When the original Dishonored came out, it instantly became one of my favorite games. To date, I have played it six time with my most recent playthrough being a ‘Mostly Flesh and Steel’ run where you cannot upgrade any supernatural powers. Dishonored made such big waves because the game is welcoming of many different play styles. Each level is designed to accommodate each player’s unique approach to accomplishing the task at hand. Methods of achieving your goal (through lethal or nonlethal means) are reflected not only in either an optimistic or grim ending, but in the world as well. Dishonored set the bar, for me, as to what makes a stealth-game exceptional. So Dishonored 2 had big shoes to fill.
With that in mind, I believe Dishonored 2 does everything a sequel should do.
Sequels too often replace gameplay elements that made the original game successful with new ideas aimed at making the game feel fresh. A lot of times, this damages the integrity of the game and corrupts what people loved about playing it. A good sequel should always build upon what made its predecessor stand out in a sea of games, and add new dynamics that expand the original’s already established base. Dishonored 2 does a really great job of this. Arkane Studios did not omit anything from the original and instead seemed to have focus on adding new and exciting things to the game. Not only does this make Dishonored 2 easy and intuitive to pick up, it makes the game feel like it is efficiently building upon the original.
The concept of the first Dishonored game is a story about redemption. The leading protagonist, Corvo, is framed for murdering the Empress. In the chaos and confusion, the Daughter of the Empress, Emily, is kidnapped. Corvo tasks himself with unraveling the conspiracy and returning Emily to her rightful place as heir to throne. After the events of the original, Dishonored 2 picks up 15 years later during the time where Emily is still learning (and struggling) to be an empress. Upon the anniversary of her mother’s death, our villain Delilah reveals herself and announces that she is the rightful heir to the throne. Her grounds to this claim is that she is actually the long-lost sister of the previous empress. In a show of force Delilah takes the throne and disposes of both Emily and Corvo (who had resumed his role as the Royal Protector). All evidence points to the conspiracy being arranged in the capital city of the southernmost continent: Karnaca. The player is given the choice early in the game to play as either Emily or Corvo, and whomever they choose sets sail to Karnaca to dispose of the influences behind the coup. The story of Dishonored is fun and engaging. The reason behind the need to dispatch certain targets is communicated clearly, and methods for removing them in a nonlethal way can be discovered logically. My largest issue with the story (and the game) is that the ending doesn’t feel entirely satisfying considering how high the stakes are in the main conflict. Seeing how your choices affect the ending is one of my favorite features of the series, but the overall effect they have on either a positive or negative ending do not feel like they have enough weight behind them to affect the story in the ways that they do.
Karnaca is visually very stunning. Dunwall, the capital of the empire is inspired by Great Britain during the 1800’s. Karnaca instead feels more foreign, and I think it seems more Italian in looks. Karnaca has evidence of an industrial revolution being underway while at the same time there is a beautiful overgrowth of trees and nature that distinguishes it from any setting I have ever played. Thanks to the advancements made by Karnaca’s Royal Inventor (who you will meet), the city has a handful of technological contraptions that you would not see in Dunwall. Things like windmills and rail carriages around the city makes it feel like it is on the cusp of reaching the next step in achieving a new technological age, and that makes exploring it feel very rewarding.
Dishonored 2 received a much-needed graphical improvement. Where the original did not look as bad during the time that it was released, the sharp, thick lines and watercolor-esque art-style did not age well. Dishonored 2 keeps the same visual styling but has been improved upon greatly. Lines of black are simpler and look more crisp. Colors do not look as splotchy and instead are blended with more care. Thanks to this the world looks stunning, and it fits the various aspects of the game well. The more animated look of the game fits the supernatural setting of places like The Void and the Royal Conservatory. Combinations like these are common in Dishonored 2 and it makes the locations in the game feel different than games which share a similarly inspired setting (Fable 2, Thief, etc.) The areas that host these great visual locations are further booned by how open they are.
Arkane Studios has put a lot of effort into giving each area a variety of different paths to take to reach the end-goal. These path allow players who prefer to sneak and stay out of sight (like myself) to utilize vertical spaces, shadows, and unconventional pathways (like vents or sewers) to beat the level without conflict. At the same time, and equal amount of effort has been put into each level to allow you to charge in and pick a fight with every enemy you come across. Regular floors and walkways have logical cover with ways to flank enemies (or for them to flank you) properly included. Enemies can be tough to take out, but if you can manage to do it, it is a very rewarding accomplishment. If there turn out to be more enemies than you anticipated, there are typically places that you can retreat to before planning how to re-approach the situation.
