Dunwall isn’t a place that leaves you easy. The city of the first Dishonored was a grim landscape, rife with betrayal, grime, and blood flowing through its rough streets. Protagonist Corvo could be a really nasty piece of work with a focus on slowly taking out everyone nastier than he. The steampunk reality wasn’t like too much out there, and it became one of the most recognisable stealth games ever made overnight. It remains one of the most distinct new AAA properties to emerge over the last few years, so obviously expectations have been pretty high for Arkane Studio’s second attempt.
And you know what? With Dishonored 2, Arkane Studios has cemented itself as one of the great developers working today. The game takes everything that was excellent about the first game and turns it up significantly. It really is quite a marvellous thing.
The game starts off with you in the role of Emily, the young empress’ daughter from the first game. As you go through the tutorial and the very, very early scenes, you find out that while she has been charged with watching the throne of Dunwall, as is her birthright, she also has a passion for running around roof tops and training with her dad Corvo in his stealthy, assassinating ways. Pretty soon though, you will find yourself charged with making of choice of playing as Emily or Corvo. This isn’t arbitrary either. A lot of work has been done by the developer to make each feel different, both with their own set of abillities. Corvo works like a jacked up version of himself the first game, using things like posession, mini-tornados and a summonable swarm of rats. He is a more, down and dirty fighter with a fair bit of grit to him.
Emily on the other hand is grizzily effective. Her abillities allow her to turn into a shadow monster to sneak up on enemies to either knock them out or tear them apart. Her Far Reach abillity, which replaces Corvo’s Blink allows her to not just travel around, but pull enemies towards her as she slices them in twain in mid air. (That act is pretty freaking empowering for what it is worth.) Add on top of that, an abillity to Mesmerise and create a Doppelganger mean she always has an efficient tool for the job. A lof of her play feels somewhat reminicent to the visciousness and brutality of The Darkness games, which hold a very dear place in my heart. The sheer variety and creativity of the abillities for both characters mean they feel ludicrously powerful, and the experience of inhabiting these characters is just delightfully garish in the best way.
This is only one part of what really makes the game a diamond though. The second is the quite spectacular world that has been crafted though. In just about every aspect, Dishonored 2‘s environments are a joy to exist in. The game (mostly) takes you out of Dunwall this time, and puts you in the costal town of Karnaca. While it is perhaps just a little brighter, the danger and soot is no less piled on. It’s a varied area, witch each level feeling almost entirely different from the last. That is also in thanks to the otherworldly level design on display in the game. Almost every level is packed with a new gameplay idea that will bend your mind in one way or another. The Clockwork Mansion for example is instantanously recognisable as a level of sheer quality. As you pull levers in the massive house, the environments will shift and change, closing paths and opening new ones. Or perhaps you want to slip down behind the walls and skulk between the panels, hunting guards and avoiding the genuinely unnerving mechanical soldiers. It’s such a beautifully designed level, put together with beautiful precision, it’s hard to imagine it not to leaving an impression on most players. Similarily, Aramis Stilton’s Manor is equally idiosyncratic in its design, but deliciously put together with two or three timelines ready for you to hop between at any one time. It’s impressive when you realise they are all being rendered at the same time and that what you do in the past affects the future. It’s a really, really cool bit of game design.
Of course, it should almost go without saying, but much like the first game all of this environmental work is tied up with a gorgeous bow thanks to the sheer inventiveness and detail of its art direction. This is one of the most visitable, albeit morbid, worlds in games right now.
The game doesn’t contain a multiplayer mode and will take you around 10-15 hours to run through to the end. However, this feels like one of the most replayable single players games I’ve played in a long time. Of course, there are two characters that play really differently, and I encourage anyone to play through with both Corvo and Emily. However, even after that, there are new story options to run through, runs that allow you to play the game without powers, or perhaps you want to do playthroughs where you are never noticed or where you don’t kill anyone. Usually this is just fringe content to pad a game, but for the first time in a long time, I had no qualms about finishing the game and hitting restart almost instantaneously. That is rare for me and only happens once or twice a year. To reach the credits and still have the enthusiasm for play, it’s a powerful feeling. This comes down to how meaty and open the level design really is. In a lot of ways, these missions remind me somewhat of the current Hitman. It’s fun to play these levels over again, with new avenues, new things to do. The work that Arkane Studios have done really feels special.
Now, you might notice I’ve not really focused on the ‘story’ of the game so much, and that is a big weak point of the game. This pretty much is just a tale of revenge, with Emily being removed from her throne, and then just systematically breaking down the powers at be to get to her final target. However, each level, or target, or little bit of writing fills out the pockets of the universe in interesting ways though, from the mechnical, to the mystical. Despite the ‘plot’ never grabbing me, I was never not invested in the task at hand.
Another slight that may irk you towards the beginning of the game is how tough it is to get on its tempo. For me, while I wasn’t doing a ‘silent run’, if a fight broke out I’d usually restart at the last checkpoint, and early on, I did a lot of restarts. No matter the way you play though, there will be frustation, and trial and error. Some missions can take over two hours to do how you want to do, which is a tough hurdle at first. For the most part though, its rules are fair and once you get in synch with what the game is asking of you, it feels special. Once the play all comes together properly and you can master your powers somewhat, there are few games I’ve played that make you feel so devastatingly awesome.
Dishonored 2 feels like a special game. Arkane Studio have taken a wonderful title, and improved on it exponentially for the sequel. This has the makings of a stealth classic, and absolutely cements the franchise as one of the best in AAA gaming. For a single player experience, it offers a lot of replayabillity, and is only helped by the sheer creativity, from level design to character abillities. There is so much to love here. It’s not with out fault, with a rather uninspired plot and niggles like traversal abilities being finite, but nothing is stopping me wanting to play this game all the time right now. The franchise has been cemented, at least in my mind, with this game. In terms of AAA single player experiences, there is not much like it, and if you have any interest in this kind of game, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not checking it out.
Buy it if: You want an exceptional single player stealth game
Avoid it if: You need a very strong, plot heavy story, or are not a fan of stealth games.