When sneaky stealth-em-up Dishonored was released in 2012, it took many people by surprise. As a genre, games which focused on stealth had largely been ignored since the hugely popular Thief series, (the last of which had been released five years previously) and a return to this style of gameplay was welcomed by both new players and veterans alike. Dishonored began with the assassination of Jessamine Kaldwin, Empress of the Empire of the Isles, the abduction of her daughter, Emily, and the framing of the Royal Protector, Corvo, for the Empress' death.
Set fifteen years after the events covered by its predecessor, Dishonored 2 sees the grown-up Emily losing the throne in a coup started by an old adversary. As the coup takes effect, the game lets you choose whether you wish to play as Emily or Corvo which determines, to a small amount, how the story of your attempt to restore Emily to the throne unfolds. Leaving the brooding city of Dunwall behind, you escape to the southern city of Karnaca, the source of the coup, to try and discover more about those behind it.
The world of Dishonored is a stylish mix of 19th century England with a twist of Victorian technology which results in a vibrant steampunk-esque setting. Neatly attired guards rub shoulders with luxuriously dressed nobles and ragged beggars, while whale oil-powered machines clank and electrical defence systems spark. Dishonored also has its own unique artistic style which further accentuates the visceral griminess of the world.
If you didn't play the original game, Dishonored 2 is a first-person open world affair which provides you with a large amount of freedom regarding how you progress through it. The game is broken into a number of large, detailed areas, each one with its own challenges, routes and secrets. Although you can progress straight to the main objective, listening in on conversations, chatting with locals and exploring buildings can lead to a wealth of information, equipment and money. You are also free to choose your own play-style; you can either sneak your way across the map, avoiding combat by keeping out of sight of enemies or you can storm into combat, and you also have a choice of whether to lethally dispatch your foes or knock them out. Of course, each approach has its benefits, and limitations, and the choices you make affect the world both immediately and as you progress through the game.
Emily and Corvo have the option of receiving the Mark of the Outsider to aid them in their journey. The Outsider's mark allows you to unlock supernatural powers such as the ability to move short distances instantly (which allow you to move unseen or reach normally inaccessible areas), possess enemies or manipulate time. Powers can be unlocked or upgraded by spending points, which gives you complete flexibility over which powers you use and how you use them. You start with some points and others can be gained by locating whalebone runes which are hidden around the map, often requiring serious thought or skill to obtain them. Also located around the map are bone charms, which provide small bonuses to your character but, if the thought of searching the map for these bonuses is a turn-off, there is a slightly unusual item, gifted by the Outsider, which makes locating them a little easier.
If you are familiar with Corvo's powers from the first game, they are largely unchanged in the sequel, but Emily's powers are new and include Domino (which allows you to link the fates of enemies so that what befalls one, such as being shot, affects them all) and Shadow Walk (which allows Emily to transform into a shadow-like entity to avoid detection or enter small spaces). The powers are similar to Corvo's but have their own unique aspects which make them interesting and challenging in their own right. And, should you decide you need a challenge, you can refuse the Outsider's mark altogether and play the game without any powers!
Although the graphics and sound have received a polish over the original Dishonored, as you would expect as the last game was released on the last generation consoles, most of the enhancement in computing power has been devoted to a better AI, larger areas and more people milling around the city areas. Yes, the game looks gorgeous but it's nice to see the developer choosing to enhance the realism of the world over photo-realistic graphics and fancy effects.
Dishonored 2 is a wonderfully clever and complex game but, in many ways, that is also its downfall. Objectives can be complex and runes and bone charms well hidden, which means that players who enjoy action-rich games may find the style of the game frustrating, and even veteran gamers may find themselves reloading previous saves to avoid an unexpected outcome, such as being spotted by an enemy, rather than dealing with the consequences. However, for patient players, the game offers an interesting story and cerebral gameplay set in a wonderfully detailed, yet slightly sinister world.