Dishonored 2 Would Be Better Without Runes
Dishonored 2 is the latest of Arkane Studios' games, published by Bethesda Softworks, this time set in the mediterranean-like Karnaca, instead of industrial England-like Dunwall. Unlike the first, in Dishonored 2 you can play as Emily Kaldwin, or as Corvo Attano -- Dishonored's protagonist. But just like with Dishonored in 2 you also have supernatural abilities. To upgrade or unlock new ones, you need to collect runes.
Only, after going back to Dishonored before jumping fully into 2, I loaded a save game with all the supernatural abilities unlocked. What I found out is that the games are vastly more fun with all the abilities unlocked from the get-go.
Dishonored 2 doesn't need runes
Now, I get the need for the runes. It allows the player to pick and choose which abilities they unlock, and allows you to feel like you are growing as the character -- they're something for the player to work for. The runes symbolize the character getting more powerful, growing, and getting used to their abilities.
Only, having to go around and physically pick them up gets tedious. The closest comparison to runes I can think of is in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with Praxis points and kits. In Mankind Divided, the unlocks are all given to you through an XP system, and you can pick up some extra Praxis kits if you look around. That sort of XP system feels much more fluid, and much more like you are growing as a character.
With runes, you are crawling around a level and looking for a thing to pick up. It doesn't feel like you are growing, but like you are boringly rummaging about. Sure, the lore describes runes as whale bones with the Outsider's mark carved into them, which will give anyone with the the mark more power. But why? That's explained in the most boring way possible -- it basically boils down to "magic."
This leads me to thinking that Dishonored 2 needs an XP system instead of runes.
Dishonored 2 XP system
Like with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 could have an XP system, along with some extra runes you can pick up. This would be a direct mirror of the Praxis kits found around the world of Deus Ex. But this wouldn't work due to bone charms, objects which give you passive bonuses within the world of Dishonored. They would make an XP system redundant because they are collectible passive abilities.
Bone charms are another object you have to find in each level of Dishonored 2, and these make much more sense to me. You grab them and get a bonus of some sort -- be it more resistance or damage, or being faster in combat. These objects are much more fun to find, and feel fully optional, whereas your abilities don't. This means that finding runes feels like busy work put in Dishonored 2 to extend playtime.
Bone charms are the Praxis kits of Dishonored 2
With bone charms being the Praxis kits of Dishonored 2, you don't need an XP system either. The bone charms feel like you are hunting around for something to improve yourself, unlike with runes, where you feel like you have to get them to have more fun in Dishonored 2.
Runes actually feel like they are directly contradicting what Dishonored 2 is asking you to do. The game is laid out in front of you, and all but directly tells you to experiment. But by limiting what you can experiment with, it feels like the game is simply doing this to make you extend your playtime with some unfun busy work.
While this could be an affliction given with the trend of instant gratification in games, I feel that the bone charm system overrides this. The max jump height can be lowered, unless you pick up a bone charm to up your jump further -- but almost everything should be reachable with the default jump height. Giving the player each and every single power and ability from the outset allows them to experiment and grow with those abilities, thus still feeling like they are improving as a fictional character. You can start to use the abilities to your advantage, and experiment as the game asks of you too do.
It cuts out the busy work, and allows the game some time to breathe. With no runes in Dishonored 2, it would allow more creativity, more experimentation, more hilarious moments -- but above all, more fun.