Newest release of stealth fighting game provides tension, stealthy action and significant player control.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: November 11th, 2016
NOTE: Dishonored 2 was played on a PlayStation 4 console and completed for both playable characters.
Over the last decade, the stealth game genre has taken a backseat to more action-oriented titles. The thrill of the hunt and tension from the perfect breaking and entering setup have all been lost but for the Dishonored series. Dishonored 1 (2012) met with high critical and commercial success and was a sign that players wanted a different kind of gaming experience. Four years later, its successor, Dishonored 2 has been released out into the wild, where the player has the option of playing as Dishonored 1’s protagonist Corvo Attano and the princess, Emily Kaldwin. And while Dishonored 2 excels in level-design and player choice, some of what it offers is as illusory as the powers in the game.
Dishonored 2 takes place fifteen years after the events of Dishonored 1 where Emily – our steadfast young princess – assumes the throne with Corvo at her side as Royal Protector. And while the two are suspected of being “The Crown Killer” due to murders that match Corvo’s modus operandi, and the fact the victims are all Emily protestors, all seems well in the city of Dunwall. That is until the witch, Delilah Kaldwin, sister to the previous Queen, enters the picture and proclaims herself the rightful heir to the throne. From here, the player makes a choice that will affect the rest of the game: play as Corvo or Emily until the end credits?
Corvo behaves and operates as he did in Dishonored 1 with his usual slew of supernatural abilities carried over from the first game. Emily, however, has added new abilities to her repertoire, which do make a difference in the experience. But it’s odd that they weren’t just added on to Corvo. Domino was a useful ability in my playthrough as it allowed me to link guards together and take them out simultaneously -- her Shadow Walk ability allowed her to sneak and eliminate guards within a time limit. All the abilities can be upgraded but not in such a way that makes the player overpowered, which is tricky whenever you add any new abilities in a sequel. The issue I have with Corvo and Emily as separate protagonists is that their experience and journey are largely the same up until the very end.
I did Low Chaos (killing as few people as possible) and High Chaos (murdering anyone that looked at me funny) playthroughs as Emily and Corvo, respectively, and at no point did I feel like the story was being expanded upon with the addition of two characters. I’m expected to believe that Corvo – an aging assassin with years of experience – would take the exact same path as Emily? Corvo’s journey is nearly identical to Emily’s journey. The reality of Dishonored 2’s dual player approach is that the story gets left twisting in the wind. It feels like Emily’s inclusion into the Dishonored series as a playable character was done for the sake of variety and not in service to the main story, which is your typical “collusion from within to usurp the throne” plot found in most Disney films. The memorable characters are only memorable for how and where you murder them and not due to any unique traits they possess.
Kirin Jindosh is one of the co-conspirators, your standard, clichéd “I’m smarter than everyone but I also happen to be a psychopath” archetype who lives in a mansion with floor plans that change based on which lever you pull. The way the building animates and changes harkens back to the visuals in Inception (2010) and the recent Doctor Strange (2016). The level design is one of the highlights of Dishonored 2 and supports player choice, one of the crucial pillars of the gameplay design. Kirin can meet the cold steel of the player. But if the player is savvy and clever enough, they can remove Kirin from the playing field without murdering him. In the same way that the Deus Ex games give the player options to enter a restricted area, Dishonored 2 follows that same mantra.
The world of Karnaca, inspired by real-life Mediterranean cities, is an immediate improvement compared to the dark, dreary streets of Dishonored 1’s Dunwall. Whalers and fisherman pepper the streets in the early levels and gangs try to muscle smaller shops because of some earlier altercation. The world also reacts to what you’ve been doing in the game. Non-player characters will discuss recent events and news articles you find will report on what you’ve been doing in the game. None of these shape the public’s perception of Emily or Corvo or have any gameplay significance, like a citizen drawing attention to the player on a High Chaos playthrough, but the addition is welcomed.
Player-choice, at a time where games do everything in their power to seize control from you, is at the core of Dishonored 2 and Arkane Studios has gone beyond what was expected and offers more variety in playthroughs. Not only are there two protagonists with different sets of powers, there is an option to reject any power early in the game. There also are more non-lethal takedowns in response to criticism that there weren’t enough in the first outing. Dishonored 2 encourages multiple playthroughs and different ways to experience the game. There is no feasible way you can unlock all of the powers and abilities on a single playthrough but Arkane is rectifying that with a New Game + mode which allows players to stack their powers over multiple playthroughs.
Dishonored 2 absolutely knocks it out of the park in the gameplay and replay ability department, which is the focus of the series. Even with the story hiccups that drag down the through-line, Dishonored 2 still manages to provide a stellar experience that requires multiple playthroughs for you to see everything the game has to offer. It’s comforting to know that the Dishonored series gets the old heart beating by keeping stealth fighting vital and relevant.