Take back what’s yours… it’s time to revisit the Empire of the Isles and step back into the assassination shoes of a wronged man (or woman) and embark on the ultimate journey of stealthy revenge. Dishonored 2 builds on the foundations of the original adventure, this time taking in the sights and sounds of the more mediterranean setting of Karnaca instead of the grim and depressive city of Dunwall, but is the change in locale enough to sell you on delving into the rich world from the creative minds of Arkane Studios?
I was a big fan of the first Dishonored, enough to double dip into the Definitive Edition when it hit shelves 12 months ago. It had something unique about it, but familiar at the same time, and really appealed to the experimenter in me with the blend of powers, freedom of approach and rich world I was introduced to. Getting the chance to return to Dunwall was high on my gaming agenda, so I was sold on the sequel at the point it was announced. This isn’t a case of whether Dishonored 2 is any good for me, it’s about how it manages to improve on the first outing and what interesting new scenarios it can throw up. It also needed to be able to convince me there was a new way the main character could be “dishonored” again given the way things worked out at the end of the original game.
Dunwall has prospered in the time that’s passed since Corvo cleared his name and saved his daughter, the princess Emily Kaldwin, from the nefarious plans of the Loyalists. Emily has turned out to be a decent ruler and apt pupil, and all is good in the city… until Delilah Copperspoon turns up escorted by Duke Luca Abele and takes the throne from beneath her. Cue your first decision in a game that offers a lot of choice – who do you play as? This time around you can play as either Emily or Corvo, and once you’ve picked that’s your lot, they’re your vessel for the whole runtime. Corvo picks up where he left off (with a small twist that removes his powers), yet Emily is fresh and new with a whole host of new abilities granted by the Outsider if you want to take them. Enter second major choice, do you even want to have supernatural powers? Stupid question, of course you do. It’s nice to have an option, though the team have just put too much effort into coming up with awesome, combinable abilities to not use them.
Obviously, being deposed and isolated in your home city, as well as being framed for murders throughout the lands, means Corvo or Emily are persona non grata in Dunwall. This offers up the change in location by whisking you away to the comparatively exotic land of Karnaca aboard the Dreadful Wale so you can start your investigation in earnest. There’s even more focus than before on the characterisation and portrayal of the player and NPCs, with an impressive cast including Rosario Dawson and Vincent D’Onofrio, coupled with the environmental story telling subconsciously getting absorbed by your eyes as you dig for clues in the new city. Being a stranger in a strange land affords your chosen character some anonymity and the chance to explore the city at will in the early stages of the game. It’s not a freeroam environment, more a linear path with several routes that lead to the same point, that offer up different challenges depending on what the upgrade path is you’ve gone for.
A lot of the joy in Dishonored 2 is in the variety of powers and weapons, and the ability to pretty much mix them all together. Corvo’s skill set is basically the same as the first game, whilst Emily’s are all new which makes them by default much more interesting. The closest ability to Corvo’s is a Blink substitute that lets you “teleport” between locations, though upgrades to allow you to pull objects and enemies towards you; beyond that they’re quite different. The game kind of funnels you towards being stealthy and silent, and the domino power is perfect for that – link up to four enemies together then knocking one of them out is a fantastic way to get around tricky areas unseen. You also get benefits from not killing those you come across, but… most of the supernatural skills and the passive abilities are geared to slaughtering anyone and anything in sight. Doppelganger is squarely aimed at summoning a copy of Emily who instantly attacks everything; explosive bullets, flaming crossbow bolts, grenades, mines and a sword – this is not the inventory of a pacifist. If there’s a complaint I have it’s that you feel like you’re pushed into avoiding combat, even whilst you’re getting an ammo full message for the hundredth time, and guards are particularly perceptive and ferocious.
Where the sequel definitely expands on from the original is in the use of non-lethal opportunities for dealing with the key targets. Of course, you could always just tranquilise them, though Dishonored 2 allows some more finesse to the proceedings that let you neutralise a target completely, yet still keep the story flowing and add interesting elements to the revenge plot. You’re not only getting the throne back, you’re building a new empire along the way, and how actions are perceived by the populus help the immersion into this beautifully fleshed out world. Adding the choice of objectives to a mission is a really neat touch, then Arkane throw in some excellent surprises in the level design – the much previewed clockwork mansion is even better second time through, and a superb time swapping section evokes memories of Soul Reaver as you flit between decades and use the changes in layout to your advantage. Even the first standalone area once you’ve left the city is a masterclass in layout and path creation because it sets out the foundation for exploration and experimentation that really make things feel fresh every time.
Dishonored 2 isn’t as revolutionary as the first game, and without Emily’s inclusion you could argue that there’s no real step on in the last few years. That said, what should they have changed? I loved Dishonored and the world it introduced me to, the follow up is more of the same, though with more choice in route and experimentation than before. The rat plague is swapped out for bloodflies, Dunwall for Karnaca, and the Hound Pits for the Dreadful Wale; it’s all got a familiar feeling… and that means you settle straight into the ebb and flow of the game. There’s a tutorial for newcomers and a story recap to remind you of what’s happened before, so there’s no need to have been invested in the series to enjoy what’s on offer. It’s also a decent length with your first playthrough expected to be about 15 hours, then a second playthrough with a different character (or new game plus mode that’s due to be added in December). Add on top the choice of non-lethal vs lethal and you’ve got depth and longevity from a purely single player experience.
There’s an excellent game here, one for fans of patience and planning as well as those who like action and brutality – it’s all driven by your choice on how you want to play. Ignore that invisible hand in your back gently nudging you towards letting everyone live. Have it all your own way, and you’ll reap the rewards from Dishonored 2. It demands you to take back what’s yours, not just meaning Emily’s stolen kingdom, but also those toys that other games throw out in favour of set-pieces and scripted events. The down side? You’ll probably be disappointed with any other so-called sandbox game that comes along for some time.
Dishonored 2 is available now on PS4, PC and Xbox One.