Dishonored 2, the long-awaited sequel to Arkane Studio’s 2012 Dishonored, more than lives up to its legacy. Dishonored 2 continues the story of Corvo Attano and his daughter, Empress of the Isles, Emily Kaldwin.
Before the events that unfold, you are put through a tutorial. Corvo is checking on his daughter’s progress in stealth, combat, and agility which gives you an opportunity to learn the controls. There are lots of combinations of moves, which can be confusing, but there is also a list in your menu screen that allows you to review all tutorials, including new actions that you learn along the way. This is extremely helpful for people like me who tend to be a little bit forgetful when it comes to remembering combinations.
The game, set 15 years after the events of its predecessor, opens on a somber celebration of the anniversary of the late Jessamine Kaldwin’s murder. Emily, slightly unsure of herself and the power she wields over her inherited empire, walks to her throne with her father/protector at her side. She and her father heatedly discuss the serial killer, dubiously dubbed “The Crown Killer”, who has been massacring anyone who speaks out against Emily. Corvo insists that whoever is responsible is trying to frame him, dredging up memories of the suspicion cast upon him after Jessamine’s murder.
After she takes her throne, Emily is about to speak to those gathered in the throne room when she is informed that Duke Lucca Abele has a surprise for her in honor of the holiday. The surprise turns sinister when a woman draped in black appears, claiming to be Jessamine’s long-lost sister, Delilah, and the true heir to Emily’s throne.
Corvo, using the powers given to him by the Outsider in the previous game, attacks the guards who turn on Emily after Delilah’s proclamation. In a split second, a fight has broken out, leaving Emily and her father surrounded by converging guards. You, the player, must choose in an instant: will you play as Corvo, the veteran protector, or Emily, his daughter and student?
I chose Emily simply because I wanted to get to know her character more. I wanted to see her fully developed. In making your decision, you drive the plot forward. Of course, once a play through has been completed, there is no harm in going through again as Corvo.
In choosing Emily, I lost Corvo. Delilah reveals that she too has a superhuman power by encasing Corvo in some type of marble, leaving him a grotesque statue. Emily is then knocked unconscious and locked in one of her rooms by her own guards. This is where you gain control over your character.
You must find your way out of the locked room. This allows you time to stock up on supplies and take a look around the impeccably detailed setting. Throughout the game, you will uncover letters, books, and articles that will be important in uncovering the many subplots that run parallel to the main story-line.
Your task is to figure out where Delilah has come from, how she convinced so many to turn against you, and eventually regain control from her. (Anything I say about the plot from here is specific to the Emily story-line.) Like in Dishonored, you are faced with decisions that will change the way the game plays out. You must decide whether you are going to play with a focus on stealth or combat or somewhere in between. You can choose to knock enemy characters unconscious (stealth) or kill them (combat).
The first of these decisions comes when you face the former head of your guard. Do you kill him for his treachery or leave his slumbering body among the bodies of those he and his men have killed? You have to think ahead: will he think kindly on your mercy or will he be even more determined to kill you after you’ve made him look a fool in front of his new mistress?
Emily’s only hope of saving herself, and her calcified father, is to escape Dunwall and sail to Karnaca. A busy, bustling metropolis and hotspot for noble tourism, Karnaca, her father’s birth place, is the setting for a majority of the gameplay. Emily must make connections and decisions that will alter the final outcome of the game.
This game is extremely complex, boasting choice-driven gameplay, a myriad of menus, and amazingly detailed character development and graphics. As you explore your surroundings, you gather weapons, sustenance, information, art pieces, and (if you choose to embrace supernatural powers the way Corvo did) supernatural relics that grant additional abilities.
There are menu screens allowing you to keep track of your current mission, characters you’ve met, information you’ve gathered, and assign weapons and abilities to your character. The sheer depth of gameplay is staggering, but it is compounded gradually, so you have time to get used to each new addition before you are given more to handle.
The game offers a small, but extremely helpful tool in its Quick Save option. By doing a Quick Save, you effectively create a checkpoint for yourself. You can do so at any point during the game in the pause screen. I often used this function before going into a skirmish or a situation that I knew would involve fast-paced decision making. You can always choose to replay the game from your last save point.
Dishonored 2 relies heavily upon both its graphics and musical score to carry the theme of the game. Your surroundings are usually fairly dim, even when indoors. This helps to convey the feeling of an empire in decline as well as giving you places to crouch and hide if you adhere to the stealth option of gameplay. The music underscores where you are in gameplay. For example, if you are passing through an area heavy with guards, the music becomes more urgent and intense. This adds to the cinematic feel that permeates the game. Paying attention to the music can help you to determine whether you should try to avoid an area or go in gun blazing and sword slashing.
This game is an incredible experience. You’ve got so much responsibility for your character and the plot that you do get wrapped up in events, feeling a strong connection to the outcome. For example, I was overrun by guards and, I’ll admit, a little trigger-happy. I was chasing down a guard to stop him from alerting more troops and he ran into an alley. A man came running out and without thinking I fired. I only saw after I had killed him that he was a civilian and no real threat to me. I felt so terrible that I had to restart from the most recent save point to undo the accidental murder. Call me, crazy, but I really believe that that death would have made a difference!
This is a game that I can 100% see myself picking up again and again, for more play throughs. Little decisions can make big differences. I’m interested to see how many different outcomes I can cause. I HIGHLY recommend you play this game, even if it is the only big name game you try out this year. Trust me, it’s more than worth it!
Dishonored 2 gives you an open world to explore and effect as you see fit. Remember, each decision you make will change the final outcome and, in the wise words of Corvo, trust no one.