In a month infested with talk of foreign politics, Dishonored 2 takes you away from reality and immerses you with, umm… more politics.
But rather than being restrict you to punching out celebrations or protests on Twitter, Arkane Studios’ latest lets you make a real difference to the political landscape - without having to attend conference meetings or outline economic strategies.
You take the role of an assassin, hell-bent on reclaiming the throne and gaining revenge. So if you have any pent up frustrations with corrupt politicians this is the perfect game for you to unleash your rage in a blood-drenched rampage.
Or perhaps you’re more of a pacifist and want to defeat your enemies without killing anyone?
That’s the beauty of Dishonored 2, you can choose to play this game however you please, and each path that you take gives you a completely different experience.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
Right off the bat, you’re given a choice which will affect the rest of the game: Emily or Corvo. They’re completely different characters, with their own motivations and persona, so playing as either a male or female affects more than just the size of your breastplate.
Pick Emily and watch her mature as she looks for a way to reclaim the throne, after being ousted as Empress of the Isles by her evil aunt. Pick Corvo, the protagonist from the previous Dishonored, and it’s essentially Taken 2 as you go on a rescue mission to save your daughter.
In the grand scheme of things, though, your decision doesn’t really affect the story barring a few lines of dialogue.
More important to consider are the differing powers you’ll have access to. Emily’s abilities include “Domino” which links enemies together so they suffer the same fate as each other. Don’t have enough sleep darts to take out four guards? Just take out one and they’ll all stagger to the knees and drown the street with their snores.
Corvo’s stand out ability, on the other hand, is “Possession”. Not comfortable in your own skin? Why don’t you jump inside a corpse. Perhaps possessing a rat or a living person would be more useful, though - so you can scope out the area without the fear of being caught.
All the powers feel useful and it’s a whole lot of fun to experiment with them. It adds a bounty of replay value, yet importantly doesn’t restrict you to a specific style of play. That’s open to you.
TO KILL, OR NOT TO KILL
No two Dishonored 2 playthroughs will be identical - there are just too many ways you can tackle your objectives.
You can play the whole game without taking a single life, as you sneak through dark alleys and silently take out your targets. Or you can fight your enemies head on, challenging them to hand-to-hand combat and burning them alive by igniting barrels of whale oil for satisfying explosions.
Admittedly, the sword fighting isn’t all that great. It merely consists of blocking and attacking. It’s not fun and it’s not effective against a large group. This is a game that has been built for stealth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your blood-thirst.
Time your attacks perfectly, and you can flit through your enemies with impressive, yet brutal, kill animations. Teleporting behind a guard and stabbing them in the back, then staggering a charging enemy with a blinding crossbow bolt before finishing the job with a decapitation - it’s as brutal (and fun) as it sounds.
Going on a killing spree is entertaining, no doubt, but your actions have consequences. Kill too many and your end story is going to turn out a lot darker. You’ll spot the change in future levels as rats and blood flies increase in population to feast on the trail of corpses you’ve left behind.
If you’re not careful, you can leave the coastal city of Karnaca in a worse state than when you arrived.
Name all the best stealth game series of recent memory: Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed, Hitman. What do they all have in common? They’re in third-person perspective. This makes sense, as it’s easier to know whether your feet are securely perched on a window ledge and whether there’s an enemy to your rear.
Dishonored 2 spits at this tradition taking a first person approach instead, yet against all the odds it succeeds spectacularly.
I never misjudged my footing as I ran along a narrow ledge or jumped through a half-open window. In fact, it adds a new level of suspense as you need to constantly check your back incase a patrolling guard sneaks up behind you.
It also made the free-running more exhilarating, which along with the responsive controls, made darting across rooftops an absolute delight.
But what good is stealth if the game is made up of narrow corridors? Every map has an endless number of routes, which is helped significantly with the “Blink” and “Far Reach” powers as you can reach high up locations with ease.
With every assassination, there’s an alternative non-lethal objective, and the arsenal of weapons and powers is strong enough to support either playstyle. While your pistol and grenades are almost obsolete for a non-lethal approach, sleep darts and stun mines are a blessing.
