Dishonored 2 Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 2 years ago
The Dishonored series presents a delicious and diabolical opportunity for those who struggle with their inner nature. It gives you an arsenal of powers, gadgets, and weapons and lets you loose in a world with few rules and many ways to break the few that they have. The only thing that is holding you back from the wanton slaughter of enemies and innocents is your own conscience, so the question becomes, "What kind of player are you?"

The first game put you in the shoes of Corvo Attano and set you on a course to avenge the murder of one Empress, clear your name, and rescue another young Empress, Emily. A little more than a year after porting that last-gen gem over to the Xbox One with Dishonored Definitive Edition, Arkane Studios is back with their followup, Dishonored 2. Set fifteen years after the events of Dishonored, Arkane Studios has doubled their work by allowing gamers to pick between two protagonists, the aforementioned Corvo and Emily Kaldwin, the (now grown up) girl that you rescued in Dishonored.

The choice between playing as Corvo and Emily doubles already fantastic replay value.The choice between playing as Corvo and Emily doubles already fantastic replay value.

Players familiar with the outstanding DLC from Dishonored, "The Knife of Dunwall" and "The Brigmore Witches" will feel right at home with the game's beginning, which features the appearance of a special guest from a far away land who has come to usurp Emily's throne. Throughout the game's nine missions, you'll be tasked with tracking down and disposing of the conspirators who have brought the usurper to power, as well as uncover the story of this usurper's rise. Rarely has a game so artfully woven narrative DLC into a sequel. That being said, those who missed out on the first game's extra chapters shouldn't feel out of place, although some of the narrative subtext will be lost.

Each of the game's nine missions presents a target for elimination, either by death or other means, as well as innumerable ways of getting to them and a bevy of side objectives and collectibles. In any given mission, it's possible to sneak through the entire level without touching another character. It's also possible to dispatch every enemy quietly and stash their body somewhere out of sight. For those who have neither the time nor patience for such games, you can run in with guns, swords, and powers blazing and destroy everything in your path as loudly as you like. Each method has its own rewards and drawbacks, but there is something to be said about artfully sneaking through entire levels without being seen, taking everything in sight, and then sneaking out... mission accomplished, without anyone being the wiser.

The Outsider returns with another offer.The Outsider returns with another offer.

If you are a guns blazing type of gamer, Dishonored 2 will present one of the most difficult challenges that you'll encounter. The game's combat system feels weighted so that if you're ever in a fight that is more than one-on-one, you'll probably end up either blasting through your powers to even the odds or taking a fair bit of damage. The game does feature a parry system that works on a functional level, but doesn't feel as tight and responsive as one would like for melee combat. To put it succinctly, the combat in Dishonored 2 functions well enough to remind you that it's a stealth game.

In addition to an arsenal of weapons and gadgets, Corvo and Emily both feature different Void powers. All of Corvo's powers from the first game return (although there is a good narrative explanation for why you don't have them at the beginning), while Emily's powers all feel right in line with what you'd expect. Both Corvo and Emily can utilize "Dark Vision", which allows them to see enemies through walls, and a teleportation power -- "Blink" returns for Corvo while Emily has "Far Reach", which acts like a magical grappling hook. Other highlights for Emily include "Domino", which chains the fate of up to four enemies. This means that when you take out one of the four chained enemies, the rest go down with them. Emily also has a "Shadow Walk" power that allows her to move unseen for short periods of time and can be upgraded to travel through small passages. With the option of playing at both High Chaos (killing targets) and Low Chaos (choking them out), you can play the game four times, experiencing something new with each playthrough. Technically, you can decline the offer of supernatural powers and play through with just equipment and your guile... but where's the fun in that?

Corvo's powers from the first game return.Corvo's powers from the first game return.

Supplementing the powers of the Void are Bone Charms that act as passive buffs to various powers and abilities. New to Dishonored 2 is the ability to break down and craft Bone Charms so that each charm has the possibility to possess up to four traits. By the end of the game, I was able to outfit Emily with ten bone charms of which nine were buffed up to four times. This made me a silent, swift-moving, choker of bad guys. It was the ultimate power rush... and most welcome in the game's final level.

One of the greatest joys of Dishonored 2 is in the chaining together of powers, gadgets, and tactics to overcome each encounter. Enough cannot be said for the impeccable level design that is on display in the game. The designers at Arkane have outdone themselves by making each level full of fun and challenging encounters that beg to be played over and over again in multiple different ways. Repeated playthroughs also afford the opportunity to dig deeper into each level and uncover even more details about the world that have been tucked into nooks and crannies.

For as great as the story, level design, and versatility of gameplay are, there are some drawbacks. The biggest offender is the voice acting, which ranges from mediocre to bad. Secondly, there are some small issues with the accuracy and reliability of "Blink" and "Far Reach". Finally, and most importantly, there isn't a notification mechanic to let you know when you've accidentally killed someone. This is especially important for those attempting a Clean Hands playthrough. There were multiple times in my Low Chaos run through where I must have accidentally killed someone without my knowledge, and once you've killed one person (accidentally or not) the run is shot.

The new setting of Karnaca is scenic, tropical, and dangerous.The new setting of Karnaca is scenic, tropical, and dangerous.

Dishonored 2 also shines on the achievement front. The 50 achievements are nicely broken down between Low Chaos and High Chaos playstyles with bonuses for completionists who enjoy scouring every inch of the map. Of particular note, there are achievements for completing the game without being spotted, completing the game without using powers, completing the game as both Corvo and Emily, and completing the game in both High and Low chaos. While it may be possible to get all of the achievements in two playthroughs, it would take considerable planning.

Summary

At the end of my first playthrough in Low Chaos, I couldn't wait to start a new game and unleash my darker side. As I restarted the first level, a different feeling washed over me. There was a satisfaction to playing Dishonored 2 in quiet and merciful way that was totally different than the wanton assault in which I was engaging. Few games can elicit that dichotomy of emotion and experience. That factor alone makes Dishonored 2 a game worth playing. For those needing a more technical recommendation, however, Dishonored 2 represents a hallmark in level design and player freedom. While you're encouraged to play the game stealthily with a good measure of tactics and precision, it is by no means necessary. The detailed missions, versatile powers, and atmospheric storytelling will keep you coming back for multiple playthroughs if only to learn more about the world, play with the powers, and find every last thing to either steal or kill/subdue. Simply put, Dishonored 2 is a must play for stealth fans and an easy recommendation for most gamers.
5 / 5
Dishonored 2
Positives
  • Unparalleled level design
  • Fantastic atmospheric storytelling
  • One of the most replayable games this generation
  • Well-crafted achievements
Negatives
  • Questionable voice acting
  • Lack of kill notifications
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent just under 40 hours playing the game, completing it once in Low Chaos as Emily and starting a High Chaos run as Corvo. In addition to choking, stabbing, and hiding several hundred bodies, he popped 25 of the game's 50 achievements and will delight in hunting for the rest. An Xbox One copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.