Dishonored 2 – The Right Decision

Remember back in 2012 when this new first-person stealth game came along with a groundbreaking choice & chaos system, presented with the most incredible steampunk visual design and won more awards than I have cups of tea in a year? Meet its bigger, better and more refined brother Dishonored 2, released just last week by Bethesda & Arkane Studios.

Having spent around a week with the game on Xbox One, totalling around 13 hours of playtime since release, I’ve had more than enough time to weigh up the various parts of Dishonored 2‘s DNA, not only on the game’s own merits but versus that of its predecessor. In this time, I’ve managed to complete the campaign once on Hard difficulty, which took around 10 hours, and start another playthrough. It should be noted right off that it took no encouragement to start this second playthrough, whilst I found plenty of accomplishment in completing the first run, starting the second run hasn’t felt like a replay in the slightest – rather a continuation of a game I’m nowhere near finished with. The lack of a New Game + mode at launch was a small letdown but one that will be short-lived, as it has been announced that this will be coming in December.

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Who will you choose for your first run?

Dishonored 2 picks up more or less where we left off at the end of the first title’s gameplay sequences, plus fifteen years. Emily Kaldwin has taken up her late mother’s mantle as Empress of the Isles, a region troubled by plagues and infestations of both the natural and political environments. Alongside her is her Royal Protector and father Corvo Attano, protagonist of the first Dishonored, a man now the subject of scrutiny from the public due to a series of high-profile killings, the targets all people who have spoken out against or pose a threat to Emily. With Corvo’s history as a masked assassin and the nature of the killings, the rumour is that Corvo has been set upon these targets by Emily in order to preserve her reign, a rumour which has created a culture of apprehension among the Empress’ subjects – one that will fuel the events of the game to serious effect.

Without giving much away, the beginning sequence opens on a political attack on Emily’s throne by a mysterious character claiming to be the true heir to the throne, enforcing that claim with supernatural abilities and effectively detaining one of either Corvo or Emily as part of the attack. The player is given a decision of who to play as, at which point the other is put to one side by the plot, and the rest of the game plays through the eyes of the chosen character, now alone and forced to flee Dunwall for the port city of Karnaca. This was an excellent way for Arkane to bring things to the next level, because despite the fact that Dishonored gave the player an enormous amount of choice and customisation of abilities, adding a whole new player character virtually doubles all possibilities. The main essence of the story is virtually the same for both characters, although some carefully considered writing & dialogue still allows the alternate path to feel somewhat different. Where the choice of two characters really comes into its own is the array of abilities each has available to them.

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Far Reach is just one of several powerful abilities available to Emily.

Players of Dishonored will be very familiar with Corvo’s set of abilities, which are more or less the same as they were – Blink, Rat Swarm, Bend Time and so on. However, those who choose Emily will be pleasantly surprised with an entirely different set of active abilities such as Far Reach, her own version of Blink which is less a teleport and more a lightning-fast grapnel gun style of locomotion. Other abilities Emily will gain after a visit from everyone’s favourite Outsider include Shadow Walk, which transforms her temporarily into a ground-level spectral being which moves quickly and more stealthily and has the ability to dispatch enemies Chewbacca-style with limb removal. My personal favourite ability is Domino, which allows Emily to link up the fates multiple foes, meaning that when one is decapitated, the heads of as many as three other foes will also immediately roll off their shoulders. One could even get creative and link their Doppelganger, another of Emily’s abilities which creates a distracting duplicate of herself, to an enemy, then turn around and coldly murder their new twin sister.

The 10 main chapters of the game offer around an hour or more’s gameplay each, each boasting not only a wide array of routes and methods of tackling the objectives at hand, but a diverse offering of environments and themes. This consistently fresh journey through various territories in The Isles means that players will find each mission just as memorable, often because of a particular signature element each chapter offers up. Sometimes it’s a mansion that can change layouts of entire rooms at the pull of a lever, others make their name by introducing a unique piece of equipment or environmental effects which heavily impact the way the level plays. The plot itself is somewhat similar to Dishonored, with a new antagonist well, dishonoring the protagonist, setting them off on a path to tear apart their operation one person at a time. Whilst it doesn’t do a whole lot differently, Dishonored 2 throws in a few new twists and surprises, and on the whole is still a very enjoyable story to follow. Various letters and books enrich the lore in true Bethesda fashion and should be praised for detail, absolutely look to pick these over the course of the game.

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Tackling these Clockwork Soldiers is a whole new ball game.

