Dishonored 2 is a game that prides itself on offering player choice. The first choice you make (apart from whether or not to bother with the tutorial) is which character you wish to play as; the first game’s Corvo Attano, or his daughter Emily Kaldwin. While ostensibly this is about player preference and to encourage repeat playthroughs – dialogue will change according to who you’re playing as, and the two have slightly different sets of powers available to them – I can’t help but feel that it’s largely to placate whiny man-babies who aren’t comfortable enough about their masculinity to play as a woman in a videogame unless her boobs are mostly visible.
Fully acknowledging the events of the first game, your adventure begins and ends in Dunwall (you’ll be elsewhere in-between). Emily is empress, but has been taught how to sneak around and kill things and stuff by her dad. Right at the beginning of the game, Emily’s half-sister – whose existence she was completely unaware of – turns up to claim the throne. She’s backed up by some soliders, some enormous robots, and some powerful magic of her own. So, yeah, things don’t go well for Emily and Corvo. Whoever you don’t choose to play as gets turned to stone, with the other arrested. Cue escape, setting the empire to rights, etc.
My first thought on seeing the aformentioned robots, known as “clockwork soldiers”, in the intro was “Uh-oh, these things are going to ruin the game if I keep coming up against them”. I suspected that tactics used against humans wouldn’t work on them and sure enough you can’t sneak up on them, they’re very tough to kill, and regular combat tactics are either ineffective or don’t work. Fortunately they are, apart from one level where their prevalence makes perfect sense within the story, very rare.
There are only nine missions. That might seem a bit stingy and, well… it is, really. It’s unlikely that you’ll finish the game in just a few hours, especially if you play on one of the highest difficulties (which I thoroughly recommend in order to get the most out of the experience). According to the in-game clock, I saw the ending on Hard after just under thirteen hours. The levels are all superbly designed though, in effect acting as playgrounds enabling the player to get from A to B as they please; although some are better than others in this respect.
Going back to the issue of player choice, you need only look at the game’s trophies/achievements to get a good idea of the different playstyles possible. It’s possible to finish the entire game without ever killing anybody; without ever being spotted; without ever gaining/using any magical powers. It’s sure as heck not easy to do any of those things, but it is possible. Plus of course you could be all killy in one mission and entirely merciful in the next should you so wish. The way it’ll go for most people, I suspect (in a first playthrough at least) is that they’ll try to sneak around undetected but now and again get spotted, then either leg it past a load of enemies to a safe place, or quickly find themselves with a pile of bodies at their feet they didn’t intend.
There are a variety of weapons and ammo types to make things as murderifous or knockouty as you like (sleep darts, grenades, stun mines, pistol bullets, and more). In your noble quest to put yourself/your daughter in charge of the entire empire, each mission will have a specific individual who must be taken out in order to ensure nepotism wins the day. Of course, this means you can kill them however you see fit. But! There’s always a non-lethal way to ensure your target isn’t a problem any more. This isn’t a simple case of knocking them out. After all, they’d just wake back up again and carry on being naughty, right? The non-lethal solutions always require more effort and thought than simply slitting a throat, and as such are always satisfying to pull off. This also helps keep your game’s ‘Chaos’ level low. Chaos is dictated by how many people you slaughter on your way to the ending. Not only do more deaths mean more bloodflies around (small but annoying enemies that feast on corpses), your Chaos level dictates which ending you get.
As previously mentioned, you can forego the magic powers if you wish, but they’re both great fun and very helpful. Both Emily and Corvo have an ability to teleport short distances, which is probably the power you’ll use the most. Examples of other powers are summoning an apparition to entrance organic enemies (Emily), possessing people and rats (Corvo), slow time (Corvo), and a stealthier ‘shadow’ form (Emily). Powers are unlocked and upgraded by using runes scattered across each map. There are loads of runes up for grabs, but they’re often hidden behind groups of enemies and/or off the most direct path to your next objective. The heart item you get at the beginning of the game allows you to detect them, but how many you seek out is entirely up to you.
The heart also points you in the direction of bonecharms (one power allows you to craft your own). You can have five bonecharms equipped at one time, with each granting a passive perk. As with runes, there are absolutely loads to be found, and which five you choose to have equipped will depend on your playstyle and/or what you’ve found to be your biggest obstacles during play. If you want to make things as difficult for yourself as possible, you could always ignore bonecharms completely. You nutter.
It’s not only clockwork soldiers that disrupt your comfortable enemy-killing/knocking-out tactics. Later on in the game there will be hounds, of both the natural and supernatural variety, which detect you much more easily and are quick to attack. You’ll also come across witches. Not the gingerbread house type; more the ‘able to teleport and shoot magic thingies at you’ type. Potentially annoying if you’re going for a no-detection run, but otherwise they act only as a challenge to adapt and sneak past or ambush in new, more careful ways.
There are a few niggles. It could’ve done with a few more missions, and perhaps the game would have been improved still further had the clockwork soldiers been tweaked a little. I’m also not a fan of the final boss fight, which – although offering a non-lethal ending if you find the right room – sticks two fingers up at those who want to play the game sneakily and forces you into confrontation with multiple enemies. Still, it does the whole player choice thing better than most games.
What’s the bottom line? A worthy successor to the original Dishonored that largely lets you play however you like.
Review written by Luke Kemp. Thanks to Xbox for the review code!