Arkane and Bethesda's Dishonored 2 is the follow-up to their highly successful first-person stealth/action game, Dishonored. The new game adds a second playable character, and once again lets players side with good (Low Chaos) or evil (High Chaos). But which side does Dishonored 2 really favor?
Threat to the throne
Although familiarity with the first Dishonored doesn't hurt, you wouldn't be at much disadvantage by starting with Dishonored 2. The story takes place 15 years after the original, with young Emily Kaldwin (rescued in the happy ending of Dishonored) now ruling the Empire of the Isles from the city of Dunwal. Corvo Attano, original protagonist, all-around badass, and Emily's father, serves as her Royal protector.
Despite the prosperity of Emily's reign, a dark shadow looms. A serial murderer known as the Crown Killer has been grotesquely eliminating potential enemies of the Empress.
While Corvo and Emily discuss this during the introduction, an entourage from a neighboring city seeks their audience. Among this group is Delilah Copperspoon, a witch who claims to be Emily's aunt and rightful ruler of the Empire. As the entourage suddenly attacks everyone in the room, Delilah steals Corvo's powers (a clever way to reset his abilities to square one).
Once the fight breaks out, players are given the choice between playing as Corvo or Emily. The one you don't pick gets turned into a statue, to be rescued (or not) at the end of the game. Your character will need to escape from imprisonment, avenge the deaths of the loyal royal guards, and then seek allies in the battle against the Duke and Delilah.
The power is yours
One of those allies is the Outsider, a mysterious black-eyed figure who exists in a parallel dimension called the Void. He is the source of all magic, and soon bestows those powers on the protagonist.
Corvo and Emily start with a single ability that allows them to teleport short distances, handy for crossing gaps and reaching new heights. Beyond that first ability, their growth branches. Corvo can gain powers like the ability to temporarily possess animals and humans, whereas Emily creates shadow copies of herself.
New powers are acquired by finding Runes scattered throughout each chapter of the game. You have complete freedom in selecting powers (and upgrades for those powers) — all you need are enough runes to unlock the desired abilities. Also hidden throughout the world are Bonecharms, equippable totems that provides specific stat bonuses and effects.
Locating Runes and Bonecharms is largely a pleasure, thanks to a mystical Heart given by the Outsider. When equipped, the Heart points out the locations of any mystical collectible in the area. Figuring out how to reach them is another matter entirely, and part of the fun. The heart can also reveal the secrets of any Non-Player Character (NPC) or enemy it targets, often revealing their grim misdeeds.
Agents of chaos
Knowing that an NPC has someone beaten to death or fed a cat to its owner in a pie lessens some of the guilt of killing them. Nearly every character in the game can be offed in any number of ways: sword-fighting melee battles, gunshot, crossbow bolts, stealth assassinations, via the use of powers, and more. Stealth and melee kills are generally accompanied by fast but brutal animations.
Having killed (or simply knocked out) an enemy or bystander, our protagonist can hide the bodies to reduce the chance of detection – much like in Hitman. This provides the chance for extra gruesomeness, such as stacking huge piles of bodies or throwing bodies into streams filled with carnivorous fish for consumption. If you like playing as a bad guy, Dishonored 2 has you covered.
Upon completing any of the game's nine chapters, your kills and other actions will be tallied to determine your Chaos rating. Evil actions result in a High Chaos alignment, the equivalent to the Dark Side in Star Wars. This actually affects the game world in subsequent chapters, increasing the chapter of ruin and the preponderance of bloodflies, deadly parasitic insects that take root in many cities of the Empire. It also leads to a much darker ending upon beating the game.
Of course, playing as a good guy (Low Chaos) is also an option. To do this, you'll need to kill infrequently or not at all. You never have to kill anyone in Dishonored 2. Distracting enemies and sneaking past them is a viable alternative. Sneaking up on enemies and choking them unconscious will eliminate them as threats, though you might still need to hide their bodies.
Avoiding conflicts and kills (often combined with a "no powers" run for an additional Achievement) is by far the most challenging way to play – and arguably the least enjoyable. To alleviate the difficulty somewhat, players can save anywhere and as often as they like. This also allows you to experiment with different approaches, which is always good. The "Game Saved" prompt could be a lot more obvious, though – it isn't always clear that the game has saved successfully.
Achievements and replayability
On Xbox One, Dishonored 2 has 50 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Each of the nine chapters has at least one optional Achievement, if not more. An Achievement for finding all of the collectible paintings in the game will likely necessitate the use of a guide, as the Heart used for finding Runes and Bonecharms offers no guidance for paintings.
Naturally, the game offers Achievements for completing a Low Chaos run and a High Chaos run, requiring at least two playthroughs. There are also Achievements for "No kills" and "No powers" runs. Emily and Corvo each have an Achievement associated with their unique powers, so you'll need to play as both of them as well.
Complicating the Achievement situation, Dishonored 2 has no Chapter Select feature at launch. In other words, you can't go back to find paintings or complete objectives that you missed after completing a chapter. The workaround is to create a save at the beginning of each chapter for use as a back-up in case anything goes awry during the playthrough. Still, the linearity of the game combined with the multitude of things to look out for in each chapter feels restrictive and stressful.
Thankfully, impending updates will address the linearity and missable Achievement issues. The first update, due in late December, adds a New Game Plus mode that allows players who've beaten the game to begin anew while retaining all of their Runes and Bonecharms. This mode also allows the mixing and matching of Emily and Corvo's powers.
The second major update will come in January. It adds custom difficulty settings and most importantly, a chapter select. Both New Game Plus and Chapter Select seem like obvious inclusions from the start, but it's likely the developers simply didn't have time to implement them before launch.
Dishonored 2 is an amazing game. Played entirely in first-person, the freedom it bestows players closely resembles that of the Elder Scrolls games. Although the game is broken up into distinct levels rather than an open world, each chapter is huge and filled with atmosphere, detail, and myriad nooks and crannies to explore. The Empire really feels like a believable steampunk world, one with countless stories to tell.
The choice between High Chaos and Low Chaos playthroughs closely resembles the moral choices of BioWare games. One can only be either virtuous or cartoonishly evil here, with no gray areas in between. But that's not such a bad thing, as being a merciless killer never loses its grim luster. High Chaos really is the most darkly satisfying way to play the game. And when you're ready for a greater challenge, you can play the whole thing again as a stealthy do-gooder.
- Two unique playable characters
- Play good or bad for different experiences
- Incredible level design and environmental storytelling
- No New Game Plus or chapter select at launch
- Morality system has no real gray area, just good and evil.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.