In 2012, Dishonored felt like the stealth action game that we had always wanted. With a distinct style, entertaining stealth-based game-play, and a world that reacted to your decision to either kill or spare enemies, Dishonored was slickly produced, unique, and fun.
Dishonored 2 mostly follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, and in doing so stumbles in a number of the same potholes. Yet, it doesn’t fail to deliver fun in the form of a visually arresting, moody romp that combines complex, interwoven levels with an emphasis on player choice. When it sticks to the formula set out by its fondly remembered older sibling, Dishonored 2 delights. Surprisingly, it’s where this sequel chooses to innovate that the experience loses some of its lustre.
The first addition to the formula is the ability to choose your character. Dishonored 2 gives you the option of playing as Emily Kaldwin, daughter of the slain empress of Dunwall, or Corvo Attano, the protagonist of the first game and royal protector of that same slain empress. Framed, once again, for murder, it’s up to Corvo and Emily to set the record straight by chopping up — or merely choking out — a legion of grunts, goons, and ne’er-do-wells.
As with the first game, Dishonored 2’s story is just enough to lend some necessary gravitas to proceedings as you skulk through levels cracking skulls and scoffing entire plates of fruit with abandon. There are plenty of books to peruse, audiographs to listen to, and incidental dialogue to overhear as you lurk and loiter in darkened corners. All of these add a much-needed sense of place to the game, and are consistently well-written and acted, if not ground-breakingly so.
Emily and Corvo each have their own set of abilities, meaning they’re able to approach scenarios in different ways. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to forgo Corvo’s tried-and-tested methods to take advantage of Emily’s more indirect tactics.
Corvo retains the classic abilities you’ll recognise from the first game. Most memorably, he is able to pause time, rushing through areas unnoticed or configuring elaborate and entertaining death traps for unwitting foes. His possession ability, meanwhile, allows you to take control of rats, fish, hounds, and humans to infiltrate through areas unseen. All of these abilities present clear strategic advantages. Emily’s abilities, on the other hand, seem to pale in comparison.
For instance, it’s possible for Emily to transform into a shadowy apparition, increasing her movement speed and reducing the likelihood that enemies will spot her. However, when Corvo stops time, there’s no chance of being found at all, making Emily’s ability feel less powerful as a result. Emily’s saving grace is the domino ability, which causes linked enemies to sustain identical injuries, no matter which one you attack. This can lead to some fun encounters, such as tranquillising a squad of patrolling guards simultaneously, or killing an elite guard by linking her to Emily’s summon-able doppelgänger before slaying it in secret.
It’s easy to suppose that each character represents how players might differently approach the game; that Corvo may be apt for a high-chaos play-through, while Emily’s reliance on subterfuge makes her the right choice for a more stealthy, non-lethal campaign. Realistically, Corvo’s abilities adapt perfectly to both play-styles, while Emily’s seem to cater primarily for the latter, making her appeal unclear.
Both characters have a quick teleportation ability. It feels more difficult than it should be to aim this spell, leading to instances where you fall off ledges to your death, or into the sight of enemies, even when the given indicator seemed to suggest you would make the jump handily. Should you care about completing levels without detection, you can expect a fair share of reloads to come from fumbling with the controls until you’re more practised in judging these less-than-ideal jumps. Of course, there are players who came to master the original Dishonored’s arsenal of abilities. There’s no doubt that with similar time investment, it’s possible to pull off magnificent feats of assassination in Dishonored 2 as well.
Fortunately, Dishonored 2 inherits and expands upon the fantastic level design of the original Dishonored. The environments you’ll encounter feel thick with detail and reward your exploration with plenty of loot and lore. As you weave your way through ornate corridors, destitute homes infested with hideous bloodflies, and the offal-soaked streets that make up the gorgeous coastal city of Karnaca, you’ll be doubtlessly be satisfied by the wealth of options available to you. Will you climb through a window and take a risky shortcut through a populated apartment block? Or perhaps you had better scale the roofs, keeping aloft of your foes. Dishonored 2’s dense levels consistently present numerous interesting avenues to choose from, and provide the sense that you are charting your own way through a level, rather than feeling leashed to the straits of an intended path.
As beautiful as it is to witness Dishonored 2’s environments in first person, the game does not fully overcome the limitations of utilising a first-person perspective in this genre. A limited field of view in levels as densely packed and intricate as these can start to feel burdensome. Staying hidden relies largely on ensuring that a level’s many enemies have no clear line of sight to you. Managing this as you navigate levels — particularly when fiddly teleportation is added to the mix — starts to feel more cumbersome than it should. I can’t help but feel like a third-person perspective would have allayed these problems — and would have made your choice of character more resonating, to boot. In the end, though, it is still hugely gratifying when you pull off a caper in absolute stealth. Thankfully, this is enough to outweigh any potential frustration.
There remains nothing quite like the Dishonored franchise. Though the story of this second instalment could have been more impactful, and the game-play, though expanded upon, has not necessarily improved, it’s still a joy to return to the menacing Empire of the Isles. I don’t regret my time with Dishonored 2, though it’s impossible to come away from the game without feeling that Arkane Studios may have erred in choosing to broaden the scope of Dishonored 2’s offerings instead of redoubling the original game’s unexpected, brilliant foundations.
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