Thanks to the amount of movement/traversal options, you really can go into Dishonored 2 with any playstyle and have the ability to comfortably play it based on that playstyle. This is absolutely my favorite part of the game. It allows players who aren’t as familiar with the first-person stealth genre to feel out what’s comfortable for them to do, while allowing more acquainted stealth games, like yours truly, to completely change playstyles based on the situation. Most of the time, I stick to a traditional sneaky approach, but other time is felt more satisfying to be the aggressor. In the early hours of the game, you are tasked with escaping Dunwall Tower. My first time through I snuck through it in an attempt to not be caught. On my second playthorugh I tried to emulate this, and as soon as I was caught I decided to roll with it and just run frantically past all the guards. I performed a series of parkour maneuvers while shooting enemies that posed a threat in the path ahead. At the very end I had to jump off of a large structure because too many guards were blocking the stairs. As I jumped down (thinking I would certainly perish), an enemy positioned himself perfectly to allow me to air-assassinate him to cushion my fall. It felt like a scene out of Hard Core Henry, and while I do prefer to take things at a slower pace in stealth games, this moment was my favorite during the 20+ hours I have spend with Dishonored 2.
Gameplay has been crafted as delicately as the environments. The original Dishonored did a great job with giving the player a range of options to allowed for a passive or aggressive response to each situation. Dishonored 2 does an equally good job with that as well. The start of the game gives you a choice: play as Emily Caldwin, struggling Empress of the Isles or her father and Lord Protector Corvo. Playing as one or the other determines what powers you will be given once you are visited by The Outsider. Corvo’s powers remain the same as in the first game, but now they can be expanded on. Blink, the power that allows you to teleport, can be upgraded to freeze time with you are choosing a location to blink to. It can also be upgraded to send Corvo flying at enemies and knock them off balance.
So in essence, you can choose between improvements that fit either a stealthy approach or more of a ‘run in guns ablazing’ attitude. Emily’s Powers feel more primal. Her Far Reach allows you to grab distant objects and pull yourself to them in a way that would rival Mr. Fantastic. She can also morph into a shadow and crawl along the floor to avoid detection. At the start, most of her powers felt less exciting then the powers gifted to Corvo, but the more I played and noticed situations that certain powers would complement, the more I grew to depend on and value her unique abilities. Apart from the supernatural powers each character has, there are also human tools that lend our heroes aid. Things like grenades, rewiring tools, and the pistol return from the previous game, and new tools like the stun mine and berserk dart provide further options when choosing to assess situations with the intent to kill or creep. These tools will be important for anyone who decides to play the game with ‘No Powers Mode’ enabled. You can reject the Outsider’s mark and instead face the game without the assistance of the supernatural. I have not summoned up the courage to play without powers yet, but it will provide a great challenge when I am comfortable enough with my abilities in the game. Arkane Studios throws a ton of different challenges that cannot be accomplished in a single playthrough. Planning on playing with certain limitations to achieve these challenges gives the game a great boost to difficulty, and ultimately allows for a ton of replayability.
Another great aspect of the Dishonored series is that your actions in the game affect the world. Killing enemies will cause more rats, bloodflies, and weepers to inhabit the world. These make certain areas of the game more difficult, and you might find yourself reflecting on if your actions have been the most appropriate ones during the course of the game. A great little addition is that the more people you have killed, the bloodier your sword becomes. If you can beat the game with an immaculate sword (meaning you have not killed anyone) you have accomplished something worth being proud of.
Dishonored 2 improves greatly on its predecessor and adds a wealth of new features and mechanics that makes the games feel fresh yet familiar. It is great to see that Arkane Studios didn’t use the success of the first game as an excuse to build a bare-minimum sequel aimed at taking our money. Instead, Dishonored 2 stands as an example of what a sequel should be. My largest objection with the game is that the story ending should feel more complete after the journey it takes you on. All things considered, whether you are new to the series or a returning fan, Dishonored 2 is a game worth your attention.