 2 because it is like comfort food. A story about a woman dismantling the most corrupt parts of her government and then single-handedly taking out a false leader who attempted to destroy any goodwill she created with her people is empowering. As revolutionary action sparks around the nation, Dishonored, a game dripping with unsettling themes and imagery feels cathartic.
However, it has been at least three years since I have completed Dishonored 2 in full and in that time my health has changed drastically. I have since been diagnosed with vestibular migraines and Meniere’s disease, both of which severely affect my hearing. Needless to say, the rose-colored glasses I was wearing anytime I spoke about Dishonored 2 have suddenly fogged up. To put it bluntly, Dishonored 2 is unplayable for Deaf/hoh players because of the poor subtitles.
To start, the opening sequence which sets up how much time has passed since the previous game and explores Emily’s feelings as Empress, are not subtitled unless you knew to turn them on prior to starting the game, which I, unfortunately, did not. This fluid and beautifully animated sequence is devoid of subtitles so any Deaf/hoh gamer will be staring at loving pictures and completely miss the purpose of the opening. Additionally, you cannot pause during the opening sequence to turn on the subtitles.
After this sequence, the game throws you right into a cutscene where you can finally pause to turn on the subtitles. There are three options when it comes to subtitles, off, main dialogue, and all dialogue.
There is no option to make subtitles bigger, there is no option to add a background, though this is unsurprising for a game released in 2016. The subtitles in Dishonored 2 are so small they are almost non-existent. While playing this, I am sitting less than five feet from my 40-inch television and I cannot read what is on screen.
Additionally, the subtitles offered have no speaker labels. This is especially concerning because the game is in first-person. You cannot follow Emily’s lips to assume she is speaking. So much of Dishonored 2’s story is about stealth and remaining unseen, which means a lot of key dialogue is not said directly to the main character. It is impossible to understand who is speaking at any point in the game.
The game features no closed captioning. All of the environmental sounds are lost on deaf/hoh gamers. The bustling streets, the indistinct chatter of civilians hiding from guards, and the sound of incoming dust storm in Karnaca, all further the story and establish the world players are in. In Karnaca especially, the dust storms can be used to provide cover when taking down enemies. The dust storms are also important to the city itself. The deadly dust comes from the Stilton Mines under the mountain’s mouth. As the mine continues to be mined unsafely, the storms become more deadly with the poorest in the area suffering from health-related issues caused by the dust. So much of Dishonored 2’s world and themes, most notably class inequality, are told through environmental elements.
And with a game so focused on its narrative, it is frustrating how much is lost because of its lack of proper captioning and subtitles. It is especially frustrating because the game features many letters, books, and notes that can be read throughout the game. These build out the world and are easy to read, clearly showing Arkane knows how to make letters at least somewhat legible.
In regards to the gameplay itself, Dishonored 2’s small text makes stealing, an essential part of gameplay, difficult. While the game does feature visual cues for when players are close to being spotted, it does little to offer visual cues for when guards are walking by. Even if guards are speaking, it is impossible to know their location unless you are looking at them directly. The lack of speaker titles also means it is difficult to know if someone you are not directly facing is friend or foe.
The game offers various tools the player can use to disrupt guard patrols and sneakily explore the crumbling cities. This includes setting alarms or using other pieces of the environment to make noise. Using an alarm allows you to hide and wait for the chime. While an enemy is distracted seeing the clock, you strike. However, that tactic does not work if you cannot hear the alarm. There is no visual cue that tells you it is going off, there is no visual cue that informs you a guard is walking next to the wall you are hiding behind. Everything relies on sound.
Outside of my continued frustration at the lack of accessibility features within this game and many others, the reason this one hurts so much is because this story is powerful. Dishonored is a series about disrupting the status quo and breaking down corruption through violent means if necessary. It is a game about deciding when to be deadly and when to take a more peaceful route all while knowing that peace is likely temporary.
The dystopian themes within Dishonored beautifully reflect the shattered and broken American I am currently living in. I do not have the ability to protest. I am immunocompromised and even if there was not a global pandemic among us, I would not have the stamina to handle a protest. While there are obviously still meaningful ways for me to support causes, games like Dishonored 2 are cathartic because they offer an escape from my inability to physically support movements. As Emily, I can enact real change which makes me feel powerful. And as much as I want to share that story with every gamer, I cannot because the game is inaccessible.
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