Dishonored 2 takes place fifteen years after the events of the original game, with the then captured Emily Kaldwin following in her mother’s footsteps and taking her place as the Empress of Dunwall. The bad times seem to be over and the plague no longer haunts the streets of the city, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t trouble brewing thanks to the ‘Crown Killer’ – an assassin that seems to be targeting Emily’s enemies, casting accusations upon the previous game’s protagonist and Emily’s father Corvo.
Things take a turn for the worst during the anniversary of the old Empress’ death when her previously unknown sister arrives to take her ‘rightful’ place as the new Empress of Dunwall. Delilah is the big bad villain this time around and whilst her entrance doesn’t have the same dazzle as the villain of the previous game, her appearance is still shrouded in mystery thanks to her dark powers that are reminiscent of those handed to Corvo in the original game.
Thus the game begins, but this time you’re given the choice of who you play as. Following a brief conflict in the throne room, you get to choose to play out the entirety of the game as either Emily or Corvo. Whoever you don’t pick gets frozen in a stone-like state, so don’t think you’ll be switching as you progress through the game – it’s going to be a journey to not only reclaim the throne but save your loved one too.
Whilst it’s certainly not a necessity to have played the original ‘Dishonored’, I think having some knowledge of previous events and characters will help you get the most out of the game. Knowing the relationships characters share, the secrets behind some of the world’s mysteries, and even the politics of Dunwall and the turmoil it has previously seen will help establish a better sense of empathy with the protagonists.
As I said though, it’s not essential and Dishonored 2 does a great job of keeping you invested in the world and its story. Whilst it never takes any turns that feel particularly unpredictable, it stays interesting right until the very end. There are plenty of collectibles to find that offer an extra bit of insight into the world and its characters too, offering a bit of reading material that fleshes out the game world. I have to point out that the developers made the poor design choice of having the document slowly move as you’re reading it though – it’s a neat visual effect, but it’s a bit of a pain when you’re trying to read what could often be small text.
There’s plenty to find though and it’s actually worth reading through most of it. You’ll learn things that get skipped over in the main story, plus you’ll understand what motivates the decisions that your enemies make. You may even learn of a more effective way to take down your foes if you’re particularly observant. Dishonored 2 has a really fascinating world and it’s great that Arkane Studios have gone to such lengths to make sure that you can learn so much about it.
The previous ‘Dishonored’ prided itself on its ability to let you play exactly how you want and it’s the same case this time around too, with levels that are finely crafted to compliment both players that like to sneak around and silently take down their foes or alternatively go in loud and slice apart everyone they come across. You have the choice between killing or simply knocking out foes too – you don’t have to decapitate your enemies if you don’t want to (though it does look pretty damn cool).
The varying ways to play offers a real incentive to re-play the game, whilst the fact there are two characters to actually play as is a bonus too. You can adopt a different play style each time, though for the most part I used a combination of both – I’d sneak around a lot, but would still jam a few sharp edges into enemies throats when I felt like. I’m just nasty though, each to their own…
The different ways to play actually offered something that felt significant, with the game featuring the foundations of both an action packed first person shooter/slasher as well as that of stealth title. It’s almost like you’re getting two entirely different games with each way of playing offering a unique experience. I’ve played the game as both characters and tried following a different play style each time – both times I had an absolute blast.
Whilst going all out and facing enemies head on provides a more dangerous experience where you’re likely to suffer plenty of deaths, you also might not discover all the secrets that come from sneaking around and exploring. There are multiple routes to take through a level and different ways to complete your goals, many of which can only be found from sneaking around silently and making the effort to seek things out. The scale of each level constantly surprised me and I always seemed to discover something new – it really is a fascinating world to explore.
At the end of each level you get judged upon your play style, with the game showing how much chaos you inflicted upon the world or alternatively how stealthy you were. It’s actually quite rewarding to see your accolades for completing a level in a particular way, plus it’s a good indicator to see what people around you will think of you. You’ll quite often find the NPCs of the world talking about things you’ve done, so they’re certainly a judgemental bunch. Don’t worry though because you can complete the whole game without killing a single person, so you can be a real sweetheart if you want to.
