Stealth games possess an almost unique trait in that playing them is very much an art form. You devise a plan and then proceed to attempt to execute said plan with all the skills and tools you have acquired, but occasionally, something out of your control will throw a wrench into the entire process. The original Dishonored effectively encapsulated this with a stealth design that was euphorically rewarding when everything went as you expected, but tragically depressing when things went awry. Dishonored 2pushes this school of thought further than the first, recreating many of the positive experiences from the previous installment, but requiring much greater effort on the part of the player this time around to achieve it.
Our story begins behind the eyes of Emily Kaldwin, Empress of Dunwall and daughter to the previous protagonist, Corvo Attano. Corvo is still alive and kicking, serving as Emily’s Royal Protector when the game picks up on the anniversary of Emily’s mother’s death. Before we have a chance to get comfortable in our position of power, Emily’s aunt, Delilah Copperspoon, shows up to enact a coup which forces the protagonist out of the city. This protagonist is not necessarily Emily, however, for as Delilah begins her treachery, players are faced with the first and most important of the many choices presented over the course of the campaign; will you play as Emily or Corvo?
Outside of dialogue, the choice has virtually no impact on the game’s progression or overarching plot, and the motivations for each character remains the same. Save the other and recapture the empire. This amounts to several missions in which the player must take down various lieutenants serving under Delilah until they can turn the odds in their favor enough to reclaim the throne. The tale is a relatively straight-forward revenge story against a rudimentary, yet justifiably evil, antagonist. The driving emotional hook is instead found in the character we play and whose moral integrity is formed by our actions—the ramifications of which redirects the narrative along the way.
The entirety of Dishonored 2can be completed either lethally or non-lethally, and this decision has impacts beyond personal morale. How one chooses to engage with enemies and progress through the plot’s various twists can have noticeable effects on key moments in the narrative. This includes the story’s grand conclusion, but for reasons that won’t be spoiled here, the smaller moments of emotion found in other missions held significantly more weight than what the finale had in store. Not due to any specifics necessarily, but just general design execution.
The dichotomy of lethal versus nonlethal gameplay is more than a means to the narrative’s end. It is also the first step in the game’s intricate stealth-combat gameplay. At the end of each mission, a scale weighs one’s mercy against their cruelty and overt-ness versus their covertness. These choices set a tone for the game and can even have an effect on core mechanics. A host of tools like a crossbow, a pistol, traps, and more are available for the player, offering enough variety to facilitate any playstyle. These tools operate in the character’s left hand, but permanently in your right hand is the player’s most useful item; the sword. The sword is the primary means of attacking in both stealth and open combat. When fighting does break out, though, gameplay takes a hit, becoming manageable but somewhat bland. Sword combat employs a small selection of attacks and blocking maneuvers, with the opportunity to use tools like the pistol to mix things up. The design is effective, but lacking in a bit of flourish. Once one gets into a rhythm, the repetitious process of blocking and countering makes it clear why the game seems to push players towards the stealthy approach.
Crouching through the shadows is ultimately the preferable tactic, with enough equipment variety to make it a viable option. That said, this is where you must begin putting in the commitment. Every stealth game operates by a certain set of rules. How far away can enemies see me? How far away can they hear me? How will neutral NPC’s react to witnessing violence? It takes a long time to fully understand Dishonored 2’s rules of engagement, but even then, there are many things out of the player’s control. An enemy turning around mid-patrol for no reason, or inexplicably tripping over one of their own explosives can be frustrating enough, but recurring bugs such as the take-down animation failing while right behind an enemy can sometimes make us wonder why we even bother devising a plan in the first place. These issues also make the absence of more contemporary mechanics like enemy marking particularly evident. When everything goes according to plan, it can feel truly rewarding, but often things can fall out of hand. Luckily, this is somewhat mitigated by Dishonored 2’s most significant feature.
The game’s aforementioned character choice at the start of the story is far more than an outfit swap. Each of the two characters have several unique magical abilities that completely shift the gameplay dynamic. These abilities are unlocked over the course of the campaign by purchasing them with collectibles. The various powers can be incorporated into all playstyles, but what makes them a series cornerstone is the ability to cleverly combine them with tools, weapons, or each other to create humorous and/or tactically advantageous situations. Corvo wields the same magical skills as he did in the previous title, which are conceptually simpler but ultimately more flexible in their utility, and accommodate more clever trains of thought. Emily features an entirely new selection of powers, and veteran fans will likely want to use her in the first playthrough for the novelty, but her abilities don’t have the same versatility. In some cases, they are overpowered to the point that combining them with any complex strategy would be a redundant risk.
Once the player’s full physical and magical arsenal is in play, the game begins to reach its full potential. There are nine missions in total, and while that may not sound like much, each mission is comprised of several semi-linear zones that reward exploration with the assistance of one’s abilities. Resources to upgrade various parts of the character aren’t acquired through missions, but instead are happened upon in the world, as are new side missions and supplementary details about the story. This makes exploration key to the enjoyment of the experience, as it is directly correlated with the evolution of the character. The game gets exponentially more entertaining the deeper one gets into their character’s progression, which in turn further incentivizes taking in everything that each mission offers. The downside here is that the experience only truly comes alive when the player’s entire repertoire is in play.
There could’ve been a way to fix this, and in the process, Dishonored 2 could have remedied one of the flaws of the original game. Instead, the series still lacks a new game plus option. This could have allowed players to replay the entirety of the campaign with everything they had unlocked by the end of the previous run-through. New game plus is a necessity for games like Dishonored 2that don’t reach their full potential until all the content for the character is simultaneously available, and its absence is nothing short of shocking. The ability to enjoy the experience with two unique and separate characters is certainly a virtue in its favor, but the lack of new game plus means players will always be handicapped for the first half of the game, regardless of how they construct their loadout. So much replay value could have been added through a seemingly simple feature, and while the developers have claimed they are looking into it for a future update, the game must be judged on its current merits.
Setting aside the lack of new game plus for a moment, Dishonored 2at its core is still a genuinely good time. Between the sprawling levels and the extensive progression system, it can take players some time to fully come to terms with the experience the game is striving for. For those willing to put the time in, veteran or newcomer, you’ll discover another exciting stealth experience to add to your library.
A competent and fun stealth experience brought down by some technical issues and the inexplicable lack of new game plus.
M - Mature
|Dishonored 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Bethesda Softworks for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Nick didn’t start gaming until mid-2006. Once his parents finally allowed a console into the house, it was all uphill from there. Starting out with a PS2, he grew an affinity for Sony consoles and moved on to the PS3, and now the PS4. He keeps his gaming palette wide, but, gun to his head, he’d have to say shooters are his genre of choice.