Dishonored 2 is not a game that you can fully experience in one playthrough. In fact even two may be too few. Not only do you have two protagonists to choose from in Emily and Corvo, but you have access to different powers and different approaches for each problem. It’s a game that invites you to play how you wish, and in that regard Dishonored 2 is a big step up from its predecessor, but it isn’t quite the perfect sequel.
The first of my runs was with the newly playable Emily, taking a stealthy, non-lethal approach, which I followed up by taking Corvo on a murderous rampage. From the tutorial and the intro it’s clear that Arkane pushes you towards playing as Emily first, as you see all the opening events unfold from her point of view. Having to pick one or the other to play as excludes one of them for the rest of the game, but it doesn’t affect the way the story unfolds too much. There are some changes in the script but nothing major, and both characters utter identical lines in some situations.
The stealth playthrough experience is undoubtedly tense as you try to avoid detection by the guards and other enemies. Compared to the original, they seem to be a lot more perceptive and willing to investigate unusual sounds and sightings. Even walking on the floor above someone can alert them and they will come upstairs and look for you, and they don’t just look around and give up, but will go into different rooms and check under the tables for you. However they’re not always wholly competent, willing to kill the person you’re choking out to get to you, or shooting at you while other guards stand in the way.
Emily’s powers make it feel like she’s been created as primarily a stealth character. Far Reach is basically just an alternate Blink, allowing you to travel to different points in seconds, but she has more unique powers. Doppelganger creates an Emily double – the clue’s in the name – while Shadow Walk has you become a shadowy smoke monster that crawls around the floor invisible to enemies, but perhaps the most fun is being able to chain together enemies with Domino so that whatever befalls one happens to them all.
Be aware that a stealth playthrough is tough, and even more so if you aim for a non-lethal playthrough. Every move has to be thought out and if you make a mistake you need to be able think and react quickly to escape. Fortunately the arsenal of non-lethal weaponry has been expanded, allowing for stun mines and various bolt types with which you can incapacitate your foes.
Of course you can forego all of that if you prefer getting into combat and cutting down all who stand in your way. Face to face combat has had some tweaks compared to the original, and it’s not an easy path to take either. Enemies will swarm you from all sides, and even if you’re just facing a couple of guards, a fight can quickly turn against you. Enemies will parry your blows, push you back, dodge and sidestep to counter you, or fire a gun should you stray too far out of their sword’s reach.
The kill animations are brutal as they show heads being cut clean off, throats being stabbed through, and guts pierced. Beside the sword, there’s also the gun and the crossbow – which fires both normal and incendiary bolts that will set people on fire – as well as the mines which fire shrapnel. The combat heavy approach allows you to get through a level much quicker, if that’s what you want to do.
The toughest enemies you’ll face in Dishonored 2 are the clockwork soldiers. These tall machines have four blades and armour on their bodies that makes them tough to face head on. You can disable them using non-lethal items and even hack them to fight alongside you, but if in a fight the best thing to do is either use explosives or take off their heads so they’ll attack the nearest thing that makes a sound. They have a couple of attacks and both are capable of significantly draining your health if not killing you outright.
Dishonored 2’s shining star is the level design. Each one feels a lot bigger than anything found in the original with a number of pathways to explore. Exploration is required if you want to max out powers as you’ll need to hunt down runes to upgrade them as well as bonecharms to gain certain attributes. Even without that motivation every stage has its own unique identity that sets it apart from the rest, with so much packed into them that you could easily miss something that adds some more context to the world. There are notes which dig into the world’s history or give background to characters, audiographs that have recorded the thoughts of characters, and various diorama set ups that allow you to draw your own conclusions.
Karnaca is vastly different to the dark and dreary streets of Dunwall. Here the sun shines brightly in the sky and the city’s architecture features taller structures, which in turn adds further heights for you to explore. You can easily spend an hour or two in each area trying to find every secret and listening to the conversations which reveal more information for you. You’ll quickly discover that while Karnaca looks beautiful in the sun, its core is both dark and bitter.
Unfortunately what Dishonored 2 is missing is a good cast of supporting characters. The original had the Hound Pits pub with a number of characters that you could learn about, with each giving their own view of things. In Dishonored 2 the pub is replaced with the ship the Dreadful Wale which has a total of two – three if you make a certain choice – characters to talk to. While the story sets out to up the stakes, without that supporting cast, the scope simply doesn’t feel as big.
Delilah, who is first introduced in the original’s DLC when she faces Daud, isn’t that compelling as a main villain either. I understand her motivations for what she does but it doesn’t quite compare to the political intrigue and backstabbing of the first game. In fact, the story in general is weaker. It also doesn’t help that both Emily and Corvo sound very matter of fact and monotonous at times, lacking any real passion as their world is torn apart. It’s the assassination targets that draw more emotion out and have a bigger impact on you depending on how you deal with them.
One of your targets is Kirin Jindosh, the resident and creator of the Clockwork Mansion. I took the non-lethal route, but after the deed was done and he uttered a certain line, it felt particularly horrible. The voice work for the targets is better than the main characters, especially Vincent D’Onofrio as Duke Luca Abele, who gives the character as sense of power through his delivery. Robin Lord Taylor is also cast well as The Outsider, though fans of Gotham will note a hint of the Penguin in there at times.
Unfortunately, Dishonored 2 also has a few performance issues on PS4. There is notable flickering in quite a few areas, as well as pop-in among the scenery. If you turn too quickly you may notice a patch of emptiness for a split second before the textures and objects load, though this rarely happens. The loading times can also drag on a bit between deaths or when starting a new mission.
Dishonored 2 has expanded on the original game in a number of ways, creating a world with a bigger scale. The gameplay builds on what was offered in the first game, with more options of how to approach situations and Emily’s powers adding further variety if you choose to play as her. What lets it down is that it’s missing a truly compelling narrative and cast of interesting secondary characters, and while it’s a very enjoyable game, it lacks some of the charm of the original.
Version tested: PS4