Arkane Studios’ Dishonored was a surprise hit for me and many other gamers (you can read my review of the Definitive Edition of Dishonored here). Needless to say, many were excited about Dishonored 2 when it was announced, and it was one of the most highly anticipated games of 2016. Not surprisingly, Dishonored 2 is a game that fans of the first title should have plenty of fun playing through, though it doesn’t necessarily outdo its predecessor either.
This game takes place 15 years after the low Chaos ending of the first game and assumes that Corvo let pretty much all his enemies live, and that is something I found to be rather disappointing since that means many of the decisions gamers could have made in the first game are completely disregarded in the sequel. To be more specific (without spoiling anything) it is eventually revealed in Dishonored 2 that a handful of important characters from the first game whom you had the choice of sparing or killing (and whom I personally killed) are alive and well, regardless of any decisions on their fates players may have made to the contrary. In other words, if you chose to kill these characters in your preferred playthrough of the first game, then tough luck because that’s not part of the “official canon” of the Dishonored series established by Arkane. I can see why Arkane didn’t want to follow what happens at the end of the first game’s high Chaos ending (check it out on YouTube if you haven’t seen it already), but instead of sticking to one established canon, Arkane could have easily made efforts to at least have the major decisions we made in our playthroughs of the first Dishonored be properly reflected in Dishonored 2, perhaps through some sort of questionnaire in the game’s prologue where we reveal which key characters we spared or killed. And anyone who has played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt knows that this can be done. I mean, why give us decisions at all in the first game if you’re just going to follow a set story in the sequel? Kind of defeats the purpose of adding decisions and moral choices in a game, doesn’t it?
Anyway, the opening scene of Dishonored 2 brings us to Dunwall Tower where a now grown-up Empress Emily Kaldwin and her father/Royal Protector, Corvo Attano (our hero from the first game), are attending the anniversary of the death of Emily’s mother, Jessamine Kaldwin. The already somber scene takes a turn for the worse as Delilah Copperspoon, the main antagonist from the first game’s DLCs (The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches), appears with her entourage of traitors and schemers and stages a coup by taking the throne of Empress for herself. It is at this point where we choose to play through the game’s story as either Emily or Corvo. This, to me, was another aspect of this game that I personally found to be a little disappointing, since I (and perhaps some other gamers?) would have preferred being able to play as both characters in their own separate campaigns with unique missions that offer two different perspectives on the same plot and occasionally intertwine at certain points. As it is, the character we choose to play as becomes the main protagonist, while the character we pass over (again, no spoilers) becomes “indisposed” and ends up playing an extremely minimal role in the game’s story. Furthermore, going through a second playthrough as the character you passed over the first time around won’t offer much of anything new from a story perspective other than somewhat different dialogue; you’ll still be playing through the same missions and objectives as before, which kind of lessens the incentive to play as a different character.
Okay, with my admittedly nerdy personal gripes out of the way, let’s continue. Depending on who you chose as the main protagonist, Emily/Corvo gets locked in a room somewhere in Dunwall Tower, so you must find a way to escape and hightail it out of the city of Dunwall, which is now enemy territory, in order to regroup and find a way to take the throne back from Delilah’s evil clutches. From there the main character flees to the city of Karnaca to bring down Delilah’s strongest supporters and figure out how to defeat her once and for all. To be honest, the story of Dishonored 2 wasn’t quite as interesting as the first game’s, largely because it’s somewhat more straightforward and has relatively few surprising plot twists, and it also has an overall smaller cast of supporting characters. Nevertheless, exploring the many locales of Karnaca and delving into the mythos of the world of Dishonored is as engaging as ever.
As before, each mission features a different location for Emily/Corvo to sneak or kill her/his way through, such as Karnaca’s city streets, an abandoned research institute, a palace, a barricaded slum, a conservatory, a fancy mansion with interchangeable rooms and floors, and more. The art style and graphics are very similar to those in the first game, only now they’re even more detailed. However, there were a number of times when the graphics had a static-like effect when looking at certain surfaces like glass windows from a distance, something I never encountered in the first game. It’s also worth mentioning that the game froze on me about four times for seemingly no reason (although part of it probably had to do with me activating the Dark Vision power at “weird moments”). The freezing was easily dealt with by restarting the game, but it was still annoying.
