Written by Derrick Smith
Arkane Studios takes us back to the coastal city of Karnaca, within the fictional Empire of the Isles. No longer on the hunt for revenge Corvo Attano stands proud as the new Royal Protector by his daughters side. Emily Kaldwin now reigns supreme as the Empress, for the time being.
For the sophomore title Arkane Studios wastes no time striking at the heart of the empire throwing players into the capable shoes or either Corvo or Emily who have been overthrown, now with an enriching quests set before them to uncover the sinister insurrection lead by the immortal Delilah.
For our first and second playthrough we opted to play with Emily as our time in the original games was Corvo’s coming out party. I will be giving Corvo his time in the sun for this sequel, yet in the meantime Emily is the star of our show and right out of the gate Arkane tasks Emily with options of her escape. Impressively there are a multitude of ways to succeed in each given mission, from stealth to purposeful violent conflict and for my first playthrough bloodlust was the name of the game, despite the option of being able to play through the full experience without killing a soul.
Where is the fun in that you ask, based on how well crafted the level designs complement your flexible dexterity, along with the eleven skill tree powers and seven enhancements, tackling the objectives from the shadows offers a far more challenging and thought-provoking campaign. With the introduction of non-lethal combat moves, also featuring the ‘chaos’ system used in the first game, players gain chaos by killing characters, representative of the player destabilizing the world. This cause and effect element is a great engagement meter which influences how you will continue or alter your approach, whether aggressively or hands-off. Ultimately, the results are fully manifested at the games conclusion.
The game adds a new element to the chaos system where, at the start of a mission, random non-player characters are procedurally assigned one of three states: sympathetic, guilty, and murderous. Killing a ‘sympathetic’ person gives the player more chaos than killing others, while in contrast killing a ‘murderous’ character gives the player a lesser amount. The amount of chaos accrued affects the dialogue used by Emily and Corvo, as well as the world itself. Insects called ‘bloodflies’ make nests in corpses, therefore if many people are killed, there will be an increase in bloodflies. This encourages the player to hide bodies from bloodflies while on a mission, or not.
Each level in the game offers a unique and beautifully themed palette (mechanical or fictional). In one level, the player is confronted with two factions each with their own assassination target, and may use the level’s reoccurring dust storms for cover, whereas in another, time distortion is introduced as the player traverses an abandoned mansion in ruins. You are given a device that lets them glimpse three years into the past, strongly similar to the time-shifting device in Titanfall 2, where the mansion is still occupied and guards roam, and can shift back and forth between the two points in time.
As mentioned before, players have access to supernatural powers, which can be selected from your loaded selection wheel of resources before placing them in your customizable directional pad option. Upon receiving the all seeing and pulsating ‘Heart’ player are able to discover bonecharms and runes, which provides upgrades to one’s vitality and skill points, respectively. Unlike the first game, the upgrading system is now changed to a loaded skill tree with multiple paths and more possible upgrades.
Because of this fact the replayability is quite high as each character has unique powers. While some abilities are the same for father and daughter as we are learning now from our brief time playing as Corvo, each character is basically their own. Emily has powers new to the series, including ‘Far Reach’, which allows her to pull objects and enemies toward her and travel without physical movement by clasping onto something to propel herself forward. She can use what is known as ‘Mesmerize’ to distract her enemies, moving them into a state of sedation. The ‘Domino’ permits Emily to connect several of her enemies together so that they share the same outcome.
For example, while on my second playthrough of not killing anyone I leveled up the ‘Domino’ ability to the point where I could target three enemies and with one sleeping dart I took them all out or should I say put them to sleep, from a fairly good distance. Upon further enhancing of the Domino ability Emily was able to chain four enemies with the same effective results. One of Emily’s really cool abilities is ‘Shadow Walk’, she is turned into a shadowy cloud that moves swiftly and changes tangibility at will, as well as the ‘Doppelganger’, which during my more visceral playthrough I found incredibly useful as Emily can conjure a clone of herself in order to misdirect her opponents while the real Emily sneaks in for the kill. Because the conjured clone could also take out enemies, I found this ability most useful against multiple enemies. ‘Doppelganger’ is also amenable to work alongside ‘Domino’, which is something I discovered on my second playthrough.
Like her father, Emily takes to the games objectives as an investigative assassin, out to reclaim her stolen throne and position as Empress. During your travels you will not only be encouraged to take in all of the dramatic sights and sounds, there is quite an amount of informative reading along the way. Simply playing through Dishonored 2 while abandoning the plethora of reading material will definitely take from the experience Arkane has intended. On my first playthrough I am grateful I took the time to read literally every smidget of reading articles, books, letters and notes as it completely immerses your gameplay efforts with a vast understanding of the world and its inhabitants.
Influenced by European countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, Arkane’s Dishonored 2 vision comes to life straight from the 1800’s with a particularly bold art direction. Utilizing their own in-house graphics ‘Void Engine’ Arkane has crafted an eccentric yet beautiful universe as an enjoyable canvas for the ultimate assassin.
With multiple playthroughs under my belt, my time playing Dishonored 2 has been an enjoyable one or two. I completed the game in 7 hours and 15 minutes on my first playthough as the game did not feel too short-lived. However, my insatiable desires would have requested larger and less narrow level designs, despite the game feeling quite immersive to maneuver.
With Dishonored 2 Arkane Studios offers a noteworthy experience with memorable outcomes, however it does feel as though Arkane has played it very safe. As capable as Emily and Corvo are throughout the ride, with the incredible newly added abilities, wonderful art design and interesting narrative, Dishonored 2 stays away from any real expressive innovations for the series.
Ultimately, Dishonored 2 is thoroughly entertaining with valuable replayability pressing you to master your craft and hopefully more innovative steps can be taken if we are to return to the city of Karnaca.