November 17, 2016 by Eddie Stock
It’s hard to not enjoy playing a game like Dishonored 2. It’s another excellent installment in a series that continues to stand out for nearly perfecting the stealth/action genre. It’s a superb sequel that allows the player to tell his or her own story by dictating gameplay in beautifully crafted sandbox environments. And at its core, it’s a game that successfully challenges the player to explore, experiment, and have fun with both planned and unexpected outcomes.
Giving players freedom in how they encounter each level has always been a vital aspect in stealth-based games. Which is why it has become a disappointing trend to see triple-A games forcing lethal outcomes carried out by supposedly passive protagonists. Thankfully, the team at Arkane Studios has retained the original game’s freedom of choice and made improvements to both the action and stealth mechanics to aid both playstyles in Dishonored 2.
By once again allowing completely non-lethal passive playthroughs and playthroughs involving chaotic killing sprees, Arkane has put the series back at the top of the stealth/action genre. But this time the developers have taken the freedom of choice even further by letting gamers choose to play as one of two fully-voiced main characters: the previous game’s lead protagonist, Corvo Attano, or his daughter, Emily Kaldwin.
Fifteen years have passed in the city of Dunwall, and the sequel starts with a coup intended on dethroning the father and daughter duo. As a result, Corvo and Emily are split from the very beginning of the story, and the player must choose which of the two to play as over the course of the entire 12 to 16-hour campaign, which focuses on saving the other fractured family member.
This interchangeable character device helps Dishonored 2 have more variety and replay value than the original, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work well in terms of delivering a powerful storytelling experience with memorable characters. Due to its relatively generic plot that has been sculpted to fit both characters, the way in which everything unfolds is almost identical and at times a bit messy. As supporting characters spout out long-winded exposition in force-fed cutscenes, it becomes more and more difficult to follow what’s being said and easier to lose your interest.
Rather than the animated cutscenes in between chapters, it’s the visually stunning and highly detailed world of Karnaca and the resident A.I. that help immerse you in the story. The high-quality textures allow for every little detail to be closely examined. Paintings on the walls of abandoned apartments and items found throughout luxurious mansions can be beautiful at first glance, but further inspection of their display casing reveals more clarity on exactly what you’re viewing and the mindset of those who created or obtained the pieces. Most objects found scattered throughout the environments are also accompanied by audio logs or journals that dive into even further detail for those who simply can’t get enough of Dishonored‘s lore.
While the vast amount of passages to read are interesting, it was only when diverting from primary objective points and using the returning mystical Heart item to guide me in my hunt for runes and bone charms to unlock new supernatural powers that I found myself beginning to truly invest in the story. Sneaking from rooftop to rooftop to avoid armed guards and nasty bloodflies that plague the city allowed conversations to be eavesdropped in on which felt both organic and rewarding with spontaneous outcomes such as uncovering new sidequests and tips on how to solve said quests.
Like the interchangeable story, abilities function basically the same in and out of combat whether playing as Corvo or Emily. Both can hack away and parry enemies with their primary blade or use upgradable secondary weapons and gadgets, such as a pistol, crossbow, and explosives to stun or brutally dismember foes. Stealth purists can even choose to play without supernatural powers from the very start, but it’s each character’s unique abilities that are what truly set them apart and warrant additional playthroughs.
Corvo can once again unlock his signature abilities, such as Far Reach to teleport short distances, Possession to take over small animals and corpses, and Bend Time to sneak past frozen enemies and/or brutally slice them to pieces. All of these powers seem pretty generic, and they are… but when upgraded and combined together have the potential to produce satisfying results for those who want to experiment with all the creative ways you can dispose of enemies in Dishonored 2’s sandbox.
Emily’s abilities aren’t drastically different from Corvo’s until her skill tree is progressed through further into the game. She too has the power to jump short distances via her Shadow Walk grappling hook and sneak past or take out guards by transforming into an invisible shadow creature. Her most unique feature, Domino, allows foes to be linked together so that taking out one triggers an instant multi-kill. With so many random chain reactions that can occur, literally chaining enemy takedowns together is a welcome new addition for those who want to get creative.
Creativity is key in Dishonored 2, and how you take on each level and objective is almost entirely up to you. Do you rush a primary target and his team of blade-wielding robot guards, or do you quickly execute him from behind as soon as you get the chance in simple stealth fashion? Do you take your time to survey the area, discover clues that assist in unlocking hidden routes, and take the strategic approach to get the perfect assassination? Or do you take the passive route by simply sneaking by everyone and/or chaining a target together with his guards to land a single sleep dart that instantly incapacitates everyone.
All of the above and much more are possible. Reading journals can lead to finding keys that unlock quicker passages to objectives or codes to safes that unlock more rewards. Robots that see in both directions can have their heads popped off to send them into blade-whirling frenzies that kill anyone in their path. Doppelgangers can trick you into killing the wrong person if you don’t pick up on their tells and whether they live or die can have a different outcome on the story. Again, how you spend your time playing is up to you, and the more time you invest and more you explore what’s possible, the more rewarding the gameplay becomes.
The steampunk-esque world of Karnaca and its level design is the standout feature in Dishonored 2 that make the gameplay feel fresh — even when playing by traditional stealth rules. Each magically crafted level in Dishonored 2 feels like a theme park for assassins with a multitude of ways to get from point A to point B and complete objectives.
There’s an inventor’s luxurious mansion filled with clockwork robots and levers that can be pulled to trigger walls to turn, floors to flip, and entire levels to lower and rise in real time. A district filled with members of two warring factions gets hit every few minutes with duststorms that impair vision on the streets of both the A.I. and the player. Most impressively, there’s an entire level featuring a time-traveling device that allows the player to jump back and forth between a now dilapidated empty home and its glorious prior state that once hosted an extravagant party involving key players of the story.
The level design in Dishonored 2 is second to none, and Arkane’s most impressive technical feat has been combining both form and function in this regard. It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of all the moving parts of Jindosh’s mechanical mansion or when twisting time to see the past literally overlaying the present in front of you without anything needing to be reloaded or textures popping back in.
Although it stumbles through its attempt at telling the same story using two different characters and has some early performance issues on PC, Arkane has managed to improve upon almost every other aspect that made its original game a breakout hit. From the welcome new additions that enhance both stealth and combat mechanics to the visually stunning level design, the new city of Karnaca is full of mysteries, many of which that are surely to be missed in just a single playthrough. Dishonored 2 is an achievement in game design that caters to almost all gamers and is worth playing over and over again. Dishonored 2 gets a 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).
- Stealth and action-based gameplay that caters to almost everyone
- Beautifully crafted sandbox environments
- Unique powers and physics engine allow for tons of experimentation
- Intelligent enemies who can produce unexpected results
- Tons of lore scattered throughout the highly detailed world
- Two characters sharing one generic storyline
- Performance issues on even high-end PCs