Gameplay-wise, Dishonored 2 is very much like the first game. It’s not noticeably better, but it’s certainly not worse either. When going through missions there are many routes you can take to reach your goal, secrets to discover, and different ways to deal with your main targets (lethally or non-lethally). For the most part though, it’s all rather similar to what was done in the first Dishonored; therefore, I got a bit of a “more of the same” vibe from the sequel, especially in the first half of the game. The aforementioned mansion, where you have to navigate an interchangeable environment while also dealing with robots armed with blades called Clockwork Soldiers, was one standout level that kind of changed things up. However, I found a later mission where you have to advance through another mansion by going back and forth between the past and the present to be the most interesting and unique mission in the game by far.
As for the combat and controls, they’re what fans of Dishonored should expect. Emily and Corvo move and fight pretty much the same, though the different powers they receive from the Outsider offer some variety (although you do have the option to turn down the Outsider’s gifts and play the game using only your standard weapons and gadgets). Corvo has the same powers he wielded in the first game, namely Blink (teleportation), Rat Swarm (summon swarms of rats to attack or gobble up enemies), Windblast (literally blow enemies away), Bend Time (slow down/stop time), and Possession (take control of animals and enemies). This time, however, he has access to new upgrades for his powers like being able to use Possession to take control of people/enemies who are unconscious or recently deceased, and a 360-degree Windblast that can knock down enemies both in front of and behind him.
Emily’s powers include Far Reach (launch a shadowy tendril to pull yourself towards specific spots or pull objects and enemies towards you), Domino (magically link enemies together so that incapacitating or killing one will affect the others simultaneously), Shadow Walk (take on a shadow form to make yourself more stealthy so you can slip past or up to enemies more easily), Doppelganger (summon a temporary clone to distract or even attack enemies), and Mesmerize (summon a Void spirit that hypnotizes enemies so you can bypass them or take them out with no resistance). Emily’s powers are quite different from Corvo’s, though they seem to be more geared towards stealth than direct combat, plus her Far Reach ability was somewhat more finicky than Corvo’s Blink and sometimes required aiming it at weird angles before it would work properly.
Other powers and abilities that are shared between Emily and Corvo include good ole’ Dark Vision that lets them see enemies and security devices through walls, Shadow Kill to make slain enemies dissolve into dust so their bodies can’t be discovered, and other newer abilities like deflecting projectiles and even crafting bone charms that can combine multiple traits. Runes and bone charms work much like before: Runes are used to buy and upgrade powers, and bone charms offer specialized perks like faster swimming speed, increased projectile damage, bringing “bad luck” to enemies, etc., and, once again, they can all be located through the use of the Heart item. Both characters also have weapons and gadgets such as a gun and crossbow, and now they can fire additional ammo types like flash darts that blind enemies and bullets that ricochet off surfaces to strike multiple foes, and there are other familiar gadgets like stun mines and spring razors.
It’s also worth mentioning that ammunition, especially for the crossbow, was harder to come by in this game, and that’s partly because, this time round, the player has to find the black market shops located in each mission where you can buy gear, ammo, and other items, and these can be easily missed. I found myself to be constantly short on sleeping darts to knock out enemies since I opted for a stealthy low Chaos playthrough as Emily, but luckily it’s much easier to knock out enemies in this game through other means that were absent in the first game. This time around you can get enemies in chokeholds after deflecting physical attacks and knocking them off-balance, you can incapacitate enemies instantly by dropping down on them from above and pressing the chokehold button, and you can even throw enemies while you have them in a chokehold and knock them out while they’re down with an additional press of the same button. The enemies, much like in the previous game, consist mostly of city guards and gangsters with guns and swords, as well as witches with special powers of their own, but then you have the new, previously mentioned, Clockwork Soldier enemies that can take more punishment and are more difficult to sneak up on. Plus, they’re strong enemies to battle directly against. I also found that even regular enemies are more difficult to sneak past since they are more observant and can spot you even when you’re leaning from behind cover (despite the game’s tutorials clearly stating enemies won’t see you while you’re leaning).
To sum up, Dishonored 2 is a worthy sequel that lives up to the greatness of its predecessor but doesn’t surpass it. Those who were hoping that the sequel would blow the first game out of the water may want to wait for a price drop before getting this game, but for die-hard fans of the series, Dishonored 2 is worth picking up straightaway.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 11th November 2016