Arkane Studios’ 2012 release of Dishonored broke the genre trend of staging adrenaline-fuelled action sequences, instead offering the tools for players to make their own fun, to great effect. Anyone comfortable with fast-paced first-person action games should have played it then, and still should today. The sequel could be called a return to form if the team had ever deviated from what made the first game fantastic, which they haven’t. Dishonored 2 is set in a gorgeously detailed world of fiction, yet the delivery of its narrative falls far short, in the exact same fashion as the precursor. Dishonored 2 hits all the same nails right on their tiny heads, even if it stubs its thumbs a few times along the way. 

Dishonored is a revenge story starring jilted Royal Protector Corvo Attano as a recently superpower-ified assassin ripping apart a conspiracy, avenging the late Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and saving their eight year old daughter Emily. The sequel is set fifteen years in the future, and Emily’s reign has been cut short by a coup led by her mother’s estranged half-sister Delilah. One of our heroes will find themselves escaping Dunwall to recollect and take apart this new conspiracy; Delilah will freeze the other in marble.

Dishonored 2 forces you to constantly make choices, the first of which is to play as Corvo with his established suite of powers, or as Emily with her completely new abilities. This choice makes some thematic differences but both protagonists are anything but interesting in the narrative, so the skills are the only practical point of difference. At least two playthroughs are a must to get the most out of the game, but note that not all approaches are equal.

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I decided early on to choose Emily and a Low Chaos playthrough. This means opting to knock-out guards and find “clever” nonlethal ways of taking out primary targets, rather than slaughtering, maiming and assassinating. This does not necessitate playing stealthily, but that does help. It was only upon starting a second campaign that I realised how much more effort a Low Chaos playthrough is, and how much more rewarding it is; entire sections of the game appear to be eliminated by taking the lethal option. Choosing to run through the objectives and assassinate targets from the shadows or assault them head-on greatly limits a player’s experience of the game, missing out on some of the most interesting gameplay moments. I’d recommend a slow-paced low chaos playthrough; then a blood-fuelled vengeance the second time around.

Both characters begin with a basic teleport ability. Whereas Corvo’s Blink is very straightforward – literally – Emily’s Far Reach takes some getting used to, but has in turn much greater potential utility than Blink. Role-playing as a pseudo-Spiderman with Emily is fun, even if that means accidentally soaring through glass windows and into crowded rooms on occasion. Further abilities and upgrades are purchased with runes which are dispersed through the world, and less integral passive enhancements are granted by collecting bonecharms. Far Reach/Blink are by far the best abilities, but another stand out is Domino, which allows you to link two NPC’s together so they share the same fate when knocked out or killed. It is hilarious and I love it.

Some of these abilities feel underpowered initially, but through experimentation you will find ways of combining them with your wide arsenal of weaponry and assassinatory skills. Dishonored 2 has provided the tools and the arena to create your own satisfying gameplay moments. For instance, after equipping a bonecharm that releases a shockwave when landing from a moderate height, I accidentally sent three guards rocketing over a railing and into the harsh seas far below. More strategic examples exist, but it’s these interesting discoveries that happen by mistake when you improvise a little that make Dishonored such a memorable and noteworthy series.

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The plot is not the strongest suit in Dishonored’s deck; clearly not the most comfortable either. I recall a plot twist being the only redeeming feature of the 2012 release’s narrative, and this sequel doesn’t even try to throw any curve balls. Hammy monologues by the superpower-granting Outsider, awkward skiff-ride small talk with your allies, and some of the story-related eavesdropped conversations feel transparent, like a constant reminder that “hey, you’re playing a game, hope you’re not feeling immersed at all!” These instances can bring you out of the experience quite a lot, which is a shame considering how effective the non-verbal communication is elsewhere in the game.

At odds with the forgettable plot of the game is the powerful storytelling present in visual, spatial elements. A letter found by a rotting corpse details how the unfortunate soul came to be on this open rooftop, driven mad by the bonecharm lovingly carved from whalebone still clutched in their hand. Bloodfly infested apartments are boarded up and ignored, and the blood of whales runs freely through the streets. These varied moments convey the dark, layered culture of the area in a way that seems so effortless, because it is delivered well. Walking through forgotten underground tunnels, jumping along makeshift staircases up to lofty windows, even skulking down streets populated with gossiping civilians; these moments create a sense of purpose and mystery and discovery that the formal, structured and stilted narrative never comes close to achieving. I’m not convinced it even tries to.

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This sequel is set in the same world as the first but predominantly in a new city, Karnaca, the Jewel of the South. The first and last missions are set in Dunwall, the empire’s capital, while the rest of the action takes place in this whale-fishing city on the continent of Serkonos. We are constantly reminded that this is Corvo’s home town, but this fails to develop into anything exciting. Karnaca is beautifully detailed and its distinct culture is explored in lore and letters scattered in the world. This distinguishes it from Dunwall, but feels consistent with the world. It is a different type of putrid than Dunwall, but vile and remarkable nonetheless.

Each mission in Karnaca is designed to be distinct in theme, giving a variety of location, thought most follow a similar formula of level design. There are always hidden alleys, open windows and roof tops to scale as well as the well-guarded front door, so there’s plenty of gameplay variety available. Two levels in particular introduce drastically different design mechanics that became really disorientating for me; the Clockwork Mansion which featured heavily in pre-release promotional material, and A Crack in the Slab. The former produced an evolving maze that defied the skills I had developed thus far, while the latter spat in the face of those skills and had me running around, dazed, disorientated and caught in a perpetual multidimensional pursuit until I stumbled into the exit. As is presumably mandated for all super-power games, this was the level wherein they confiscate your superiness, leaving you with only your wits, gadgets and ability to run careening past enemies. This is exacerbated by the introduction of a temporary and temporal new mechanic, forcing you to come to grips with this skill on the fly without the security of Far Reach; this broke me. This was the one moment I truly regretted chasing the completely non-lethal playthrough, but I made it.

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I really enjoy Dishonored 2, and am definitely not done with it yet, but it is not flawless, even accounting for the forgettable characters and underwhelming shrug of a final act. Clambering on windowsills while crouched proved to be impossible every now and then, yet it seems to happen all the time. Some assassination attempts are thwarted when enemies are propped against certain objects or seated. These inconsistencies can be frustrating through being unexpected, especially if you haven’t quicksaved in some time.

Purchasing upgrades is unfortunately a one-way street; you can never know if your investment of runes is wise until it’s too late, and unless you’re smart enough to have a safety save to reload if a perk doesn’t gel well with you style there is no opportunity to reinvest. Some powers use such a sizeable portion of your available mana store that it becomes hard to justify using them, in case that prevents you from Far Reach-ing out of trouble later on.

I am very happy with Dishonored 2. The freedom of gameplay, the lush lore, the interesting and beautiful world; I was never not going to like it. Even if the story itself is a poorly written slog, there are dozens of enchanting stories, moments that capture the . My first playthrough wherein I explored every nook and cranny I could took around 15 hours, yet there is enough content here that I easily missed to justify a second playthrough, and trophies incentivise tackling the campaign a few times. I will be getting a lot more fun out of Dishonored 2, although the missing “u” in “Dishonoured” will always through me off. I am an Australian, dammit.


Select Start Media was provided with a code for Dishonored 2 on PS4 by Bethesda Softworks.