When a sequel to Dishonored was announced last Summer, I was sceptical that Arkane Studios would be able to recapture what they were able to create with the original. With its immersive world building, unique gameplay and an engaging story of betrayal and revenge, Dishonored rightfully earned the title of ‘Game of the Year’ in 2012.
With its second instalment, the developers are trying to recreate much of the first game’s magic. This is particularly noticeable in the first couple of hours of the game which largely feel like a rehash of its predecessor. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Because the first Dishonored was so groundbreaking and revered, it feels like a privilege to be able to enter this world again and explore the lore of the kingdom. However, the success of the first instalment is also Dishonored 2’s most prominent challenge; standing on its own and emerging from the shadows of the first game.
A significant difference that sets Dishonored 2 apart from the original is the ability to choose which protagonist you want to lead you through the campaign. You can either choose returning assassin, Corvo Attano, or Empress Emily Kaldwin who is all grown up since we last saw her.
The premise of the story is that Emily’s popularity as Empress has plummeted due to a series of murders of her political adversaries. The people suspect Emily and Corvo of being responsible for these killings and are all too happy for her estranged aunt, Delilah, to dethrone her. With this, we are thrown into the main story where you must clear your name and find evidence to prove Delilah isn’t all she says she is.
Playing as Emily seemed like a natural transition for the story; especially if you have already played the original as Corvo. Each character has their own play style which is evident. Emily feels more agile but has weaker hits whereas Corvo feels slower but much more forceful. In addition, they both have their own set of unique magical abilities that are unlocked throughout the game which is one of Dishonored’s standout elements to the gameplay.
Emily’s set of powers are largely different to Corvos; despite similarities between her ‘far reach’ ability with his ‘blink’ power; which is essentially short distance teleportation. As you collect hidden runes within the levels, you can unlock and upgrade new abilities including Emily’s ‘Domino’ power which psychically links various foes to share the same fate and her ‘Doppelganger’ ability.
Dishonored 2 takes us from the rat-infested streets of Dunwall to the port city of Karnaca which visually provides a mediterranean city aesthetic to Dunwall’s more gothic visuals. Karnaca is beautifully realised and despite each level being more self-contained than open world, the freedom you have to explore and work out any number of paths to complete a mission and collect those much-needed runes is glorious.
Each level is beautifully designed and offers some unique puzzles. The Clockwork Mansion in the fourth mission in particular is a standout as it requires of lot initiative and puzzle solving to maneuver throughout the level. This is what makes Dishonored head and shoulders above other stealth game titles; it feels like an intelligently made game that doesn’t spoon feed us the answers.
Similarly to the first offering, Dishonored 2 allows the player to choose their own playstyle – either adopt a more stealth approach or flat out fighting your way through a level. I leaned more towards the stealth option and as I was trying to remain inconspicuous within a level, I would discover hidden clues and secrets that opened up even more paths to complete your missions. The number of ways for you to navigate a level really does feel infinite.
Each character is equipped with various weapons, explosives and gear to act as tools for your preferred style. Likewise, your mystical abilities can also be used as a method to kill or simply incapacitate your enemies. For example, when using ‘Domino’ you can choose to either violently behead a guard, and therefore some of his less fortunate colleagues, or you can simply shoot him with a sleeper dart and let them all drift off into a peaceful slumber. This level of freedom has always been a staple for Dishonored.
Dishonored 2 is one of the best stealth games of the year. Offering a gorgeous backdrop, engrossing story and intelligent game design, it is one of my favourites of 2016. The ability to play as two characters with their own unique abilities gives it massive replayability value; as does the sheer number of items to collect, side quests to complete and paths to explore.
Unfortunately for the game, it will undoubtedly be compared to its predecessor. Similar to when an artist or band releases a critical masterpiece, they are faced with the sophomore curse accompanied with so much hype and expectation that it will be impossible to live up to. That’s not to say the follow up won’t be great, but that it will leave some people disappointed.
Nevertheless, whilst the game may not do much to offer anything particularly new from the original, it is a solid attempt at refining the 2012 hit. It perfectly builds upon the world and characters it first introduced us to with the original and further explores the gameplay mechanics and mythology behind what made the first Dishonored so great.