The original Dishonored impressed us with the great freedom of choice when it came time to completing an objective. Four long years later, the sequel is finally upon us. So has Arkane Studios proven that this still-new IP has the longevity needed of a franchise?
Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the first game, and you begin as Emily Kaldwin, the (rather reluctant) Empress of Dunwall. An unexpected visit by the Duke of Serkonos and a mysterious guest leads to your dethronement, and thus the real game begins. If this story feels familiar, that’s because it’s fairly similar in theme to the original game. However, you can play as either Emily or loyal bodyguard Corvo, with different stories and powers. Corvo does have a voice this time around, in stark contrast to the first time we met him. While this may break immersion for some people who prefer their first-person protagonists to be mute, it is necessary to tell the story being told here.
The majority of your time will be spent in the new city of Karnaca, and several of its many districts and landmarks. The art style is similar to the original Dishonored, but has its own flair all its own. With a clear influence of Europe in the middle of the 19th century, there are a lot of sights to take in. Cobblestone roads, tight corridors, rats, whale oil-fueled lamps, and offensively loud pistols all add up to a very detailed, believable world that you can quickly get lost in. Arkane Studios reportedly spent a year inventing the city’s history, and it shows, with journals, newspapers, and other clippings strewn about the city, adding to lore which you are free to read to gain some knowledge about the city, or ignore entirely. Like most everything else in Dishonored 2, the choice is yours.
As if playing though the game as a different character wasn’t enough to lengthen your play time, you can also opt to play without powers entirely. Mercifully, while the Platinum trophy does require you to play through the game at lease once in this manner, it does not require playing through Dishonored 2 with no powers, while simultaneously never being spotted nor killing anyone, though I’m sure someone will achieve this amazing feat shortly. Expect an average, just-enjoying-the-story runthrough to take approximately 15-20 hours, while finding every nook and cranny, and especially attempting to never be detected to increase your time to completion considerably. The game is spread out across nine missions, with the playtime of each mission taking between one to two hours, depending on which, if any, side missions you complete.
As for the powers themselves, well, several have been tweaked from the game before, while Emily introduces a few new powers of her own. Corvo starts his game with his powers taken from the usurper of the throne, and Emily never had them to begin with, until a visit from The Outsider changes all of that. There are six core powers to earn, with each character having unique powers while sharing some core abilities. The powers can be combined, as well, in interesting ways. For instance, as Emily, you can summon a Doppelganger, then use Domino to link one or more enemies to that Doppelganger. Killing or otherwise incapacitating your clone will result in the same fate befalling the linked enemies. This can make attempts of non-lethal runs at a level a little easier, since now knocking one enemy out can knock out up to three more, once the power is upgraded.
Upgrading powers is done by finding runes hidden in out-of-the-way locations throughout levels. Many are located within the nests of a new pest to contend with — bloodflies. These are more difficult to kill than the original game’s rats, though rats are present as well and will fight the bloodflies. If you leave a corpse around near where bloodflies like to congregate, they will lay larvae inside the bodies, and you’ll soon have a new swarm of the small killers to contend with. This means that you have to cleanup many of your kills, or at least move the bodies to somewhere out of the way. You can also find and equip bone charms, which can grant boons, while some corrupted bone charms will offer you a benefit while also taking something away. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also craft your own bone charms, with varying effects and chances of corruption.
Once you’ve acquired enough powers, your controller will quickly feel very cramped. Since this is a first-person game, the shoulder buttons are already spoken for, especially when you have your right hand permanently assigned sword duty, and your left hand tasked with handling weapons and firing off powers. You can only map powers and/or weapons to one of the four directional pad buttons, while holding L1 will show you a quick select wheel while time slows down (but does not stop). Meanwhile, R1 blocks using your sword. The Triangle buttons feels a bit under-utilized, as a lean mechanic that isn’t really used unless you’re going for a no-detection run. The controls take some getting used to, but work just fine most of the time.
To give you an idea of the staggering number of ways in which you can complete a level, here is but one example. I was trying to subdue a master inventor, who was protected by mechanized robot soldiers who can see in both in front and behind. My goal was to incapacitate him, as I was trying to get a relatively low level of chaos, the game’s built-in mechanism which determines how the story plays out and ultimately ends, based on such factors as the number of innocents and key story characters killed in each mission. Anyway, my plan was to lure the enemy out from where he was hiding, and lay a stun mine on my way into a doorway in front of an elevator I could use to get out of his sight. I stepped out for second, only to be confronted with a robot that I did not know was in front of the enemy. These are tough robots, so I quickly went back from where I came, looked down, and planted a stun mine…right onto a passing rat. The mine attached to the vermin, which then went unexpectedly running towards the enemy I was supposed to take out. Sure enough, the mine detonated, and I knocked out both the character I was there to stop, and his pet robot. It was an unexpectedly devious way to take out the enemy, but shows just a few of the ways in which you can play with Dishonored 2‘s many mechanics.
While the original Dishonored was built with the Unreal Engine 3, Dishonored 2 has swapped most of that out for a custom-built “Void” engine, which is itself based off id Tech 5. The result is some general graphical improvements, especially in the areas of lighting and backgrounds. Some of the city expanses that you’ll see during your journey are breathtaking, to be sure. Yet, character models remain rather lackluster, and animations in particular can be pretty rough. Then again, when you’ve got several dozen characters contained within a very small area, it is impressive that the game does keep a consistently high frame rate throughout the experience. A completely unscientific guesstimate of Dishonored 2‘s frame rate would be around 30fps, and it is solid throughout most of the game.
One area that felt a little weak is Dishonored 2‘s AI. Now, granted, AI is very hard to program. But I saw multiple instances during my time with the game where an enemy would come running at me, only to tumble down a few stairs. This then left them completely open to attack. It was unintentionally the funniest part of Dishonored 2. Despite these enemies’ utter clumsiness, they did have efficient and believable pathfinding skills. If I made enough noise while out on a balcony, an enemy in the street below would look up, and if I ducked out of the way, they would quickly go inside the building, run up the stairs, and then check out the area where they heard the disturbance — this would usually end up in their demise, because of course I laid a trap for them, but still, kudos to them for being smart enough to be able to find the way!
Dishonored 2 is going to keep stealth game fans busy for quite a while this holiday season. Every level is meticulously crafted, with more emphasis on verticality to enhance some of the new powers introduced. Additional hidden level goals are discovered organically, and while enemies can be hilariously clumsy, they are also adept pathfinders. With a nuanced story, two protagonists to play as, and multiple endings, Dishonored 2 begs, or rather, deserves to be played again and again.
Dishonored 2 review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.