Bethesda Softworks and Arkane Studios invite us to return to the bizarre steampunk world of Dishonored for more stealth, assassinations and slaughtered whales.
Dishonored 2 opens fifteen years after the events in the first game. In 2012's Dishonored, we played as the Royal Protector, Corvo Attano, framed for the murder of Empress Jessamine, the young Emily Kaldwin's mother.
This second outing starts with both the now grown up Empress Emily Kaldwin and her Royal Protector, Corvo Attano, in a similar predicament. The populous is becoming suspicious and feel that it's no coincidence that critics of the Empress are being murdered by the so-called Crown Killer.
Things go from bad to worse when Duke Luca Abele of Serkonos interrupts a memorial ceremony in honour of Emily's mother. The Duke presents Delilah Copperspoon, who claims to be Jessamine's half-sister, Emily's aunt, and the rightful heir to the Empire of the Isles.
This brief introduction sets in motion the game's plot whereby either Emily or Corvo must venture to the city of Karnaca on a quest to clear their name and reinstate Emily as Empress.
The plot moves quickly and is well thought out, without bogging itself down too heavily in the game's hefty lore. But don't get me wrong, the game world is very well developed, with further narrative depth made available via collectables.
Players get to choose between playing as Corvo, who conveniently (from a gameplay balancing perspective) loses his powers early on, or the former Empress, Emily Keldwin. Either way you are going to start with little in the way of abilities, Emily having not been fully trained by Corvo.
Whilst playing the first game will help you understand the story a bit more, it is by no means essential. In any case, Dishonored 2, only continues the “good” ending of the last game.
The rich game world has been inspired by a gas-lit Victorian England. It's a derivative off-shoot of the steampunk genre, whereby whale oil is the main power source. Far from being a technological utopia, the streets are crawling with rats and new for this game, the city of Karnaca is suffering from a terrible infestation of potentially lethal bloodflies.
As with the previous game, Dishonored 2 is primarily a first-person stealth game, with your character an expert at infiltrating and, if necessary, lethal combat. As well as being able to keep out of sight and fight, you have a range of supernatural powers at your disposal.
Whilst both characters powers are similar, they work in slightly different ways, enough to warrant a second playthrough. Emily starts with Far Reach, which is like Corvo's Blink. It's not a teleport, but the ability allows Emily to travel directly to any accessible location. Corvo's Bend Time gives you extra time to evade, or dispatch foes whilst Emily's Domino allows you to link enemies together so that an attack on one affects the rest.
Each of the character's powers adds a unique way of proceeding in the game. They all come with a number of upgrades. Upgrading powers, as well as applying enhancements strength, agility etc. means every playthrough is likely to be different.
Abilities and powers are gained and improved by collecting Bone Charms and Runes. The locations to these items is uncovered by equipping and squeezing a gruesome-looking clockwork heart.
As well as the heart, you can equip a pistol or a stealthier crossbow in your left hand, complementing the blade in your right. Both weapons have a variety of different ammo types, such as sleep darts and incendiary rounds. Quickly mixing it up between your sword, crossbow and your abilities, such as Blink, makes taking out enemies quite exhilarating.
Many of the areas can be traverse a number of ways, often allowing you completely avoid guards, sneak past them or attack them head-on.
The game's levels are meticulously detailed and designed with exploring in mind. You are invited to examine every nook and cranny, the reward being some new item of lore be it a diary entry, note or letter. It's through these optional bits of text that you can learn the background of the story.
The unique look of the game is part of its charm. Shunning photo-realism, Dishonored 2, like its predecessor, adopts a picture-book, painterly style for its visuals. The result is a very beautiful-looking game, that's a joy to play.
If I had to fault the game, it would be its similarity to the first game. But with the choice of playing one of two characters you effectively get twice the game. Also, if it's not broke, why fix it?
With a riveting plot, beautiful visuals, loads of customisation options and different ways to play the game, Dishonored 2 is in a class of its own. The finely-polished gameplay makes it one of the best single-player experiences that you can have this year.