Your arsenal is as impressive as ever, with both Corvo and Emily having their own skills and tool sets to use. The Outsider returns from the previous game too, bringing with him the awesome powers that made the last game such a blast to play through and offering a multitude of ways to take down your foes. Emily’s ‘Shadow Walk’ ability can morph her into a shadow-like creature than can either become an unstoppable killing machine when armed with the right upgrades or become incredibly sneaky and nimble when trying to get through undetected. You could also use her ‘Domino’ ability to easily wipe out foes in quick succession, leaving a domino-effect of corpses littered around the environment. Corvo is just as powerful though, with the ability to stop time allowing him to easily sneak around unseen or even lay a few deadly traps for his foes. Corvo can even go all Fus Ro Dah with his ‘Windblast’ ability. You decide which powers to unlock and upgrade so you can fine tune your character’s skills to suit your play style… or whatever sounds the coolest to use, it’s up to you. Everything feels awesome to use with each power able to be utilised in different ways – it all comes down to experimentation.
Basic hand to hand combat is efficient too, allowing you to strike out and dodge attacks from your foes up close. A well-timed block can stagger your opponent too, leaving them open for an attack that can decapitate them. Combat works well and everything flows together nicely, though it can quickly become overbearing when up against a big group of enemies. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and as soon as an alarm is alerted you’ll quickly see the enemy count build up. A group of more than two can be fatal if you aren’t careful, almost demanding you find a way to escape or utilise your powers. It can be even more punishing against the game’s later enemies that can actually kill you in one hit. A lot of the challenge comes down to the enemy AI though, which is overly intelligent to the point of feeling unfair at times. If you briefly appear in their view they will hunt you down, whilst making a little too much noise or leaving too much evidence of your destructive ways can lead to a lengthy pursuit where your only option is to hide and hope. It can make the stealthy approach the more difficult route to take, though in fairness you will slowly get used to what enemies can and can’t see – there’s just very little room for error.
Dishonored 2 generally ran quite well on the Xbox One, the only real issue cropping up being a few drops in the frame rate though it was never anything that made the game unplayable. In some of the more action-packed moments the drop can be a bit more significant, but it’s only cause a small frustration and isn’t game breaking. There are a few odd bugs you’ll encounter throughout the game too, particularly with enemies acting in mysterious ways, though there’s nothing that’ll break the overall sense of immersion.
On a visual basis the game looks fantastic, with the original game’s distinct style coming through again. The new setting of Karnaca is such a change to the Dunwall, giving us a locale that feels a bit more alive and bustling. Whilst the city looks finely crafted from the outside, actually exploring the interiors was great too with a myriad of locations to explore that keep varying up as you progress through the game – a particular favourite of mine was the Clockwork Mansion that allows you to shift the appearance of each floor as you progress, opening new routes to travel that’ll constantly keep enemies on their toes.
The only downside to the visuals was that they could appear a little washed out on the Xbox One. I’m not sure if it’s the same on the other platforms, but the colours felt a bit pale compared to those I’d seen in screenshots – I toyed about with the brightness to see if I could match it, but it wasn’t to be. It never looks bad at all (in fact the game still looks great) but I felt that some of the ‘oomph’ was missing from the colour.
With Dishonored 2 it feels like you’re getting two different games thanks to the differing ways to play and the two characters on offer. No two playthroughs will ever feel the same and in honesty it needs to be played a minimum of two times just to get the most out of it. Not that you’ll mind though, since the game is absolutely fantastic.
No matter which way you play, Dishonored 2 always provides an exhilarating experience. Whether you’re sneaking through the darkness and picking off foes one by one or just running in and blasting enemies with your crossbow and decapitating them, Dishonored 2 offers a thrilling experience that’ll keep you hooked from start to end.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 11/11/2016
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, PC