In 2012, Dishonored emerged from nowhere to become one of the most interesting new video game IPs in recent memory. Well, “nowhere” might not be entirely correct, since Dishonored exists as the brainchild of one Harvey Smith. If you’ve been gaming over the past 20 years, you’ve likely seen his name attached to some very important series. And while creations like System Shock and Deus Ex set a pretty high bar for Smith, he managed to clear it with Dishonored’s stellar debut.
Four years have passed, and Dishonored’s sequel has finally arrived. The second game in any successful series typically has big shoes to fill, and thankfully, Dishonored 2 doesn’t stray far from the original’s game plan. With this sequel, Arkane Studios yet again delivers a modest collection of brilliantly curated levels, absolutely begging to be explored.
As expected, you’re given an almost terrifying amount of freedom with how you can approach your many objectives. True, those who don’t like playing games meticulously might be turned off by Dishonored 2′s fussy, punishing nature. But if you’re into Arkane’s brand of stealth action, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.
As with the first Dishonored, part two takes place immediately after a coup in the fictional capital city of Dunwall. Former royal bodyguard Corvo Attano and his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin, find themselves deposed as the result of a conspiracy. It's all very convenient, but this short setup provides a very Dishonored incentive: revenge.
Players choose between Corvo and Emily at the outset, though the game doesn't explicitly communicate how they differ. Corvo retains all of his abilities from the first game, while Emily comes with a host of new skills. Unfortunately, Dishonored 2 traps you in either role for the entire experience, so you may want to experiment a little before deciding.
Dishonored 2 breaks itself up into nine missions, which remain nearly the same regardless of your character choice. Nine levels may seem somewhat brief, but rest assured, Dishonored 2's environments are large and incredibly dense. And, like in the first game, the sequel provides plenty of good reasons to explore every last nook and cranny.
Since your weapon loadout and unlocked skills rely entirely on resources found within a level, you'll want to make sure you find them all. Refreshingly, none of Dishonored 2's treasures amount to worthless collectibles: Everything you find empowers you in at least some way.
If you're more likely to approach FPSes with berserker tactics, Dishonored 2 might throw you off at first. Though it gives you some safe spaces to explore without being detected, soon, these disappear almost entirely. Enemies have much sharper perception in this sequel, and can easily lay waste to you in groups of two or more.
A direct, violent approach can work, but ultimately—as with many games—Dishonored 2 rewards a stealthy, peaceful playthrough. As with Dishonored's debut, most levels contain a target for you to dispatch in either a lethal or non-lethal way. Sure, it can be satisfying to stab your target in the head, but going through some semi-peaceful steps to bring them down can often be much more rewarding.
Though Dishonored 2 has you doing the same basic actions to a few enemy types, the amount of ways you can play with its reactive world keeps things lively. For instance, you can Solid Snake a foe by luring them to you with a loud noise—always a classic. But your otherworldly powers provide much more creative ways to take down enemies in your path.
With Emily, you can link a group's consciousness together with a spell, and numb four minds at once with a single sleep dart. Or, you can send soldiers running after your summoned doppelgänger as you skulk away in an eerie shadow-beast form. Ultimately, Dishonored 2 contains too many options to list in a simple review, which speaks to the wealth of possibilities available. Thankfully, it's incredibly easy to quick-save and quick-load, making experimentation nearly effortless.
The Art of Surprise
Dishonored 2's discrete, intensely curated levels also provide the designers opportunities to step outside of the FPS box. While plenty of missions send you through mazes of urban architecture, Dishonored 2 isn't afraid to develop an entire level around a uniform idea. One of its more inspired missions feels like a Legend of Zelda dungeon, and requires expert manipulation of a clockwork mansion to progress. Making your way to your target involves keeping track of the many parts of the environment as they shift and contort at the pull of a lever.
Another tosses most mechanics aside for the sake of giving players the power to leap forward and backward in time. And, with the help of a handheld item, you can peer into the alternate time at any point. Even after hours of besting guards, nothing beats alerting them, warping to the future, and then zapping back to the past to catch them from behind. The standard levels certainly have their charms, but jumping between two chronological points to solve puzzles in a dilapidated mansion made for some of my most surprising and inspired moments with Dishonored 2.
Should You Play Dishonored 2?
If you enjoyed the first Dishonored:
Absolutely. While it doesn't play very differently from the first game, that's no downside. Plus, having access to an additional character means you can approach those similar objectives in a completely new way.
If you prefer more "traditional" FPSes:
Maybe. If your favorite FPSes follow the Call of Duty model, Dishonored 2's focus on meticulous, slow-paced action may test your patience. Then again, it could introduce you to a new form of expression for your favorite genre.
If you didn't play the original:
If you've never played the first Dishonored, don't let that worry you. The sequel's story is straightforward enough, and outlines the baggage it carries over from the debut. And if you crave more Dishonored after playing the sequel, you can always jump back to the first. After all, it's still a phenomenal game.
Dishonored 2 is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Check out more of our Dishonored 2 thoughts below. Then, for some suggested character builds and playstyles, check out our Dishonored 2 character infographic.