Four years. That’s how long it’s been since the original Dishonored was unleashed upon us all, treating us to an intoxicating mix of stealth, supernatural powers and player choice. With Dishonored 2 now finally on store shelves, the question on everyone’s lips is: was it worth the wait? While it’s not free of an issue or two, I’d say it most definitely was.
Allowing you to once again step into the shoes of the masked Corvo Attano, or take control of his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin, Dishonored 2 doesn’t waste any time, throwing you into the sticky end of a bad situation within minutes of hitting the New Game option. No matter which character you choose to play as though, the premise remains the same: finding yourself incarcerated at the command of the mysterious Delilah and your father/daughter turned to stone, your only hope is to escape Dunwall and seek out a way to thwart her nefarious plans.
Gameplay wise, you establish pretty quickly that not much has changed since the original Dishonored – this is still a game primarily about sneaking around and dealing with scenarios in multiple ways – but it feels more fleshed out. Levels are more expansive, yet their design feels tighter, and your options within them more plentiful. You have more control as to how you want to play too, with Emily being more geared towards stealth, and the choice of whether or not you accept supernatural powers has quite an impact on how you progress through the game. You can tell that Dishonored 2’s developer, Arkane Studios, hasn’t set out to revolutionise the Dishonored formula, rather, finely hone it into something that feels more rewarding and personal. And for the most part, it works.
Each of Dishonored 2‘s levels has a story to tell, and it’s largely up to you how it plays out. You could sneak in, making heavy use of your supernatural powers to quickly locate your mark and put an end to their lives without them ever knowing you were there. Or, alternatively, you could bust in the through the front door, essentially announcing your arrival before slicing off everyone’s head in close quarters combat. In reality though, the best way is to combine the two.
Levels are sprawling multi-layered affairs in which there are a wealth of collectables to gather, and completionists will want to go out of their way to discover and complete all the sidequests available. Sure, you can head directly to your target and deal with them before making a hasty escape if you wish, but you’ll be missing out on a huge deal of what Dishonored 2 has to offer. Reading books and notes adds to the game’s story, while gold, bone charms and runes can be used to develop your character’s powers and abilities. There’s always a non-lethal way to deal with the person you intended to kill too, if you’re willing to go out of your way to remain a pacifist.
Depending on your playstyle and the difficulty you’re playing on, it’s best to balance stealth and combat as you see fit, scouring environments for all the goodies they have and letting events play out naturally to keep the gameplay dynamic.
There’s another reason why I feel it’s better to let events play out naturally too. Stealth, while undoubtedly the bread and butter of Dishonored 2, can often feel a little unfair as enemies are sometimes just a little too keen and plentiful. Moving through levels like a ghost, your hard work can easily be ruined by just one guard that inexplicably spots you behind cover or at a great distance, prompting a swift load of a prior save game for those wanting to remain unseen. Eventually, reloading game saves begins to become tiresome, and so even those vying for total stealth may give up on the idea and resort to standing their ground in combat or trying to run to safety. When the mission result screen has a big red “X” on it for being detected and maybe another one for killing, however, it’s quite disheartening.
That’s Dishonored 2’s biggest problem to be honest. Like its predecessor, even though you have the choice of being a bold and brash murderer if you want, doing so results in the game making you feel like you’re playing it the wrong way. It’s a shame too, as while moving silently through a level results in a feeling of accomplishment, shooting and slicing your way through opponents is a huge amount of instantly gratifying fun. It’s even more perplexing when you consider that even though your combat options are fairly limited when you first begin the game, over time you become much more capable of dealing with enemies toe-to-toe. You discover bone charms that grant bonuses such as an increased sword attack speed and new skills can be purchased with runes that turn you into an absolute monster, deflecting bullets with your sword and performing fatalities.
When playing for high chaos, it wasn’t unusual for me to leave a room with 10 corpses strewn across it; heads, arms and legs separated by my razor sharp blade. Stepping back to look at my work, I’d appreciate the effort put into facilitating my carnage and then wonder why anybody would want to play through the game without killing anyone.
Whether you choose to play as a violent maniac or not though, there’s a great beauty and consistency to Dishonored 2’s world that enables you get absorbed in it so easily. The city of Karnaca, where most of the action takes place, is host to more varied locales than Dunwall, all of which are awash with greater detail and colour. Character models are pleasing to the eyes, though perhaps a little blurry at times, retaining the unique art style of the first game which makes them somewhat comically larger than life. And there’s a real solidness to the visuals too, with few jagged edges and graphical glitches rearing their ugly head to destroy your immersion in the world. As always though, there’s a cost to pay for such visual splendour. During hectic scenes the framerate can noticeably drop, though never so low as to make the game unplayable, and thankfully I never noticed any screen tearing.
On the whole, Dishonored 2 is a bloody good game that builds upon the groundwork of its predecessor in many ways, but still remains perplexing in its stance of making you feel like you’re playing it wrong if you choose a playstyle that’s anything other than pure stealth. My advice is to ignore the mission results screen and the achievements/trophies asking you to complete the game without being detected or killing anyone and simply run with it, making use of the expanded arsenal of abilities, weapons and powers to explore its intricately detailed world and have fun while doing so. What’s the point of the giving you such tools if you’re not going to use them?