Arkane Studios’ 2012 freshman entry of Dishonored took many by surprise. It was a game that combined first-person combat, stealthy play-as-you-wish gameplay, supernatural abilities, beautiful artwork and a cohesive story to rocket it to the top of many game of the year lists. It’s almost unfathomable that a sequel could usurp the original, but that’s just what the developers have done with Dishonored 2. They did it by building on to the systems of the first game, giving players the freedom to once again play the game as they see fit in this oft-beautiful, sometimes dreadful world, while also offering two distinct characters to tackle the campaign with while continuing the intriguing stories of Corvo Attano and Emily Kaldwin.
It’s been 15 years since the events of the first game. Kaldwin has taken her slain mother’s title of Empress, and while she’s seemingly ruled in peace for some time, the game thrusts you into a new conflict at its onset. The “Crown Killer” is on the loose, making it look as if Kaldwin and Attano are offing anyone that poses a threat to the throne. While it’s made clear right away that Corvo and Emily aren’t the Crown Killers, Dishonored 2’s story takes players on a journey to figure out who are the network of citizens looking to seize control of the throne. Played by either Corvo or Emily, Dishonored 2 takes players away from Dunwall, with most of the story focused in a new area called Karnaca where this cabal has formed. While we won’t spoil any of the story bits considering that this is a single player game and many will pay the price of admission just for this aspect, it does follow a similar formula to the previous game, with both character’s playthroughs consisting of tracking down members of this mysterious group.
Mix and match stealth and action gameplay hasn’t skipped a beat since the original
Praised for its incredible sandbox gameplay in 2012, Arkane hasn’t missed a beat with this sequel and adds to the formula by giving players even more choice this time around. Both a stealth and a first person action game, objectives and missions can be tackled in many ways in Dishonored 2, with either character. Nothing is black and white in Dishonored 2. You can play pure stealth, killing noone, and ghosting your way through a “low chaos” playthough of the game using non-lethal methods. On the flip side, you can play a “high chaos” style, which would entail you relying on lethal brute force more often than not. In the middle, you can mix and match stealth and action for fantastic results as well. Gameplay in Dishonored 2 is a mixture of first person combat, exploration, and progression, using weapons, magic, and a personally tailored vault of upgrades to suit your playstyle. It’s worth noting, however, that players can also opt to play the game without any of the magical abilities that are given to the player by declining them at an early stage in the game.
Progressing through combat or through evasion is only part of Dishonored 2. Exploration of each highly detailed area allows for the expansion and collection of abilities through runes which offer spendable points to purchase new abilities. These abilities range wildly for each character, but Corvo and Emily do share some common ground in some instances. For the most part, Corvo’s move set and supernatural arts are similar to the first game. He has the abilitiy to “Blink” around the map, he can stop time, possess enemies, use windblasts, and call on a swarm of rats to devour those that impede his progress. Each and all of these abilities can be purchased given that you’ve collected enough runes, and each can be upgraded to more powerful versions, offering distinct advantages for certain playstyles. Emily, on the other hand, feels entirely new compared to Corvo. She has her own set of new abilities, and Arkane has done a good job in making her feel very different than Corvo because of that. This makes multiple playthroughs of the game not only a possibility, but a certainty — alongside the sandbox gameplay and ways to tackle different scenarios within the game and Dishonored 2 is a single player game that you’ll definitely want to play more than once.
Corvo and Emily’s abilities can be tailored to your playstyle
Emily’s abilities are indeed different. They include a Domino effect, which allows her to link multiple targets that will all suffer the same damage if one is affected. She can Mesmerize enemies, which can distract up to two targets at a time, making it easier for a stealthy playstyle. She can also Shadow Walk, which allows you to move without being detected and reduces the range where enemies see you as a threat. Her Doppleganger ability summons a replicate of herself and can distract enemies. While not all of Emily’s supernatural abilities are completely different from Corvo, she also has an ability called Far Reach, which functions similarly to Blink, allowing you to reach areas by effectively warping to a different place. The difference between this and Corvo’s Blink ability is that you don’t disappear and reappear as you do with Blink, and enemies can see you when you use it if in plain sight. Again, spending runes unlocks these abilities for Emily, and they can all be upgraded for variations within each. Atop these core abilities for each character, you can also use runes to purchase things like additional health, greater reflexes, more strength, and many others. You can really customize your character to your specific liking in Dishonored 2, and while the original had quite a bit of customization as well, it seems even better and more robust this time around.
