Dishonored 2 – Review
PC, PS4, Xbox One
The original Dishonored set up the wonderful world of Dunwall brilliantly. A masterful mix of industrial and magic creating a new world that was both intriguing and wildly dangerous. You were cast as Corvo Attano, the royal protector to the empress of Dunwall and her young daughter. All seems well until a foul plot is hatched to assassinate the empress and pin the killing on you. Now disgraced you must overcome the villains and redeem yourself, the method of which is completely up to you. Dunwall is both your playground in this story of revenge and a living breathing character of its own, changing with your actions and reflecting your choices.
To prepare myself for Dishonored 2 I revisited the first game and completed it without killing a single person. This allowed me to get my head into the space required to tackle a new chapter in this breathtaking world. This new adventure lets you take charge of with Corvo returned from the original or Emily Kaldwin, the empress’ daughter who also happens to be the Corvo’s child and the current ruler at the beginning of the game. Each choice has their own set of abilities and since I had just played through an entire game as Corvo I chose Emily to shake things up.
As with the first game you are the victim of a plot against the throne and as a result are cast into the streets of the new playable area Karnaca. This new outing is set fifteen years after the great rat plague that was occurring during Corvo’s first adventure and you can feel this history seeping from every set piece of this living breathing game world. Civilians putter about tending to their daily lives, dock workers slack off and discuss current events while guards pose an ever-present threat to both the player and any pedestrian they decide to shake down.
Luckily you won’t have to face this treacherous world unprepared. Both characters have access to an arsenal of pistols, crossbows and grenades each with various forms and effects, from being able to put an enemy to sleep to immolating them in flame. Along with the choice of projectiles, you also have your trusty collapsible sword to either stealthily slit the throat of your oppressors or charge blade first into gruesome death animations where limbs and heads go flying. You are constantly reminded that you have choices and that really is the strong point that this series has over many other narrative-driven adventures, you can really make it your own.
Early on you are approached once again by The Outsider who offers you magic powers to aid you on your quest. You can turn him down for another layer of challenge trying to run through the game without powers adds another layer of difficulty that I will have to leave for another playthrough. You start off the ability to teleport short distances and are given a beating heart with a variety of charms hanging off it that directs you to bone charms and runes which can be used to upgrade your character and unlock more powers such as possession and the ability to see through walls.
I found the method of pulling out the heart to go on a scavenger hunt through levels while I was trying to avoid enemies absolutely tedious, once the heart is equipped you can see icons on your heads up display pointing out where you can find the closest runes but I think an experience and leveling system would have felt more rewarding especially if you gave the player the same amount of experience for either knocking out or evading a foe as you would earn from killing them. Perhaps if you were given rewards based on the stat screen that displays at the end of each mission, as long as one play style was not favoured over another.
The level design is great, each mission takes place in a vastly different area to the last and the designers have embraced the world with a sense of verticality that allows players to go nuts with their powers. The clockwork mansion level, for example, has puzzles that involve shifting the walls to progress and avoid the deadly clockwork soldiers who I felt were almost unfairly overpowered if you didn’t happen to have a lot of items that help mitigate them. Arkane Studios must have gone mad playtesting these levels because there is so much that could happen depending on how the player chooses to tackle each puzzle.
With a narrative filled with so many choices you really start to feel ownership of the world and characters in Dishonored 2. The level design will be something I use as an example of excellence in first person games and it already has me wanting to go back to experiment with more builds and tactics.
Matthew Ballinger is an independent game designer and production specialist. He has an unrelenting passion for all things game theory, mechanics, game development and academia.