Subtlety isn’t always something which comes naturally in gaming. So many experiences are explosion-filled, non-stop action thrill rides that you come to expect grand spectacle and over-the-top set pieces whenever you turn on your console.
Each brutal killer - or ghostlike infiltrator, depending on your playstyle - has their own set of supernatural abilities which work in a similar way to BioShock’s plasmids, only with a more otherworldly presentation. The end result, once you’ve unlocked a number of these powers, is an increasing number of options on how to tackle certain problems and puzzles, which can feel incredibly rewarding when you find a combination that works for you.
The story is, as per usual, one of betrayal and false accusations, which either Emily or Corvo must work towards setting right in order to restore equilibrium. The missions themselves each have their own personality, injected through both level design and specific mechanics, making the game feel much more varied than you might expect.
One such level, which was shown off frequently prior to release, is The Clockwork Mansion, in which the entire building layout transforms around you at the pull of a lever - like some sort of twisted M.C. Escher painting come to life - and it’s extremely impressive.
Dishonored 2 stands up as one of the most compelling single-player outings of the year, balancing gameplay, story and spectacle in a way not often seen these days.
Developer Arkane seems to be acutely aware of the sort of spectacle they’ve created in this and other levels, as they offer occasional periods of respite in which you’re granted the freedom to explore and soak in the richness of this world. It isn’t quite as endearing as pre-event Columbia in BioShock Infinite, but it does have some genuine character to it, while still feeling like a natural battleground to skulk about in.
Gameplay is generally extremely well-balanced; slick and deliberate movements underline the fact you’re a trained killer, whether you decide to use that part of your skillset or not, whilst fluid combat elements flow naturally.
The original Dishonored was considered a challenging jaunt, which is an attribute its sequel holds on to. There are four difficulty settings from the off, with more to be added, along with a New Game Plus option via a free update in due course, but even the standard difficulty is a serious test of skill - particularly if you’re aiming to get through the game with no kills and not being discovered at all. There’s even a mode in which you forgo powers, reserved for actual masochists, though a forgiving save system might help you cheese your way through.
The AI can be overzealous at times, with the slightest glimpse of the player through cover, at a distance, even in shadow, arousing their suspicion, no matter how careful you might be to move slowly and carefully. In the same breath the enemies also suffer from cone of vision syndrome, where if you pull shenanigans behind them, even just a few metres away, they’re completely oblivious. This sort of inconsistency is few and far between, but certainly present enough to be noticeable and impact the way you play.
Some supporting characters have excellent voice talent on show, with turns from Rosario Dawson (Daredevil and Luke Cage), Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham’s Penguin) and Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths and Iron Man 2). Investing in these names pays off as the cast bring their characters to life, which is essential in what can otherwise feel like quite a deliberately solitary experience.
In the end, Dishonored 2 stands up as one of the most compelling single-player outings of the year, balancing gameplay, story and spectacle in a way not often seen these days. While there are a few things which don’t quite work, the game is greater than the sum of its parts, delivering a thoroughly engaging experience that will push veteran Corvo players while also offering a new gameplay style to master with Emily and her more nuanced set of powers.
At this time of year it might - in the spirit of the game itself - be one which is at risk of slipping by unnoticed, but there are lots of reasons it’s more than worthy of your time.
Did you enjoy Dishonored 2? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our video review as well.