Arkane Studios, founded in 1999, started truly making a name for themselves in 2012 with their new IP, “Dishonored,” a first-person immersive-sim set in a unique and original steampunk-inspired world. Though the immersive-sim genre has been around for a long time, I think Arkane is the only studio that embraces this genre more than others and builds its games around it. I have said this a billion times, and I’ll say it again: Arkane Studios is probably my favorite developer out there, making games that are smart, unscripted, and offer a ton of replayability. They have never made a bad game, and all of their games offer an interesting story with tons of lore, amazing environmental storytelling, and unrivaled freedom of choice. “Dishonored” was built around these principles and plopped players in the shoes of Corvo Attano, royal protector to the empress of the isles, Jessamine Kaldwin. After wrongfully being accused of murdering the empress and kidnapping their daughter, Corvo is “dishonored” and sets his sights on clearing his name and finding and punishing everyone involved with the help of a group of rebels. A mysterious figure simply known as The Outsider gives Corvo his mark, which gives him superpowers that aid him in his conquest. That was the first “Dishonored,” though, and we are here to talk about “Dishonored 2,” so let’s blink into the world of “Dishonored 2” and see what makes it worth playing.
This article will contain mild spoilers for a certain story and gameplay events.
Before we get to know the story, the characters, the gameplay, and all that, we need to understand the world of “Dishonored” a bit. Talking about every last thing present in that world would be quite literally like writing a thesis, so I’ll give you a quick brief. Though not an open-world game, the world of “Dishonored” consists of the isles, divided into four islands: Gristol, Morley, Tyvia, and Serkonos. There is a landmass, a continent east of the isles, that goes by the name Pandyssia and dwarfs the isles a hundred times over. No one knows what lies in Pandyssia as all expeditions led by people over there either end with them turning mad, dying, or never returning. The city of Dunwall and its empress rule the isles. Dunwall is a city heavily inspired by steampunk architecture and powered by whale oil. Dunwall was struck with a deadly plague during the events of the first game, killing a huge number of its citizens and allowing rats to feast on their corpses. Karnaca, on the other hand, is the crown jewel of Serkonos, a coastal city governed by the Duke of Serkonos and powered by wind turbines. Karnaca has its own plague problem, but less in terms of sickness and more in terms of bloodflies infesting the areas and making their nests. Bloodflies tend to make their nests inside corpses, so you can see why this is a huge problem. “The land of man,” as coined by genius philosopher Anton Sokolov, does hold many other secrets, but this has been the relevant information in regards to the games themselves. Anton Sokolov, by the way, is a bonafide genius and a painter responsible for most, if not all, of the technological advancements being used across the isles, especially in Dunwall. With inventions like using whale oil for power and the wall of light under his belt, Sokolov tends to remain lost in his arrogance and his thoughts. Karnaca has its own genius on the other hand; once an underling to Sokolov, Kieran Jindosh is known for the creation of his Clockwork Soldiers and is even worse than Sokolov in the arrogance department.
There is another world that exists outside the confines of the world of man. A parallel dimension of sorts that runs alongside the world of man but exists on a greater plain. A world that goes by the name of “The Void.” The Void is the home of The Outsider, and it is the place where magic came from. How The Void came to be and who The Outsider is explained a little but is mostly left ambiguous and open to interpretation. The Outsider appeared only in front of a handful of people and offered them his mark. Those who accept it are able to perform dark magic, aka superpowers. Who the Outsider chooses and why is yet another mystery. Aware of his presence, a large number of people seem to worship The Outsider, forming a religion around him, while an even larger number of people are terrified of him. Opposing said religion is the Abbey of Everyman. An authority figure of sorts, comprising a large number of men wearing masks and a uniform, known as Overseers, follow the seven scriptures and oppose everything that isn’t “natural.” Such things as The Void and the people who worship The Void are deemed heretics and are killed by them, making them zealots on their own. The depths of The Void may never be truly understood, but some people say that the secret and the origin behind The Void lies in Pandyssia.
Isn’t all of that fascinating? Arkane Studios went all out to establish the world of “Dishonored,” with details on just about everything, maps showcasing the world itself, and so much more for a non-open-world game, just so it feels more alive and real. Their efforts are truly commendable here, and while there’s a lot more to the world of “Dishonored,” I think this brief was enough to get you up to speed. Let’s move on to the premise of the game.
‘Dishonored 2’ Premise
Taking place roughly 15 years after the events of the first game, “Dishonored 2” drops you in the shoes of the now grown-up Emily Kaldwin alongside her father and royal protector, Corvo Attano, in the middle of Jessamine Kaldwin’s (her mother’s) death anniversary. There is tension in the air as some people of Dunwall think Emily is not fit to rule the isles, and with all of her competitors being killed by a mysterious killer dubbed “The Crown Killer,” the people are starting to believe that Emily and Corvo are behind all of this and wish to rule the isles with an iron fist. As Emily remembers her mother, her speech is interrupted by a few clockwork soldiers marching in escorting the Duke of Serkonos, Luka Abele. Luka talks about a gift he’s brought with him from Serkonos and presents to them Delilah Copperspoon, the alleged sister of Jessamine and the rightful ruler of the throne. Tensions arise as Delilah, herself a witch, rips away the mark of The Outsider from Corvo, leaving him without his powers, and you, the player, get to make a choice. Play as Corvo Attano or Emily Kaldwin. Pick one, and the other is frozen in stone, and you, again, are dishonored.
