Warning there are some slight spoilers for Dishonored and its DLC The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Withces.
Four years ago, Dishonored was unleashed upon the world. You may have heard of it. Some neat little game where you played as a badass assassin with dark powers on a quest of revenge, leaving behind a trail of bodies of all those who betrayed you while exploring a Victorian-esque world. Yeah that game. Well it was pretty good, but it had its issues. But it was good enough to warrant another go around and this time Arkane Studios did not hold back, giving us a phenomenal sequel that is a huge improvement over the first one while still retaining the charm of its predecessor.
Dishonored 2 doesn’t waste any time putting you on your quest for revenge. After an opening that attempts to summarize the plot of the first game we’re then thrust into Emily Kaldwin’s viewpoint as she arrives at a ceremony for the 15th anniversary of her mother’s assassination, because nothing says grieving like celebrating the 15th year of someone’s death with a room full of people who want to kiss your ass. It’s not long before trouble starts in the form of Duke Luca Abele and a witch, Delilah Copperspoon who fans will remember as the antagonist from the Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches DLC. She storms in claiming she is Emily’s aunt and the rightful Empress and from there you can choose to play as either Emily or her badass father Corvo Attano, the protagonist from the first game. You then set off to the southern isle of Serkonos trying to find out who is responsible for the coup and to take back your throne.
Story wise there is no significant difference whether you choose to play as Emily or Corvo other than some dialogue changes and narration differences which give more background to either character. Other than those small differences you still play the same exact missions so it’s just preference for whomever you choose to start your first playthrough. Where the first game’s story laid out all the key targets at the start, here there is a genuine mystery as to who was behind the coup and who needs to be taken down. By making the tale of revenge also a mystery the story is much more engaging and rewarding with each new discovery. Every moment in the story feels earned by the player rather than just spoon fed. It was nice that Arkane Studios brought back the antagonist from Dishonored’s DLC as it brings to game full circle while at the same time acknowledging that those events did matter and weren’t a mere side story. Although the overall differences in playing as either character aren’t huge, they provide interesting perspectives from each character. Emily constantly questions everything she’s known and wonders if she could have (and perhaps will be) a better empress, while Corvo thinks back to his days in Serkonos and what made him who he is today.
Did I mention that there are two playable characters? Yes that’s right you get two for the price of one and both play different in terms of powers. Both Emily and Corvo have the same basic moves of assassinating and knocking out poor unsuspecting henchmen which is a great foundation as Arkane has improved on those mechanics giving you much more options in the stealth department as well as making you much more of a badass. The obvious difference comes in the powers both characters wield. Corvo has the same powers available to him from the previous game with some minor tweaks that improve them overall. Emily on the other hand, while sharing some of the same abilities, has a slew of new powers just for her. The fun in using these powers from either character is in how you combine them. You have so many powers to play with you can experiment with different combinations to help get you through an area stealthily or beat the crap out of everyone if that’s your thing. Emily’s powers are more fun to play with mainly because most of them are new such as Domino, where you can tether multiple enemies and what happens to one happens to the others. There are apt descriptions of each ability in the upgrade menu so you know what you’re getting, allowing you to think of how you can combine them to suit your needs. For your first playthrough I recommend starting as Emily so you can play with all these fun new abilities. The all work well though sometimes there can be a few hiccups and they might not respond how you want them to, but it doesn’t happen often enough to ruin the experience.
Now we get to the most important character of the game, Karnaca, the game’s new setting. Where Dunwall was a dark, dreary place to explore in the first game Karnaca is the opposite. Okay so there are a few not so bright places you’ll visit, but for the most part Karnaca feels like a melting pot of southern European countries. You’ll visit different sections of the city in each mission, but it all feels like one giant city as suppose to closed-off areas thanks to the art direction and fantastic level design. This city comes to life not only because the characters that inhabit it, but also because the art design gives the world some history to it that you never fully explore, but you get an idea of it. The level design is great, striking a good balance between open spaces and tight corridors. You have plenty of options as to how to navigate each level and even then the game provides plenty of Runes and Charms that compel you to explore the level and discover more of the backstory of Karnaca and the characters that inhabit it.
Speaking of level design, Arkane took some crazy chances that paid off big. In one level you are in a mansion where walls and floors shift at the pull of a lever creating new rooms and places to explore and the game pulls it off seamlessly. Another crazy level involves time travel and being able to look into the past while proceeding through the present and vice versa. It’s a technical feat that will leave you in awe especially since it works so well and adds a whole new depth to exploration and stealth tactics. Enemies are tougher this time around. They are prone to noticing even little things and will make your life hell if you slip up while sneaking around. That adds to the tension and pushes you take your time and look around lest you end up having to fight a bunch of nameless henchman with pistols and grenades. And did I mention there are robots that can go most places you go and kill you with one stroke. Yeah they are tough and a welcome annoyance that changes the second half of the game.
The game looks gorgeous, from the brightest rooftops the darkest, bug infested buildings. You’ll be hard pressed to see something in the game that doesn’t look good. There are a few character textures that don’t look quite right, but you really have to be looking for them to notice. The audio work is phenomenal; the score fits the design like a glove especially when you find yourself in creepy buildings. All the voice acting is solid across the board. It won’t be winning any Best Performance awards, but they are good with a few celebrity surprises waiting and they make the story engaging. My biggest issue with the audio is there are times when you’ll be trying to listen in on one conversation and there will be a few characters in the background that feel the need to keep droning on making it hard to hear which gets annoying and then you end up murdering everyone around you. You get plenty of audio cues for danger lurking around the corners and the editing makes the world feel alive.
Dishonored 2 does a phenomenal job of taking the concepts from its predecessor and not only improving, but expanding upon them. Arkane developed a fantastic tale of revenge and intrigue, and placed it in a setting just as interesting and mysterious. Great level design, animation and mechanics make it a sequel worth playing and exploring multiple times.
This game was reviewed with a PS4 copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.