Four years ago, Arkane Studios sent a ripple through the gaming world with the release of Dishonored, its brilliant, addictive and incredibly immersive steampunk stealth/action game. Now, following a re-release in remastered form, the series is back for another jaunt through Dunwall and its adjoining lands in the much-anticipated Dishonored 2.
Instead of picking up where its predecessor left off, Dishonored 2 does something different and takes us fifteen years into the future. It’s there where a now adult Emily Kaldwin rests assuredly atop her late mother’s throne, under careful protection from her father, Corvo Attano.
The game’s nine mission and approximately ten hour-long campaign picks up on a sacred day, during which both roses and ceremony are used to pay tribute to Dunwall’s former empress, Jessamine Kaldwin. Meant as a day of remembrance and respect, it’s a long-standing tradition that has gone uninterrupted for years. That isn’t to be the case this time around, though, as just as our new heroine plants a rose below her beloved mother’s picture, unexpected intruders burst into the throne room with mechanical bodyguards in tow.
At the centre of it all is Delilah Copperspoon, the gaunt-looking antagonist of Dishonored‘s “Brigmore Witches” expansion. The leader of a pack of powerful spell casters, she now claims to be the rightful heir to the throne that Emily sits atop, due to a creation story that marks her as Jessamine’s bastard sister. There’s no room for discussion, either, as Delilah has no interest in stepping aside or solving things peacefully, opting for a hostile takeover instead.
Depending on who you choose to play as — that being the familiar Corvo Attano, or his royal daughter, Emily — said interruption results in one of the two being frozen in stone and the other imprisoned under a suspiciously weak guard. However, to get the true experience, we recommend that you choose Emily from the get-go and play through what is essentially her story as the young heroine, herself. It’s the ideal way to stealthily (or violently) try to save Dunwall from its dark oppression, while also aiming to put an end to the exploits of the region’s Crownkiller; a serial murderer who’s taking out Emily’s enemies and framing the Empress in the process.
If you’re worried that playing as Emily may mark too much of a departure from the familiarity that is Corvo, worry not. Although the royal has new tricks up her sleeve, including a domino ability that can link enemies together and cause them to die in unison, she’s still very much like her father and stays true to the Dishonored formula. Her weapons are also mostly the same, and can be upgraded through the discovery of hidden blueprints and the use of the game’s several black market retailers.
In fact, Dishonored 2 is quite similar to what came before it, although that’s not a bad thing given how great the first game was. Don’t take this as a slight in any way or form, either, because while it retains everything we loved about its predecessor, this incredible sequel brings a lot of new tricks to the table. Levels seem larger and feel more sandbox-esque, progression provides lots of new and interesting avenues, and new enemies add unique complications into the mix. Simply put, it’s very evident that Arkane put a lot of thought into how they could not only bring back, but also improve and flesh out the world of Dishonored with Dishonored 2.
What I appreciate most about this game is how open-ended it is. Sure, there are defined objectives, but you’re always able to do things your own way. Whether you engage in combat or play as a stealthy ninja who abstains from murder is up to you, and it’s even possible to play without powers this time around. On top of that, secondary objectives reward exploration, while main goals often come with alternatives, such as putting a ruler’s doppelganger into power by stealing his medallion and accusing him of craziness. Keeping targets alive can also aid your cause by providing you with additional information, which is always helpful.
The other truly impressive thing is how different each level feels. Instead of being an open world game, Dishonored 2 gives that partial effect while retaining a mostly linear design. Centred within it all are a vessel and a skiff, which Emily and Corvo use for transportation and a home base of sorts, and a brand new city called Karnaca. It’s there where most of Dishonored 2‘s campaign takes place, as Emily seeks to learn how to overtake her evil aunt once and for all while dealing with Karnaca’s multitude of problems in the process.
Karnaca, itself, is a Spanish-influenced and sand-inspired city, which provides a nice contrast to the darkened streets and alleyways of the more industrial Dunwall. It’s full of its own problems and relics, too, including lots of hidden runes and bone charms, the latter of which can be dismantled and put towards user-crafted variations. One of the most notable differences between the two cities, however, is that Dunwall’s diseased rats and resulting rat plague have been replaced by devilish bloodflies that love nothing more than feasting on the flesh of both the living and the dead. Steer clear of those assholes, because they’re a frustrating nuisance that can lead to the loss of a good chuck of health once all is said and done.
Of course, player choice ends up playing into the final outcome, and it’s interesting to see how everything falls into place as the end credits prepare to roll. While not as choice-driven as something like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, it’s nice that Dishonored 2 offers consequences that matter, which is a nice way to promote replay value. Granted, its two playable characters and open-ended levels already promote quite a bit of replayability even before that’s taken into account.
Presentation-wise, Arkane’s latest masterpiece is another treat for the eyes and ears, with richly detailed visuals, great sound work and lots of design variety. Each region you visit has its own identity, including a very memorable stage in which you must manipulate the past and the present in order to learn about Delilah’s resurgence. Plus, while performance issues have been complained about in the PC version of the game, my time spent playing through the Xbox One version was mostly uneventful. Sure, there was a bit of slowdown when a ton of enemies rushed me at once, but nothing major. The most annoying problem I encountered related to the imperfect auto-save mechanic, which caused me to lose upwards of an hour of playtime.
Word to the wise: Save manually every so often.
It’s also worth noting that this sequel once again boasts a very impressive voice cast. Said list begins with Stephen Russell and Erica Luttrell, who skillfully bring both Corvo and Emily to life, then continues with the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Rockwell, Robin Lord Taylor and Rosario Dawson.
Needless to say, Dishonored 2 really impressed me, much like the first game did back in 2012. Although it stays true to its roots, this is a very impressive and intelligently fleshed out sequel, which is sure to please both returning fans and newcomers alike. In fact, it’s not only in the running for my Game of the Year nomination, but is also something I consider as being one of the best games of this current generation.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Dishonored 2 had a lot of high expectations to live up to, and it does so admirably. Not only is it a great game in its own right, but it also exists as a fantastic sequel that expands upon its predecessor in multiple memorable ways.