‘Dishonored 2’ Gameplay
“Dishonored 2” plays in first-person with fast movement and mostly sword-based combat. The catch here comes in the form of the abilities and superpowers you can use. Based on your choice of Corvo or Emily, you’ll get a unique set of abilities for each character that can be used in combat, traversal, or stealth. Corvo and Emily both have a movement ability in Blink and Far Reach, respectively, that serves the same purpose of closing small gaps by either teleporting or pulling themselves there; the rest of their abilities, though, differ. Corvo can, for instance, use possession, where he can control the body of a host, like a bloodhound, a rat, or even a soldier, to get past areas. Or he can use another ability called Rat Swarm, where he summons a pack of rats that aid him in combat and devour bodies. These are just two of the many abilities exclusive to Corvo. Emily, on the other hand, has her own abilities that include but aren’t limited to things like Domino, where Emily can link two or more guards together, with both of them sharing the other’s fate. Or she can use Shadow Walk, an ability that lets her crawl like a shadow on the ground and sneak behind enemies to incapacitate or kill them. On the other hand, direct combat lets you use a sword, a pistol, a crossbow, and a variety of mines and grenades. Both your powers and weapons can be used at the same time as your character uses their left hand for powers and their right hand for weapons, so you can pull off some sweet setups.
As much as combat is there for you to abuse, it’s not the best, and it’s not the way the game is meant to be played. I mean, it is, as the game tells you to “play your way,” with it being an immersive sim and all, but in reality, “Dishonored 2” is a stealth game of sorts. At the beginning of every mission, you are told about a target you need to assassinate and are dropped far away from your target. It’s your job to make your way across the landscape and assassinate your target. You can run around the area, slicing and dicing everyone in your way and announcing your arrival to your target before you end them, too; that’s one way to play. However, what if I told you that you could traverse the entire map without ever being seen or heard, get rid of your target but not kill them, and escape unseen? Does that excite you? That’s the kind of freedom “Dishonored 2” brings to the table. You can complete the ENTIRE game without ever being seen by anyone and without ever killing a single soul if you so choose. Lurking above patrols, using your powers to manipulate the AI, making noise to alert someone, breaking their path, and escaping before they can see you—that’s the kind of smartness the game expects from you. I mean, it sure is up to you, as there is no right way to play, but being a ghost across the entire game is a fun feat to pull off, and I highly recommend trying that.
You can wander these giant open levels and find useful items like runes to upgrade your abilities, bone charms that give you perks, and paintings or secrets that can earn you money or intel. Each level is meticulously crafted, offering a million ways to solve your problems and hidden secrets that help alter your gameplay experience. “Dishonored 2” is not a game built around skill trees or upgrades but a game built around information and knowledge. The more of which you have/gather, the more deadly an assassin you’ll become. The levels are designed to be played multiple times to learn all routes and to see all outcomes, with no two levels being the same visually or mechanically. Special shoutout to the level “Clockwork Mansion” with its shifting, maze-like structure, and the level “Crack in the Slab,” which is literally lost in time and lets you control, see, and move around the past and present at the same time. As I said, each level is unique and expertly crafted, with the game’s freeform structure taking no shortcuts and always providing you with a multitude of options. That’s the basic gameplay of “Dishonored 2.” It plops you in its world after teaching you the basics and lets you run free and unleash your creativity.
The Technical Stuff
The technical side of things for this game is kind of all over the place. I had no issues across my multiple playthroughs on my Xbox One X with the game running at 1800p at 30fps; unfortunately, there is no current-gen patch, but people have shared various stories of the game running and performing poorly, so take note of that. The art style of this game is nothing short of drop-dead gorgeous, where everything looks like it’s ripped straight out of a painting. The visuals are amazing on their own but are brought to life even further thanks to the amazing lighting system. The animations also deserve praise, as everything you do looks smooth and slick. I don’t think I can say it any other way, but this game is straight-up beautiful. The same goes for the sound design and audio. Since the game uses AI that responds to sight and sound, the sounds need to be well-balanced, which they are. Everything sounds as it should, with proper audio balancing and mixing. The voice acting is also really well done, with famous names like Vincent D’Onofrio, Rosario Dawson, and Robin Lord Taylor, among others, playing these characters. Experiences vary, but my experience with “Dishonored 2” was near flawless from beginning to end.
“Dishonored 2” is one of the most underrated games I have ever played in my life. I keep singing the praises of Arkane Studios, and this game showcases what makes them so great. Sure, the game has problems that the first one didn’t, but it did a lot more to push the genre forward, and the improvements made here are well worth the sacrifices. Intelligent gameplay, mastery of game design, amazing visuals and sounds, an expertly crafted world, and fun first-person stealth gameplay are what “Dishonored 2” offers, and if you are someone who hasn’t tried this game, then please do. Arkane only creates magic.