Two witches natter to my right, whilst one stands guard idly below. Meanwhile, a clockwork soldier patrols menacingly, the heavy clunks remind me it’s still nearby. From my perch on a chandelier I can see a great deal, but I still can’t get through that door without being spotted. Swiftly I execute my plan, I link the three witches with Domino, an ability that lets you link the fates of human enemies, wait for the clockwork soldier to move away and then I make my move. Diving on the lone witch I quickly knock her unconscious, this sends a chain reaction to the other two, knocking them out cold as well. Now time is of the essence. Using my Far Reach ability I’m able to grab the sleeping bodies of the witches on the right and pull them towards me, I make quick work of putting the bodies where no one will find them then return to my chandelier, ready to deal with that blasted clockwork git.
No playthroughs are ever the same in Dishonored 2. Developer Arkane Studios has made sure that the core of the original is still there, and very much improved. The ‘play your way style’ stealth/murder/ghost-em-up builds on what the original did so well, this time without judging you at all for any of your actions, but all the while making sure you’re aware that there are consequences to your actions. Good or bad, all your actions will have consequences, whether that’s leaving a door open, or meddling with time itself (we’ll get onto that shortly).
The story for Dishonored 2 picks up 15 years after the event of the first game and assumes you didn’t let young Emily Kaldwin fall to her death (because that was an option). A young empress, Emily is filled with uncertainty about her reign and would rather be elsewhere. On the anniversary of her mother’s assassination, Emily’s supernatural aunt appears – it’s a weird family – and stages a coup. Things quickly escalate and you then you must make the first important decision of many; do you play as Corvo Attano, Royal Protector and Emily’s father, or do you play as Empress Emily Kaldwin herself? You’re stuck with this decision once it’s made, and while it doesn’t affect the story too much, it does affect the arsenal of powers that you get access to.
Corvo returns with the same powers he had in the original Dishonored, with a few changes and extras to help him out, making him a bit more stealth focused. Emily however, has a completely new set of supernatural toys to play with, some like Far Reach function similar to Corvo’s Blink ability, only rather than teleporting to a location Emily pulls herself to it using long tendril arm. This isn’t the only difference, the Far Reach ability can also be used to interact with the world, pulling items (and enemies once it’s upgraded) towards you. This can completely change the way you interact with the world around you, giving rise to new opportunities and chances to pull off complex and badass manoeuvres. From there you make your way through the expansive levels in whatever way you see fit.
Dishonored 2 gives you total freedom in every level. Letting you choose exactly how you want to engage a situation, if you even want to engage it at all. Players are given vast levels, filled with enemies, allies, details, secrets and lore about the world to explore to their heart’s content. A huge toolbox full of supernatural powers gives an almost infinite range of possibilities for players to move around the world or engage in fights.
Dishonored doesn’t do a lot of handholding when it comes to these possibilities. Once it’s done giving you the basics, it sets you on your merry way to discover the best ways to explore, stealth or murder your way through the landscape. A great deal of things are left up to you to discover on your own and experimenting with combining powers can lead to some very advanced or devastating tactics. For example, the relic that lets you see collectables throughout the world, the heart of Emily’s mother (told you it was a weird family) also gives advice about the world and reacts to your actions, but if aimed at a person it tells you their secrets and deeds. Finding out a guard gave his only pair of good boots to a homeless man makes it quite hard to mercilessly cut him in half. By not directly telling you about all of the secrets you’re able to craft your own stories throughout the world and make discoveries all on your own.
One of the first things that strikes you about Dishonored 2 (apart from the still comically large hands that everybody seems to have) is the level of detail that Arkane Studios has put into its world. Apart from the information that is found in books, journals and newspapers that fully fleshes out the whole world of Dishonored, Arkane Studios has also filled the world with stories that bring the world to life. Whether that is having to use clues to find out when a shopkeeper’s wedding anniversary is, to getting the code to a safe, or finding the aftermath of a card game gone bad, the world is filled with stories that make its inhabitants feel alive.
This attention to detail is also found in the level design in Dishonored 2; each level is a character in itself, each very different from the next. The unique look and feel of the streets of Dunwall, with their bleak towers and skyline are a far cry from the bright and opulent surroundings of some of the grand estates of Karnaca. Each level has its own personality and unique mechanics. Two of the more interesting of these are the Jindosh manor and Stilton’s mansion. The first is a clockwork labyrinth of shifting rooms and corridors; the entire house is one big mechanism that changes around you, making navigating difficult, unless you manage to get behind the walls and then can work your way through the inside of the manor, avoiding patrols to reach your target.
The second wonderful level is Stilton’s mansion. Since the owner disappeared three years ago the whole mansion fell into disrepair, and now wild Wolfhounds and Bloodflies occupy the decaying estate. However, early on that mission you gain access to the timepiece – this device lets you move from the ruined present to three years ago before it all went wrong. Suddenly the mansion is in its prime, walls haven’t collapsed, obstacles don’t stand in your way, but guards now patrol the corridors. Using the timepiece you can instantly switch back and forth between past and present to get around guards and obstacles, and can see into the other time with the timepiece.
This also feeds into one of Dishonored’s core values, consequences. Changing things in the past can also change them in the present. This can include smaller things, as well as changing the very timeline itself. Making sure the owner never disappears changes the present, it no longer is a dilapidated ruin, but instead alters the present so that the mansion is now occupied with workers and guards. This is just one of the biggest examples of how choices can alter the world around you for better or worse.
At its heart Dishonored 2 takes the solid parts of the first game and nail what wasn’t perfect before. It is a joy to play and movement, stealth and combat feel incredibly satisfying. The world is amazing and the level of detail is breath-taking and immersive. Allowing players the absolute choice in how they want to reach their goals, and letting them tell their own story is fantastic. Although I did have a few issues with Far Reach being a little fiddly to get where I wanted to go and an inclusion of new game plus would’ve been nice (although Arkane Studios do plan on adding this shortly for free), Dishonored 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece and I cannot wait to run another several playthroughs.