Welcome back to the Empire of the Isles, some fifteen years after the events of 2012’s Dishonored unfolded, when protagonist Corvo Attano fought his way through throngs of flat-faced enemies to save the slain empress’ daughter, Emily Kaldwin.
Dishonored 2 opens with Emily as the Empress of the Isles – but Emily’s an altogether more formidable ruler than her mother. Over the last fifteen years, Corvo’s trained Emily to protect herself from assassins. Rapidly, though, the familiar themes of treachery and betrayal raise their heads, and Emily and Corvo find themselves on the run and having to clear their names.
Interestingly, you can choose to play as either Emily or Corvo. There’s no character switching mid-game, though – your choice is locked for the duration of the game. The character you choose is the one you’ll have for the entirety of your first-person adventure in the Dickensian steampunk-inspired world.
Your choice between Corvo and Emily is more than cosmetic – each character will develop different abilities throughout the story, potentially affecting the way you play. Whilst Dishonored 2 is a deeply satisfying experience on first play through, the opportunity to run through again with a different character and different abilities gives the game great replay value. Until you’ve played the game with both characters, and experienced their differing approaches and viewpoints, you can’t consider your own Dishonored 2 experience complete.
Developer Arkane has embraced the ‘play your way’ philosophy, and has given the player the power to do just that. In the early stages you’ll be wise to avoid too much direct combat, but it’s not long before you are truly equipped to tackle every scene and scenario however you want.
You can slink into a room and take out all the enemies without them knowing – there are non-lethal options new to this sequel. Or you can smash through the front door using all the powers in your arsenal and devastate your foes. Or, if you really want, you can complete a level as a ghost, not being seen or heard and leaving no trace, like some Victorian-era ninja.
When it comes to your chosen play style, you’ll not be short of dark powers with which to play – if you choose to accept them.
Corvo can blink – traverse instantly from one spot to the next, a useful infiltration tool, or bend time, to slow or even stop the passage of time. Corvo also has a reworked Dark Vision ability that can identify enemies through walls, allowing you plan the perfect takedown or avoid them entirely. Emily can mesmerise enemies, or employ a doppelganger to distract, confuse or assassinate enemies.
Corvo’s and Emily’s powers are similar enough to ensure neither character has the edge over the other, but different enough to make the experience of playing with each character worthwhile. Their abilities are universally fun, without ever leaving you feeling overpowered.
Of course, you can eschew the help of The Outsider – the mysterious entity who grants these abilities – altogether, and rely on quick wits and a quicker blade to get the job done.
Throughout Dishonored 2’s story, there’s a wonderful internal consistency that makes the world feel real. The Empire of the Isles is a land fuelled by oil from industrial-scale whale fishing, and the cities of Dunwall and Karnaca feel like fully realised places within that world. There’s a wonderful density to the locations Emily or Corvo explore, and no end of rooftops to sneak about on, buildings to infiltrate, containers to be rifled through, or runes and bone charms to be found.
Combat is better-handled than before to, swift and brutal, whilst the new non-lethal takedowns only add to your in-game options.
The mix of Victorian-era industry, steampunk, and arcane magic feels beautifully balanced, and together offer a unique and compelling world to explore, and interesting ways of doing so.
Technologically, the leap to this generation of consoles has allowed Arkane to flex its muscles. At first glance, this might not be apparent – in many locations there’s a faded, and murky feel, but it’s a tone that suits the seedy underbelly of the cities in which much of the game takes place.
This palette works wonderfully well with the lighting model, and shafts of light regularly penetrate the gloom of alleyways in which our protagonists creep. We’re exploring a world riddled with poverty, hunger and gangs; the deprivation highlighted by the juxtaposition of the wealth of the few – Arkane’s created a memorable and lasting atmosphere.
Enemy AI has been improved, too. Whether you’re facing street thugs or highly trained military officers, you’re much more likely this time round to be spotted, and have the alarm raised. This also makes the game world feel far more real, and offers a significant challenge boost from the first game. You need to be much more aware of your surroundings – all too often we were concentrating on evading nearby enemies, only to have an unnoticed guard in the middle-distance spot us and raise the alarm. It seems there are no longer any short-sighted guards in the Empire of the Isles!
Not only does the game offer a stiffer challenge this time ‘round, there’s the option to replay each level to challenge yourself. This allows for some experimentation, too – and the opportunity to correct your mistakes.
All in all, Dishonored 2 works fantastically well. The world Arkane has created is a triumph of detail, characters – both protagonists and NPCs – are fully realised, and the freedom you have to ‘play your way’ is greater than ever before. Dishonored 2 delivers a masterpiece in storytelling, creating a revenge tale as good as you’ll find anywhere.
Arkane has taken everything that made the first game so good, and simply added to it to create one of the most enjoyable games of the year.
Dishonored 2 is available from the Store, priced £49.99.
A masterpiece revenge thriller, effortlessly stylish and detailed.
The world Arkane has created for Dishonored 2 is a triumph of detail, characters – both protagonists and NPCs – are fully realised, and the freedom you have to ‘play your way’ is greater than ever before. Dishonored 2 delivers a masterpiece in storytelling, creating a revenge tale as good as you’ll find anywhere. Both characters have their own unique style which adds to the replay value, and you truly can choose to approach the adventure in any way you want. This is a must buy!