If you asked me in 2013 if I liked Dishonored, I would have said, yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was the first game that I had played that made me think and scout out an area before making my decision to move in and take out my target.
However, I soon forgot about it and wasn’t pining for a follow-up, so when Dishonored 2 was announced right as I was deciding to sell my Xbox One, it wasn’t enough to make me find another way to fund my immediate school needs.
Now that all of Bethesda’s catalog is easily played on Game Pass, I had little reason not to play it. And thank goodness for that because Dishonored is a clear evolution of the first game and a clear reminder as to why I enjoyed the world so much all those years ago.
A Choice of Narrative
Taking place 15 years after the events of the first game, Dishonored 2 has Emily as the rightful empress of her kingdom and Corvo as her right-hand aid and protector. The empire is doing well, but recently a killer has been going around murdering Emily’s enemies, which has begun to make people believe that Corvo and Emily were behind the killing spree.
As Corvo and Emily ponder this in the throne room, they have a meeting with the Duke, who brings armed forces and a surprise guest: The former empress’ half-sister, Delilah, who has come to claim the throne for herself. Delilah has the powers of the Outsider just like Corvo and chooses to freeze either Corvo or Emily in stone, depending on the player’s choice.
The most obvious impact of this choice is how the different characters will play but what I was surprised to find was how the narrative took on surprising differences. My first playthrough, I chose to play as Corvo because he was the character I was most familiar with, and I wanted to feel like I was returning to the world of Dishonored as the same person.
What this did was tell a story VERY similar to the first game where Corvo must rescue Emily, align with people mad at the change of authority, and see the kingdom’s dirtiest corners. Even Corvo will say to himself that he’s done all of this before. The developers were very aware of what they were doing. It felt like Corvo was caught up in something once again but that he would figure it out in time.
While the events are largely the same, the tone of Emily’s POV feels more intimate with Delilah and the events of the kingdom. While Corvo can only be a mouthpiece for Emily, Emily herself can put her word behind the promises she makes.
Even the conversations between Emily and Delilah are more interesting because Delilah puts a lot more worth behind how she talks to Emily. Corvo, on the other hand, is looked as just an uppity personal guard who has received too much preferential treatment from the royals in the past.
This change of tone (alongside the gameplay changes) makes this a really interesting game to revisit in different styles, especially since the game will alter the ending based on how the player chooses to resolve conflicts. This is referred to as low chaos or high chaos and is essentially talking about the morality of the player.
I had played the first round as if I was a Corvo that had had enough of Emily being stolen away and me put to blame. I was ruthless in my attacks, and nobody was safe from my folding sword. The ending though was depressing and even altered Emily’s choices, so when I played Emily, I wanted to be empathetic to the people and tried to make her similar to how her mother appeared: A kind ruler.
Despite this game being roughly 12 hours long for a single playthrough, you can easily multiplay that number based on the different strategies, narratives, and choices that you make.
Levels That Will Make You Think
If you played the original Dishonored, Corvo’s powers will be very familiar because they are almost exactly the same. They can be upgraded to have more devastating impacts, and there are new bone charms which are essentially perks that can enhance your gameplay, but the real appeal is seeing Emily’s abilities.
The most obvious difference is that Emily doesn’t have Corvo’s iconic Blink ability, instead, she has Far Reach, which latches on to objects and people to close the distance between them and Emily. This makes it much harder to sneak around as Emily doesn’t disappear when she uses this ability like Corvo does, but it does make for some more interesting interactions, especially when dispatching enemies.
It might be because I am so familiar with Corvo’s toolbox but it felt like Emily’s powers were more inspired and felt more original to Dishonored. Corvo can use Emily’s powers in New Game+ but that’s not canon so does it really count?
The level design of Dishonored 2 felt like a huge leap forward from the original game. Each level is more elaborate and allows for more creative ways to sneak around enemies. For instance, “The Clockwork Mansion” is an entire building that changes with the push of a button.
