To call Dishonored 2’s stunning levels “sandboxes” would be a disservice. These are extraordinary sandcastles set in enchanted lands that beg to be explored while immersing you in wonder. Player choice is always paramount and the environments are rich with imaginative vision.
This is a game that begs to be replayed and provides multiple endings depending on how much blood was shed. 3/4 through my first Emily play-through I couldn’t wait to start over and explore other abilities from the beginning, not to mention try out Corvo’s bag of tricks. That’s absolutely not to say I didn’t fully enjoy my first choices to make Emily a murderous melee expert who gains power from violence. There’s just always another way. Dishonored 2 always provides another route, always gives an alternate to murder, and always inspires another creative method to solve any obstacle. After learning the language of the game, I made sure to constantly look up for verticality, explore every room for lore and goodies, and hatch new plans after each failed attempt.
The level design is the brightest star in Dishonored 2’s stellar solar system. The streets and residences have a sense of purpose and interconnect intuitively to provide variety and utility. I’ve always appreciated Zelda games that warp you out after adventuring deep into a dungeon, and Dishonored 2 almost always has a clever way to move you from the end of one scene to the beginning of the next. There is still one particular level that forces a backtrack, but that level’s mechanic-I-won’t-mention is so brilliant it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The game is structured as a series of short stories, each set in a uniquely magnificent town with its own twist, bringing you one step closer to your final goal. The narrative concept is quite similar to the first game, but although the overall story arc is effective enough at providing motivation for the next task, it’s merely a thread to connect the remarkable levels you’ll be revisiting with each play through. Pulling into each breathtaking port and drinking in its fascinating lore reminded me of the wonder I first felt visiting new towns in classic JRPGs, but are now fully brought to life.
Each town is usually crowned with an elaborate mansion housing the villain-of-the-moment. These sprawling residences also have their own special quirks and some are true showstoppers. One lair in particular was designed by a mad inventor as a gigantic mechanical puzzle with moving floors, walls, and much more I won’t spoil here.
The conversations were written with gameplay in mind. As the player spends most of their time slinking around awaiting the perfect opportunity, the overheard conversations are suitably long. I rarely heard unnatural repetition or shallow catch phrases. Eavesdropping is also an effective way to gain optional side missions. These might not show up on your HUD as official quests with a handy arrow, but instead demand that you keep your ears open and ready to snatch useful info on which buildings to infiltrate for adventurous loot or shortcuts.
The preferred way to play will have you sneaking up on enemies and taking them out with a quick and gory death-blow, or slower choke out. Both can also be performed as a drop-attack. When you choose to fight, combat is the same furious mix of melee, ranged, and magical abilities that worked so well in Dishonored 1. A well-timed block will stagger the opponent for the same kill/knockout you perform while sneaking. You’ll feel like a powerhouse assassin but death is never more than a few mistakes away. The enemies attack ferociously and block intelligently, swarming all sides with numbers when they can. The AI does have an unfortunate habit of shooting their compadres while aiming at you, but that’s nothing we haven’t seen in action movies and didn’t break my immersion.
Your other hand wields either a ranged weapon or magic. The weapons are upgradeable and the crossbow offers the most variety of bolts to kill/tranquilize/blind your prey. The potential combinations of attacks and powers ensures the combat stays fresh and satisfying.
The powers are gained by finding or purchasing Runes, which act as a suitable progression system. The Runes (and Bone Charms that give buffs) are scattered everywhere and revealed by holding the mechanical heart, but knowing the location is just half the battle. Most are behind locked doors, Bloodfly nests, or require puzzle solving to gain access. You could easily spend many hours tracking down every one and it provides an excellent break from the action, especially if a particular level is causing frustration. Since you can’t simply grind your way to more abilities, every Rune is precious and well worth seeking.
Dishonored 2 is a modern masterpiece of stealth combat, genius level design, and depth of player choice. It executes on all levels as the sequel fans of the first were hoping for while still holding its own as a standalone experience. If anything I’ve said has piqued your interest, you won’t regret diving into the world of Dishonored 2.
I reviewed Dishonored 2 on PS4 with a copy bought by A 90s Kid, but it’s also available on Xbox and PC.
Many PC users have complained of poor optimization and Bethesda has spoken of an incoming patch to correct these issues.
Review Scores – 3 Star System
Buy it – 3/3
Try it – 2/3
Pass – 1/3