Arkane Studios released their Dishonored 2 under the watchful gaze of Bethesda, and whilst the original game is somewhat of a classic there’s some pretty big shoes to fill for its sequel. Dishonored 2 is set 15 years after the first game where an otherworldly spirited fake empress has seized the true Empress Emily Kaldwin’s throne after cementing her father Corvo (the hero from the first game) in some kind of stasis gunk which leaves the fate of the Isles hanging in the balance. Basically at the start of the game players can either choose to play as Emily or Corvo, choosing the latter means Emily is the one that gets frozen in black goo. After escaping, whoever you choose gets to travel to Dunwall and Karnaca to uncover the mysteries of this new empress and to exact revenge for the coo which leaves many innocent people dead.
Ok, so that’s the fluff out of the way and what really has to be said here is Dishonored 2 effortlessly manages to blend stealth action gameplay together with some free-form elements which makes it quite the joy to play. From the opening you’ve already got two different ways to approach the game and it’s here where you’re offered to accept or reject the special powers which changes the gameplay completely. You’ve then got to decide on whether you’re going in aggressively or passive, stealth or gung-ho. It’s great being offered such choices although if you’re a purist then perhaps your closest ally is going to be the quick save, quick load function.
The game offers a veritable stuffing of stealth moments which are tense and frustrating at the same time – even on the default difficulty. You’ll be able to sneak around the shadows but unlike the first game it’s not entirely clear how well covered you might be so hiding behind objects is a must here and using your edge peek option to look around paramount to success. Generally the stealth works a treat and often you’ve got a second or two to teleport out of trouble should the enemy become suspicious. You can also use this to your advantage alongside many other inanimate objects that litter the locations. That said, sometimes it’s a little unfair where enemies spot you from blind corners or aren’t immediately obvious and should you fail to warp out of the way in time all hell breaks loose, everyone knows where you are and rains all sorts of hell on you if you decide to stand your ground. As mentioned, for purists this is an epic failure and means reloading the last save – something you learn to do more frequently than is often necessary as a precautionary action which in itself breaks up the momentum of play. Obviously this is a personal choice but often the game checkpoints are quite spaced apart and losing 10-15 minutes worth of gameplay as a result is painful to accept.
Disnonored 2 grants players the tools to get the job done and there’s a lot of items which can be used for your bespoke play-through. Collect runes once more, or bonecharms to upgrade and add more abilities to your character of choice, or ignore them entirely and just opt for the basics. There’s weapons which fall under lethal and non-lethal which means ranged attacks are encouraged from the shadows should you choose to toy with the enemy this way. Or if you prefer, you can sneak behind, pickpocket before slitting throats or knocking them out before carrying their bodies and hiding them somewhere nice and quiet-like. Alternatively, getting into scrapes has a more robust feel this time and with careful timing it’s possible to counter enemy strikes and take them out efficiently – sometimes even without killing. It’s highly commendable how many options there are for tackling each of the 9 missions making for a well-rounded game that caters to most play-styles. Interestingly, there’s more verticality this time and exploration off the beaten track which can lead to some dark and moody discoveries aside from the obvious collectibles which are highlighted and can be marked when the pulsating heart is equipped.
Dunwall and Karnaca are very much living breathing locations littered with civilians and enemies who fulfil their roles beyond merely patrolling pre-determined routes. You’ll find lots of lore to read into if that’s your calling although it’s a little out of character to sit there momentarily reading reams of text in a book when trying to avoid being seen. It’s incredible how Arkane has developed the game to include such attention to detail and to this end one has to be thankful that the same regurgitated stealth tropes aren’t simply reused here on their own.
Visually, Dishonored 2 maintains its unique art style offering a steampunk-cum-Victorian flavour with great effect. It’s impressive and filled with fine details which makes for excellent varied killing fields from mansions, city streets and puzzle like rooms. A special note has to be levelled at the water effects which in some instances look fantastic almost realistic with the way the waves move and light reflects off the water. On PC, the game runs smoothly using high end hardware and there are numerous settings to tweak the game to suit your needs. That said, the top end GTX 1080 won’t reach 60 frames per second at 4K resolution with everything set to Ultra to give you an idea, but will surpass 30 and average closer to 40 frames per second for the most part.
Audio is also of a high standard with a somewhat subdued soundtrack to suit the mood here. There’s some great voice acting and plentiful sound-bites which actually impact the gameplay for those who are more attentive to what the NPCs are talking about. There’s some attention to detail with the game’s lore here where the story (which is told well) is rather expected despite some twists and turns along the way.
In terms of longevity there’s a lot of game here with the main game taking over ten hours or much longer depending on your play-style. With lots of collectibles to hunt down to help upgrade the character, you’ll easily surpass double figures if you’re sneaky and thorough. There are 9 missions in total but they are long and take over an hour (sometimes more) to complete. Replay value is very high given the options available and if you’re more stealthy you’ll see a different ending compared to playing like a bloodthirsty murderer. You can view stats during play but also a break-down once a mission is concluded to see how you fared. Sadly, and this is pretty poor, there’s no option to replay missions like you could in the first game. This is a massive shame and although there’s more story here it just reeks of poor design. Hopefully the option will be added post-launch if enough people complain. A New Game+ option is coming in a future update so maybe mission replays are on the cards too.
Dishonored 2 comes as a welcome sequel to the 2012 classic and feels like its made some massive strides forwards for the better with a more encompassing game to suit varied playing styles. There are some wonderful visuals, excellent characterisations and gameplay mechanics that are finely tuned to almost perfection. For stealth fans this is an intense ride into the dark and seedy world of Arkane’s imagination for this series and it comes as an enjoyable romp from start to finish even if at times it drags it feet a little such as making you backtrack through areas once the job is done. If you’re a stealth gamer then you this is an essential purchase. If you’re more into action then your needs are catered to as well although it does feel the game is geared more to those with patience rather than an abstract desire to go guns a blazing at every opportunity even though that option exists. Dishonored 2 is a worthy game for your collection regardless of where your comfort zone rests.