As for the actual level design, it’s clear that this second entry in the series has been held to the same high standard of flexibility and variety of strategy choices. Infiltrating a palace? Climb over the roof, in through the basement, possess a rat and go in via the drain, sneak through a second-floor window, ride the train in, or charge through the front door guns blazing.

Wait, guns blazing in a stealth game? Yep, much like its predecessor, Dishonored 2 offers choice not just in route and abilities, but in playstyle via the Chaos system. It’s entirely possible to go through the whole game unseen without harming a single guard, or for the psychos of our society, killing everyone in sight with swords, razor traps, grenades, crossbows and pistols as loudly as possible. Each mission rates players in the end-level screen on a serious of points, including the broad “Chaos” term. Two factors affect your Chaos rating, lethality and stealth. A low-chaos run will involve, as you’d expect, little killing and detection, whilst high-chaos will be attributed to a player with a heavy step and a thirst for blood. The way a player conducts themselves will affect not only the story outcome but the environment in multiple ways. High-chaos runs will exhibit a more paranoid, fearful general public as observed through dialogue and behaviour, plus a much more obvious consequence – bloodflies, lots and lots of bloodflies…

What are bloodflies you ask? They pretty much do what it says on the tin. The spiritual successor to Dishonored‘s rat plague, bloodflies are Karnaca’s local infestation, and a particularly grisly one. Whilst on paper it may sound like the rats have just been unplugged and bloodflies plugged in to fill the gap, these are an entirely new beast with a whole new form of pain to bring to the table.

As you explore Karnaca, you’ll become very familiar with these guys, as it’s very easy to stumble across a building virtually closed off to the public due to the heavy infestation of bloodflies within. These bugs hang around in swarms near nests, and whilst they can be killed easily, they will continue to be replaced by more until the nests nearby are destroyed, whether it be by distant incendiary bolts, or a more dangerous, personal attack by sword. The flies themselves have a particular set of behaviours, alone they’ll do very little and just buzz around, but gathered together they’ll become hostile to anything nearby, especially if it moves quickly, and trust me, you don’t want to irritate these vicious swarms. Don’t be a nearby corpse either, they get the worst treatment, as bloodflies will quickly embed themselves into the flesh, build up and then move away as the corpse bursts open to release a whole new swarm, effectively a makeshift nest. Nasty stuff.

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The stunning vistas of Karnaca are a stark contrast to Dunwall’s environment.

Now of course one of the biggest credits to Dishonored‘s name was the truly incredible visual design that brought Dunwall to life, and there’s not much to say beyond the fact that no corners have been cut in giving Karnaca the same treatment. The port city is bathed in brilliant sunlight, shaded and shadowed with genuine care to give a sense of depth to the environments, with a consistent colour palette that differs from Dunwall and immediately tells you where you are. I had the pleasure of meeting Art Director Sébastien Mitton in September and hearing him talk about the expert processes and inspirations that made Karnaca a truly unique location with best-in-business design and a personality that doesn’t even need dialogue to tell a story of its own. I would absolutely urge you to head here and give this presentation by Mitton a watch, because I haven’t got enough room in this review to praise the visual design to a depth it deserves.

Overall, Dishonored 2 is everything I had hoped it to be and should be more than enough to satisfy any fan of the first game. It’s clear this sequel was a labour of love by the team at Arkane and they deserve all the success it will undoubtedly enjoy. It’s increasingly rare and a very welcome surprise to pick up a sequel to what many though was a one-hit-wonder like Dishonored and be genuinely pleased with the experience, and Dishonored 2 is just that. Aside from a run-of-the-mill storyline and the current lack of a New Game + mode, there is really very little I can fault this game for.

Players will very quickly forget the simplicity of the story as they create stories and memories of their own whilst trying to tackle the environments of Karnaca in sixteen different ways. Dishonored 2 has oodles of replayability, verified the fact that, despite being a very impatient player with a short attention span, I have plans to complete around 5 different runs of this game, which in itself would amount to 50 hours of gameplay. I have no reservations in naming Dishonored 2 my personal Game of the Year, and in a year with some seriously strong contenders I hope that’s all I would have to say on the matter. Arkane have set a seriously high bar to beat if they ever want to add an extra title to the series, but then that’s what I said with Dishonored, so maybe that says it all.

The Good The Bad Score
– Best-in-business art design – Lack of New Game Plus at launch 9.5/10
– Bigger & better array of gameplay options – Story held back by predictable, familiar plot framework
– Replayable to the extreme

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#TeamCorvo or #TeamEmily? High-Chaos or Low-Chaos?

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