All of this customization is to waste if there aren’t brilliantly designed levels to explore, and there are more than enough in Dishonored 2. Each with many different ways to accomplish your core objectives, and each having multiple side objectives to accomplish. Dishonored 2 is fantastic in its world building within each level of the game, allowing you to eavesdrop on conversations between its inhabitants, sometimes unlocking side missions in the process. While Arkane does fall back on collectible text items to fully round out the world, you can learn a lot about the state of Karnaca by simply listening to its citizens. This push for exploration is a constant in Dishonored 2 and it’s an actual joy rather than a task. Whether you’re learning more about the world, collecting currency to purchase items, or finding runes and boneshards to build out your supernatural arsenal, you’re constantly being rewarded for being curious in this game. That natural curiosity can be attributed in some ways to each area’s beauty. Shedding photorealism for a distinct artstyle, each area of the game is both beautiful and well thought out. With a real standout called the Clockwork Mansion that’s essentially an elaborate maze that you must navigate through. Putting a finger on just one area of the game and calling it a standout is hard, because each and every level is both diverse in its aesthetic and well designed to allow for player interpretation in regards to navigating its objectives. Along your path through the game, you’ll also encounter a good variety of enemy types and roadblocks to your progress.
Trading in photrealistic graphics, Arkane uses its proprietary art style to build a beautiful oft-dreary world
The story is such that both Emily and Corvo are wanted across the land. You’ll encounter guards of many varieties, beasts, infected citizens, and robots. Even innocent citizens of the world can throw a wrench in your best laid plans, who’ll sometimes alert guards to your presence, while at others they’ll flee. Dishonored’s different areas will be filled with both enemies and inhabitants of the world, making it feel more alive. While stealth is always an option, and at many times, feels to be the smartest one, combat is a necessary part of the game when hostiles are alerted to your presence. If there’s any complaint about this game it’s that combat can still be a little bit on the chaotic side if you choose the head to head route. When plans fall apart and you’re staring at multiple enemies in front of you, both Corvo and Emily feel underpowered, and fights can feel like you’re just mashing on the attack button hoping for a good outcome. There seems to be very little consistency or the ability to master head to head combat in Dishonored 2. While there are systems in place for parrying, it just doesn’t feel as good as it should or could. The good news is that this only happens as much as you let it and the results of head to head fights are incredible if you are the victor as they usually include bloody dismemberments of your adversaries. Alongside your supernatural abilities, both characters have a wide arsenal of weapons to use, which include a sword for melee combat, a gun, a crossbow, grenades, and multiple trap type weapons that can be used to even the odds.
As we’ve tried to accentuate, there are many ways to play Dishonored 2. Whether that’s in the way that you navigate objectives or the way that you build your character, there is a lot of variety here. This leads to something that many single player games just don’t get to, and that’s the replay factor of the game. This is heightened even further by offering two characters to play with. Though it’s worth noting that you choose at the very beginning of the game whether you want to play as either Corvo or Emily and you’ll be stuck with that decision for the game’s entirety. However, both campaigns are relatively the same, barring a few changes in terms of story building scenes, conversations, and the voice acting for both characters. These two separate campaigns don’t deviate from one another in terms of story, and I just didn’t want there to be too much confusion regarding the two characters. Whoever you choose, the way that the game differs is in the power-ups available to that character as they both have the unique aforementioned abilities.
At the very top of the list of “must play” games of 2016
While we’re slightly complaining about things, this Xbox One version of Dishonored 2 can’t possibly be the best way to play the game when it comes to visuals. Despite a beautiful aesthetic you can definitely feel the console holding this game back. Having played the original on PC, I know the beauty that this game is capable of, and it seems unachevieable on the Xbox One. Despite a brighter world, this version of the game can feel visually muddy at times, with plenty of texture pop-in across the whole game. It’s just not quite as sharp as its PC counterpart, but then again the framerate seems to stay more stable than what we’ve been hearing from the PC community that have had early access to the game. This isn’t a review of the PC version of Dishonored 2, but there have been plenty of unhappy campers when it comes to that version. The Xbox One version seems like a good compromise when looking at those complaints. None of my complaints about the the visual fidelity of the game detracted from my enjoyment with Dishonored 2 on console, if anything they are nitpicks at what is a near perfect single player experience.
Trumping the first in nearly every way, Dishonored 2 is at the very top of the list of “must play” first-person action games in 2016. Causing bloody chaos or sticking to the shadows, Arkane gives players the tools to run wild in this new world. This brand of gameplay combined with a beautiful presentation and plenty of customization leads to fun playthroughs of Dishonored 2 whether its your first time or your fifth.