All hail the Empress!
Dishonored 2 on PlayStation 4
Back in 2012 developer Arkane Studios released the original Dishonored to high praise, despite its narrative woes, thanks to its sheer level of replayability. Four years later the sequel has arrived, and it’s very much the master, not the student. Dishonored 2 is everything a fan would want from a sequel, though it’s the smaller details and deeper focus on story that makes it a worthy successor to this franchise.
Set several years after the events of the first game, Dishonored 2 picks up the story of Corvo Attano and his daughter Empress Emily Kaldwin. Soon a long lost heir to the throne arrives for a violent overthrow, leaving one of the two heroes transformed into a marble statue, while the chosen protagonist is locked in their bedroom. However, you won’t stay imprisoned in the familiar city of Dunwall for long, as you retreat to the southern city of Karnaca in hopes of formulating a plan to save your kingdom.
The story this time around feels far more personal than the previous game, as the fight to retake Dunwall is a genuinely compelling narrative to drive the gameplay forward. This is only enhanced by the fantastic voice acting from the principle cast, which features voice overs for both Corvo and Emily. Having our protagonist talk this time around helps develop a connection with their struggle and offers much needed personalities.
For those curious enough about the world, players can explore the open levels for books, journal entries, and notes that help flesh out the universe and culture further. Even the mysterious Outsider, a character originally relegated as an exposition dump, takes a larger role this time around. In fact, the supernatural elements of the original Dishonored have been cranked up, which not only helps the general lore, but allows the level design to offer more than static castles and manors.
While Karnaca shares some similarities with Dunwall, it’s the rich, colorful pallet that gives this city a refreshing change of pace. Each of the nine missions are vastly opened up and are ripe for exploration and discovery. You’ll stumble upon a lot when exploring this city, as Dishonored 2 is full of interesting citizens, locales, and technology that help the area appear far more alive. Karnaca feels like a living, breathing world compared to the drab streets of Dunwall in the first game.
Yet, these massive levels offer more than just shops, apartments, and back alleys; each mission is set in a unique location that has its own personal quirk. The aptly named Clockwork Mansion can change and shift with the pull of a lever, while The Grand Palace is full of drunk party guests passed out everywhere. While I won’t spoil how, mission 7 is perhaps one of the most inventive and interesting level designs we’ve seen in recent memory. There are new challenges at every turn, which helps keep the general simplicity of each mission from growing stale.
Yes, you are pretty much just searching for people to kill 90% of the time, but the freedom of how you go about this allows each encounter to feel vastly different. My first run was the traditional stealth route on Emily, which felt both natural and incredibly fluid. Each level encouraged trying different routes and exploring areas you wouldn’t normally consider, which makes sneaking through a mission undetected far more rewarding. There are always multiple approach options and Dishonored 2 never feels as if it’s punishing you for trying to go lethal or non-lethal
While the campaign itself took me roughly 15 hours to beat, you can easily add another 5 hours onto that time through sheer experimentation. Thankfully, Dishonored 2 not only allows for you to seek new paths, but damn near encourages it thanks to an easy to use Quick Save and Quick Load option. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself reloading areas to see which way is more effective for killing a target.