Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
A shadowy character emerges from the alleyway. He slowly creeps towards two guardsmen conversing about the recent coup that has taken place in the capital. The shadowy character pulls out his crossbow, equips some sleeper darts and fires them off, dropping two bodies to the ground without any state of alarm. Moments later Corvo Attano is being chased by seven guards before hurling two grenades at their feet and blowing them into several pieces;
The game begins with a recap of the original Dishonored. It’s not essential to have played the first game in the series as the original plot is delivered here in a straightforward, digestible chunk. After the introduction ends you can choose which character to play as for the remainder of the game, either Corvo (Dishonored’s protagonist) or Emily. The differences between these characters relate to their supernatural abilities and how other characters within the world react to them, with the endings also being slightly different depending on who you choose. Dishonored 2 has very rich lore and an intriguing story, but the narrative often retreads the same beats that were delivered in the first game, and some characters are fairly one-dimensional. Emily Kaldwin in particular is quite uninteresting at times, rarely showing any emotion or reaction to the events that are happening around her. Dishonored 2 does have an interesting villain and as the plot develops the finale does deliver a great payoff, but between the start of the game and the end the narrative alone rarely gives you an incentive to continue playing.
The incentive to keep playing lies in Dishonored 2’s exceptional level design and its gameplay. Each mission is a playground of stealth gameplay wonderment. With nine levels in total, they each deliver a unique aspect with a variety of enemies, hidden pathways, environmental challenges and set pieces. The sheer amount of choice and emergent gameplay created in these mini sandboxes is very impressive. Without giving away too much about the story your objective in each level is to eliminate a target, much like it was in the original. How you go about getting to the target and with which method you dispose of them is up to you, with many scenarios and opportunities brought about by exploring the environment and uncovering information about your victim. One mission finds you travelling to the top of a coastal town where an enemy inventor’s mechanised mansion awaits. Filled with rooms that shift and move, and many threatening giant bladed robots ready to hack you into pieces, you’re sent in to rescue an imprisoned ally from the original game, and getting him out is just as challenging as getting into the complex.
All of the levels have an epic originality to them, one that is hammered home by intricate and unbounding design, letting you go where you want, run and jump and slide through gaps, windows and overpasses. There’s almost always an alternative route past electrified checkpoints or corridors filled with guards. The game also invites you to think vertically with the supernatural blink power making a significant return. The supernatural abilities in general have been given an overhaul, with Emily and Corvo having their own unique skills. Choose Emily and you’ll have access to abilities like creating decoys, connecting enemies together to inflict death or sleep on them all at once, and transforming into a shadowy creature to avoid confrontation. Choose Corvo and you’ll be able to use abilities like possessing animals (and humans when upgraded), creating swarms of rats to attack, and creating time-slowing pockets. Upgrading and customising your character is also a rewarding and well-designed process. Collecting Runes around the levels allows you to upgrade these supernatural abilities, which by the end game make you a formidable hunter, perhaps too formidable. On top of this you can collect Bone Charms with a number of these being equipped to your character at any time. These act as special buffs and allow for a range of customisation. Things such as “Drinking water restores health” and “Performing a vertical kill restores mana,” are just a couple of the many charms that can be found and equipped in each level.
As described in the introduction above, your actions and how you play Dishonored 2 have a significant effect on the ending you’ll experience. Much like in the original, playing High Chaos (killing lots of people) results in a “bad ending” where everything looks rather bleak even though you’ve gotten your revenge. The classic term; “But at what cost?” optimises this scenario. On the other hand playing without killing, or killing a very small amount of enemies grants you a better ending, one where the future looks bright and you’re not eternally hated as a homicidal maniac. After each mission you’ll get a report showing you how many people you’ve killed and how many times you were detected, which is a good way of keeping track of which path your character is treading. Of course this system promotes playing through the game multiple times and challenging yourself to play in a certain way. Few games would be able to boast such an important system were they less of a joy to play, but being able to replay Dishonored 2 and trying out different abilities and bone charms, and of course another character, make multiple playthroughs a thrill.
Dishonored 2 is a great sequel, one that builds on the solid gameplay foundations created by the original. The levels and environments promote a great sense of freedom and choice, with the many abilities and ways to kill, incapacitate and manipulate your enemies promoting strategy and preparation. Exploring and discovering things about the world and its inhabitants adds great depth to the game's lore and backstory but it’s a shame the main plot is one-dimensional and unoriginal. Stealth action games are rarely delivered with such great detail and design but Dishonored 2 offers a great experience, and one you’ll want to play through over and over again.