Karnaka is a simply gorgeous city. Looking out from the electric rail cart, as it wends its way up a treacherous path, the sun-baked landscape is filled with thousands of little buildings below, all beneath a huge cliff in the distance. It’s an idyllic setting through which you’ll leave a trail of dead (or sleeping) bodies.
Set fifteen years after the original, it can be either Corvo Attano or Emily Kaldwin soaking in the view before continuing on their mission to wrest back control of her rightful throne. Rescuing Anton Sokalov and putting an end to Jindosh’s experiments is just another step on that path.
Of the two, Emily is easily my favourite. There’s a dark mystery to her shadowy abilities, whether it’s Far Reaching with a pitch black sinewy arm and dragging herself up to a ledge, becoming an invisible monster for a short period of time, or linking people together with Domino to share the same fate, be that death, sleep, getting thrown into the sky, or whatever.
She’s the headline act for this game, and it feels a bit mean to say it, but Corvo feels a bit bland in comparison. His more interesting abilities weren’t yet available at this early stage of the game, and while I’m sure there’s a plot reason why his powers have waned, it makes him feel unremarkable as a consequence. Blink, Bend Time and Windblast are his three mainstays at this point, but the rest of his magical arsenal, and the various upgrades that they’ve had, will have to wait.
What’s fascinating to see is how similarly the story plays out for both characters. You make your choice toward the start of the story and you have to stick with it through to the game’s climax. There’s no switching back and forth at will, no narrative jumps that force you to play as both – well, as far as we’re aware – but you shouldn’t have any fear of missing out by choosing one side over the other.
In fact, I wish there was more of a distinction. Meeting Jindosh for the first time, his lines of dialogue are absolutely identical, up until the point that he actually addresses you as Corvo or Emily. It’s similarly uncanny to hear Emily and Corvo both muttering very similar things to themselves about the goal and mission objective.
It’s left to how you play to decide how the world is shaped and flows around you. As before, your actions have consequences, on both a macro and a micro level. Entering the Clockwork Mansion, a building that can reconstruct its interior at the pull of a lever, you can obviously head straight forward, find Jindosh on the other side of a pane of locked door, fight his clockwork soldiers and guards, and so on. Alternatively, you could slip between the walls and end up off the grid, as it were. The entire place is rigged with pressure sensitive flooring, and Jindosh comments on your use of abilities and how you act, but if you escape the building’s intended confines, you could quite easily avoid detection, taking an entirely stealthy approach.
The clockwork soldiers make for some rather interesting enemies. They’re just as flawed as you might expect them to be, but you can tackle them in several different ways. Naturally, you can sneak up from behind and shove your blade where it can do most damage, or you can attack head on with guns, mines or even your sword, cutting off mechanical limbs in the process. Or you might prefer to have a loyal friend of your own, and use a rewiring tool to turn one to your side.
Encountering Jindosh, if he’s aware of you, he’ll chatter away at you before ordering your demise. Of course, he might not last that long. The first time I entered his laboratory, I shot the head off a clockwork soldier, it determined to attack everything that makes a sound and sliced into the nearby Jindosh before he could even finish his first sentence. Alternatively, he might start hunting for you, or try to reach the elevator.
There’s more than a few different ways to kill him, but as with the original game, you can play through without killing anyone and aim for a low chaos playthrough – clockwork soldiers are fair game, though. Instead, there’s the rather gruesome approach of sticking him into an electric chair, powering it up with a small environmental puzzle, and giving him an electrical lobotomy of sorts. Just because you aren’t killing him, doesn’t mean you’re going to let him get away scot free!
I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of Dishonored 2, after going hands on with it, but I have to admit there’s still that hurdle of player ability to overcome. The gameplay that Bethesda themselves have released shows Emily and Corvo in implacably perfect form, weaving together their various abilities and weaponry into a fast and fluid whirlwind of controlled chaos. My play style is far less graceful, and I’m often just fumbling my way from one fight to the next, each encounter spiralling out of control, but leading to the occasional sublime moment of faux skill.
I guess the beautiful thing about Dishonored 2 is that, if you don’t succumb to the temptation of reloading the last checkpoint and trying again, you can live within that mess and still come out the other side. Emily just feels that little bit cooler when you do so.