Although I had high hopes going into Dishonored 2, never did I expect it to exceed my every expectation. From its story, to its characters, to the world, to the gameplay, Dishonored 2 perfectly embodies everything a sequel should be.
Set fifteen years after the assassination of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin in the first game, Dishonored 2 uses that time gap to avoid retreading the same path whilst building upon the established world. Emily has successfully transformed from her role as little more than a MacGuffin in the first game, into a strong character as well as a powerful and respected leader. The tutorial takes the form of Corvo training Emily in the ways of combat and stealth. Corvo sounds as you’d expect a man of his age and experience would: world weary. As training continues there’s an aged quality to his voice, but also an easily detectable love for his daughter. As for Emily, hearing her inner monologue, you are immediately given the sense that although Emily does care for her subjects, she is simply apathetic of her position as empress as she would rather lead a life of adventure, lending credence to the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Without delving too far into spoilers, a conspiracy stemming from the “Knife of Dunwall” and “Brigimore Witches” DLC storyline aims to dethrone the young empress and replace her with an otherworldly usurper. The inner circle of this conspiracy storms the throne room, causing Corvo and Emily to assume combat positions back to back. It’s this moment that the world freezes and you are asked to choose who you will be playing the game as: Corvo or Emily. Once you’ve chosen your character, the game remains largely the same from the point of missions and story, but through Dishonored’s brilliant level and ability kit design, the approaches could not be more different.
Corvo carries over all of his abilities from the previous game, only this time, each of them can be improved in various ways such as the ability to chain possession from host to host, or summon two rat swarms that move and act independently of one another. Due to the nature of the majority of Corvo’s abilities, even in stealth he tends to be more aggressive, choosing to blink through enemies, possess them, or freeze time to bypass them altogether. Emily’s abilities lend themselves better to a more cautious and clever approach, finding workarounds and exploits to outsmart her enemies either with the purpose of evasion or elimination.
Emily’s ability set is by far the most interesting I’ve seen in a game to my memory; her “Domino” being the ability I’ve found to be most fascinating. Domino is said to “link the fates” of those it is applied to. The in-game application of this means whatever happens to one happens to all, so being killed, burned, blinded, or knocked out would all apply. Pairing Domino with any of her other abilities such as Doppelganger or Far Reach can create a variety of effects, as you’ve essentially cut down your number of targets to one. For instance you can domino 2 enemies together, create a doppleganger, link her to them, knock her out, and viola! All the bad guys are down too!
The RPG mechanics of the first Dishonored are not only back, they’ve been cranked up to eleven. For example, in the previous game, you may not have seen bone charms as being worth your time or effort. Their passive boosts may have seemed trivial compared to the work you’d have to do to get to them. In Dishonored 2 however, nothing is wasted with the new bone charm crafting trait that allows you to craft your own better bone charms by learning the traits and gaining the materials by either sacrificing other bone charms or runes, very similarly to the enchanting mechanic in Skyrim. At its highest level, this trait can be used to craft runes, meaning you can turn those bone charms you aren’t using into runes or vice versa as sacrificing the runes runes yields many bone fragments to be made into bone charms. Because of the sheer number of power and upgrades, it’s nearly impossible to gain all of them and become a god, as was an issue with the first game. It was very easy to become relatively overpowered ff you made runes your main focus. The sheer number of abilities and upgrades in Dishonored 2 means it’s most beneficial to choose one or two powers and build around them like a more traditional RPG. This necessity of creating specific builds adds even more replayability to a game already rich with options and versatile level design.
Dishonored 2 continues the trend set by its predecessor in the realm of positively brilliant level design. During one mission in the aptly named “Clockwork Mansion” this design shines brilliantly. The owner of the mansion describes it as a “testament to engineering itself” and I couldn’t agree more, although I’m sure we’re referring to different aspects of the field. With each pull of a lever, the walls and floor shifts and moves seamlessly around and in congruence with one another, giving the impression that all the mechanisms in-game could work in a real life scenario. Its as beautiful a spectacle as it is an incredible design.
Having played through the game nearly twice at the time of writing, I can still feel that I’ve only experienced a small piece of what this game has to offer. The world is beautiful and diverse in both appearance and design. When you stop and look around, it seems every corner has a story to tell. The game’s story still shines brightly with powerful characters (one of them played by Daredevil’s Vincent D’onofrio) and gripping plot points across its ten chapters. Despite its well written story, gameplay remains the main focus of Dishonored 2. The powers, and openness in how you combine those powers with your other abilities or with a wide selection of weapons makes Dishonored 2 a memorable experience that will keep players coming back for years to come.