Without having to make a major overhaul to the core gameplay mechanics, Arkane Studios refined the Dishonored experience, while also adding new flair that makes the sequel impeccable. Providing players with the tools to become the ultimate assassin or a rampaging maniac, Dishonored 2 supports any playstyle, which satisfies my thirst for blood and chaos. After certain events unfold during the first few minutes of the game, you are forced to surrender Dunwall for the time being and flee south as either Emily Kaldwin, the daughter of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and rightful heir to the throne, or Corvo Attano, the protagonist from the first game and Lord Protector.
Arkane Studios knew they had a winning formula with the first Dishonored, and they haven’t strayed from the path with the sequel. What it does do, however, is everything better, with subtle refinements to the formula that helps elevate the experience. A successful coup on the anniversary of Jessamine’s death fifteen years by Duke of Serkonos forces you to retreat to the southern city of Karnaca. Much like it was in Dishonored, the cornerstone to the narrative is told through the protagonist's search for vengeance. Whether or not you accomplish the task without being seen, or leave a trail of bodies, the choice is yours.
Although many fans of the series enjoy the low-chaos approach, Dishonored 2 is perfectly balanced for both a high-chaos bloodbath and a stealth low-chaos playstyle. Killing enemies or civilians, and leaving bodies where they can be detected, will adversely affect the locales you’ll be visiting. The Grand Guard appears in higher numbers, bloodfly nests infest almost everywhere, and despair washes over the local inhabitants as they live in constant fear.
Enemies are each weighed on a different morality rating, meaning the amount of chaos gained from killing will vary based on who you take out. Putting your knife through the neck of an innocent person will have more effect than if you kill someone that definitely needed to die. A very high chaos playstyle suits me perfectly, and thankfully Dishonored 2 lets me play the game how I want to play. Stealth has never been an enjoyable gameplay mechanic, and I can let out my rage in Dishonored and still complete the game. Of course, if you want the experience everything the game has to offer, you will want to play through the game multiple times, changing your character and your tactics. While I went out a murderous rampage with Corvo the first time, I stuck to the shadows with Emily.
Both Emily and Corvo feature distinct abilities and powers that can be upgraded depending on what approach you want to take to each mission. Corvo feels quite similar to how he played in the first game, as his powers granted to him from Outsider have returned. He still can bend time, summon a swarm of carnivorous rats, use a powerful wind blast to launch enemies off ledges and cliffs and blink to unreachable spots. Using the runes that you collect in each level, you upgrade your skills you tend to use the most. With my bloodlust, I immediately upgraded my rat swarm to devour foes, and last much longer. Worrying about bodies is a thing of the past when the rodents leave nothing behind. If you want to take a stealthier approach, dark vision can let you see through walls and keep an eye on enemy patrol routes.
Emily may be the best choice for those that played through the first game, giving you fresh abilities and unique powers to aid in your thirst for vengeance. I feel her powers work best when aiming for a low chaos playthrough, as Mesmerize distracts enemies long enough for you to bypass them. Doppelganger serves as another misdirection, creating a clone of herself, allowing you to sneak past enemies without being seen. Domino, however, is the best new power in the game, and frankly, the most interesting one, as it serves a purpose whether you aim to kill or incapacitate. Once fully powered, any action done to a single target will affect those nearby. Meaning a single sleep dart can knock out an entire group of soldiers, or an incendiary bolt can light multiple targets on fire.
However, you’ll want to plan out how you are going to spend your upgrade points before you begin, as you aren’t able to fully upgrade every power in a single playthrough. With no new game plus option, as of yet, it does allow you to play through multiple times, changing your approach and letting you focus on something new. If you are looking for an even tougher challenge, Arkane Studios has included a no powers mode built into the game, after seeing fans of the first game playthrough by letting their power usage. This means that levels are laid out differently than they were in the first game, as secret areas and higher elevations can be reached using Corvo’s and Emily’s powers, but also sans the utilization of any powers.
Bone charms play a major role in defining your character. Hidden in every level, bone charms can customize your character with added abilities. Bone charms that you find will have a single positive trait, but can also have an adverse effect if corrupted. While you may be able to take less damage from attacks, cause an enemy to drop a grenade at their feet, or cause their weapons to misfire, corruption could lead to slower movement speed or attack speed for example. Breaking these charms down allows for crafting of newer ones that can have up to four positive traits. The more positive traits you add, the more likely it will become corrupted. There is an upgrade option, ensuring that even if you select four attributes, it lessens the chance of corruption significantly.
Whether you play as Corvo or Emily, the narrative doesn’t change all that much, but your playstyle has a noticeable effect on the unfolding story. The powers you select and how you handle enemy encounters is the determining factor on how consecutive playthroughs can vary. Saving individual tougher story-focused characters instead of killing them will also change the overarching narrative. The levels themselves take center stage in Dishonored 2, with the Clockwork Mansion and Stilton’s Manor being two of the best levels I’ve played in any game this year. The Clockwork Mansion features shifting rooms and mechanical soldiers that are some of the toughest adversaries in the game. Luring them into traps or even turning them against the rest of the human enemies is pure joy. Every time you alter the design of the mansion, walls shift up or down, floors hide underneath others, letting you find the space between the walls to marvel at the spinning gears and everything moving in perfect synchronization.
Stilton’s Manor features a time manipulation mechanic, letting you peer and travel into the past and back to the present without much effort. Both of these locations add to the open focus on the game, adding new possibilities for the series. Each level offers a unique gameplay experience, acting as part of the larger puzzle, but are equally impressive in their own right. In between levels you explore the city locations, listening to NPCs chatter, which changes based on the Chaos system, and finding clues along the way.
Dishonored 2 is a better game than its predecessor in every form, building upon its award-winning formula, regardless if you stick to the shadows or spill the blood of your enemies. It’s a rewarding and satisfying experience, although the game culminates the same more or yes regardless of your choices. The game’s epilogue will paint an optimistic or disastrous picture of the future based on your choices, but the game’s narrative doesn’t hold up as well as the actual gameplay.Note: Dishonored 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.