Dishonored 2 sees players returning to the world of Dunwall, 15 years after the events of the original game. Little Emily Kaldwin is now grown up, and the Empress of the Isles. Accompanied by her father, the famed Corvo Attano from the first game, things go awry quickly as her evil aunt appears laying claim to the throne. This is where the game splits, and gives players a choice of which protagonist to play as. Make sure to choose wisely, as once it is done, there is no going back for the duration of the 15-20 hour adventure.
Each playable character comes with their own unique abilities. It is also worth noting that the game offers up the chance to play the entire thing without them. This is for the gamer looking for the ultimate challenge. Corvo once again has his Blink alongside possession and even the ability to slow down time. Emily has a similar power to Blink, but instead it can be more versatile, and even reach out to grab enemies. Her most interesting power though is the link ability. This takes multiple enemies and gives them the same fate.
Both Corvo and Emily are playable, and you’ll ultimately reach the endgame with either a low or high chaos rating, presenting motivation for at least two very different playthroughs. It’s a decision made almost as soon as you gain control, and the narrative prevents an opportunity to change your mind. My first run, obtaining a low chaos status with Emily, took eleven hours through to completion — but double that if obtaining all runes, bonecharms and paintings (collectibles) drives your inner-perfectionist. My second playthrough, high chaos with Corvo, slashed three hours off that time, with the benefit of experience. Emily’s skill set appears more conducive to stealth on paper, but I haven’t found that to be the reality on its own accord. It’s not so much who you choose, but how you choose to approach Dishonored 2.
Once she’s been de-throwned, Emily is given a mask and imbedded with supernatural abilities similar to her father. Corvo can teleport short distances, assume the body of anything with a pulse, command an army of blood-thirsty rats, see through walls and bring time to a grinding halt to kill a man with his own bullet. Stealth is the key to success, but brutally slaying everyone in your path is an equally viable option. Emily’s powers are largely a twist on these, with the ability to instantly pull herself across short distances, sneak past as a shadow monster, link enemies together so one kill eliminates many, send enemies into a dream state and create a doppelgänger distraction.
After the first couple of hours, I was ready to write off the stealth approach I’d adored with Corvo in Dishonored 1 – and I actually think he’s a more viable stealth option, or at least better at escaping enemies. The first few missions quickly escalated into a bloodbath. Emily’s powers are limited and initially not as powerful as Corvo’s. However, once I expanded beyond trying to Far Reach everywhere between sneaking up on enemies, stealth became a much more fulfilling prospect.
It’s certainly much harder to complete Dishonored 2 without being seen. Enemies are purposely a little dull, as timing is key in both avoiding contact and competing in counter-attack heavy sword fights. They’re unbelievably alert to their surroundings, even on the medium difficulty, which does make a dedicated stealth run challenging. They’ll notice dead bodies well out of sight and hear things implausibly far away, but by the same token, they quickly lose interest once you’ve fled the scene. The cone of vision is based on direct line of sight, shadows only play a role at long distances, and enemies are quick to notice any hint of movement.
The biggest change is the reworked level format. Each mission is set within a distinctive themed mini-world. Dishonored 2 isn’t quite an open world game – expect long loading screens between each area – but each level is meticulously designed with ample routes and strategies for success. Furthermore, each of the missions (I’ve played so far) is not only set in a unique location, there’s a little quirk about each that makes it different to the last; be it the weather, a certain type of puzzle or strange enemies.
There are always multiple entry points to each location and a mix of lethal and more forgiving ways to eliminate the target. You can erase a man’s mind and keep him alive, or simply shoot him in the face. These options often depend on how you made your presence felt in the opening few minutes. Finding a means to eliminate the target without killing him or her requires finding clues and unlocking a non-lethal alternative. Patience is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of Dishonored 2 if you’re an aspiring silent assassin. I’m enthralled by the theory of stealthy gameplay, but alas failed to achieve silent perfection in a solitary mission. When I have the choice between stealth and brute force in a game, I’m always drawn to stealth. But inevitably it all goes horribly wrong, and everything unravels into a massacre, despite my noble intentions. Dishonored 2, like its predecessor, is the exemplification of such gameplay.
Visually the game retains the same exaggerated look of the first title. The world is once again washed out with muted colors and some truly gruesome animations. It feels macabre and dreary, like it has been raining forever. I could almost smell the fish and steel from the piers scattered around the game. Arkane has done an outstanding job of creating a world that feels lived in. Voice work is once again great, with main characters Corvo and Emily being the obvious highlights.
Dishonored 2 is a great game that builds a believable world and lets the player use it as a playground. For those wanting a straight-ahead action game, this is not it, and even more so than the first, stealth is highly recommended. Still it is impossible to argue just how well the team has executed their vision. Crafting one of the most unique and engrossing experiences once again. Don’t miss out on Dishonored 2, it is easily in contention for one of the best of 2016.