On the surface, this can change whether you have access to the second floor via a staircase or if a pool table will offer enough verticality to allow you to scramble into a vent without having to use Blink. However, these new assets have to come from somewhere, so the player can scramble around inside the innards of the mansion as well.
I wasn’t even sure if that was a good idea, but with a killer robot on my heels, I ducked right into the closing metal slab like I was Indiana Jones. What I found made me rethink how I was going to tackle the level because it appeared that the developers had included buttons inside each side of the house to ensure that players didn’t get stuck.
With that fear taken care of, I was free to slither my way through the mansion while the target kept with his monologue that his mechanical killers would get me in no time.
Then there are levels that even introduced new mechanics like “A Crack in the Slab.” Here the player is trying to get information about how to stop Delilah, who is immune to any attempt at her life at the moment.
However, upon reaching a roadblock due to the passage of time, the Outsider shows up (very convenient, but he’s a God, so I will forgive it) and offers you a new tool that allows you to exist in two time periods: the present and the night that Delilah was revived.
It’s not straight forward though, because the present mansion is in decay, so it’s incredibly difficult to navigate while the mansion of the past is hosting a party, so it’s crawling with guards and party-goers. You have to switch between the two to find Delilah in the past, sneak past guards, and navigate the decay of time.
All the while, the powers you have become accustomed to using for everything have been stripped away in order to use this new temporary ability. You will need to navigate these rooms like a normal person, and it’s incredibly satisfying.
The freedom to choose how to navigate these levels is partly why they are so entertaining, but the end game of each level is just as interesting. Dishonored can be as simple as taking out a target or as complicated as trying to create a counter curse for another curse.
Learning additional ways to take out targets non-violently can be way more fun than simply driving your sword through their abdomen. My favorite was convincing an entire regiment of guards that the real Duke was actually the body double and vice versa. It was so outlandish and yet incredibly satisfying to give the Duke a fate potentially worse than death: ambiguity and a loss of freedom.
Even a Honed Sword Has a Few Blemishes
As much as I enjoyed a lot of the game, there were a few instances in the game that seemed out of place. The biggest of which is the ending level and “boss.” I was very much looking forward to taking care of Delilah in a similar way as any other target, but the game does a poor job at communicating how it’s actually possible to deal with her.
I had crafted a rune to deal with her non-lethally and luckily was able to place it in the throne, however, beyond that, I was lost. I entered the painting, and I saw nowhere to go.
I tried to avoid going directly toward Delilah but all that happened was she got up and sent clones at me, and then it turned into my least favorite fight in the game. It became: shoot stab, shoot stab, shoot stab. Then I took her down and the game was over. It was extremely disappointing.
I understand that she needed to be a little more crafty compared to normal characters because she had the Outsider powers, but I wish that the developers could have found another solution that was more enjoyable or communicated to the player better as to how to make the ending more interesting.
There were also a few times where I thought levels were a little too restrictive. This was definitely not the norm but since most of the game was so open to creativity and observation, it was disappointing to see areas that seemed to funnel you through these almost on rails areas. I’m sure development restrictions, budgets, and time were part of the reason why but it was something that stood out to me during my playthrough.
And while I did enjoy the narrative split and the tonal shift that it could represent, it was disappointing how much of a retread it could often feel like, especially from Corvo’s point of view. I feel like this game could have done some really interesting things if maybe they didn’t lose the throne right away.
Maybe look into the Crown Killer murders for a little while and do some normal political spying and espionage before things began to ramp up to 11? I know the game’s called “dishonored,” but that dishonor can wait a little, it doesn’t need to be before more than two characters are introduced.
Dishonored 2 offers another round of creative level design with slick powers that open up the sandbox for a variety of playstyles. While the narrative isn’t the most original, it was refreshing to see a real tonal shift between character selections and made me play differently as a result. I know I still haven’t seen everything yet and I’m up to the challenge to master all of these levels. 8/10