Each level design also has a unique setting and quirk to keep things fresh. The most noteworthy include a mansion occupied by a mad genius, of which the rooms can be switched around like a complex puzzle, and Dust Town where freak sandstorms intermittently assault your senses accompanied with dramatic Inception-esque music.
The best of them all is Episode 7, which has one of the most memorable levels you’re likely to experience in gaming. I won’t give away the surprise, but you'll surely recognise it when the time comes.
LOSE THE PLOT
The story sounds incredible on paper, as clockwork soldiers storm Dunwall Tower, forcing Emily/Corvo to pursue the Crown Killer to clear their name.
Unfortunately, Arkane Studios struggles to support the narrative outside of the cutscenes, as most of the story is told through exposition heavy monologues between levels as Emily/Crovo reminisce about their past.
Characters feel underdeveloped, and while Emily is a welcome addition as a protagonist, we don’t hear much from her except for when she thinks out loud during a mission, which is annoyingly distractive.
Oddly, during every cutscene, a “skip” instruction is forever present in the bottom left corner of the screen, behaving like that friend who repeatedly asks what time the film ends. It’s as if the game acknowledges its shortcomings in storytelling, and wants you to move quickly onto what it does best.
This isn’t too much of a problem, especially when the gameplay is done so well, but you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting an enthralling plot about politics and corruption.
BECOME THE ASSASSIN
While the game mostly poses a challenge (no complaints here), some of the top-level security buildings were ludicrously easy to infiltrate.
I frequently found appartments of officials filled with trip wires and booby traps, with a reinforced door blocking the entrance, yet I managed to sneak in through an open skylight. These unrealistic inconsistencies caused me to break my focus and remember that I wasn’t a skilled assassin after all.
The worst of these happen right at the beginning, as the guards lock Emily/Corvo in a room to prevent them from disrupting their plans. You’d think that the first thing they’d check when imprisoning a master infiltrator is whether the bloody windows are locked.
On the other hand, the story world feels alive and brimming with lore, set in an alternative timeline around the 1900s. Power is supplied through wind turbines and whale oil, the streets are infested with rats and bloodflies, and there’s a canyon-esque divide between the working class and the elite.
You become so engrossed within the world that you begin to believe that it continues to thrive without your presence.
One particular moment that struck me involved a woman screaming for help as a mugger held her at swordpoint. I jumped down from my ledge and subdued the attacker to save the damsel in distress. But rather than congratulating me, she instead rewarded me with a sword through the gut.
I thought that this must surely be a glitch, and decided to quick-load and watch this crime play itself out without my intervention. It soon became clear that the mugger and the victim were actually working in cahoots, trying to lure some self-believed vigilante into a trap.
This experience made me more cynical of the poverty-stricken world as I later refused to stop religious fundamentalists executing civilians. Karnaca was so dark and deprived that it dragged me down to its level.
Dishonored 2 might have some breathtakingly beautiful scenery, but you’ll either love or hate the overly-stylised character models.
Although a minor issue, it did affect how I perceived characters, as it was difficult to emphasise for someone with a plastic and static face.
With games like Uncharted 4 setting such a high standard for visual emotion, it does feel that Dishonored 2 is lagging behind in this respect.
There are plenty of technical bugs at launch, too.
I witnessed floating swords, a wolf trapped atop of an elevator and a guard walking into a wall for a solid minute. While these issues can be humorous at first, they break the immersion of such an engrossing world.
The game did crash for me at one point too. I had fortunately quick-saved prior to the incident, but it’s still hard to forgive.
Dishonored 2 verdict
Did you play (and love) the original Dishonored? You’ll want to know whether enough has changed to make this a must-have, then. The answer is a mixed bag.
Aside from visual upgrades and the introduction of a few new powers, the gameplay essentially stays the same.
Dishonored 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it manages to get it rolling at top speed. If you enjoyed the original game, then there’s plenty on offer here with more imaginative level designs and environments that are a joy to explore.
For fans of the stealth genre that have never picked up a Dishonored game, this is a must buy too.
The possibilities to achieve your objectives are endless, and once you finally see the credits roll, you’ll be itching to start a new game and adopt a whole new approach.