Stealth. Games that do it really well don't come along all that often, with most choosing merely to dabble their toes in the murky waters where a knife in the dark is king. When looking back over those titles that made sticking to the shadows most satisfying, there was one thing that they all had in common: options. Whether it's the weapons, routes, or abilities, having plenty of tools – and the latitude to effectively use them – can make for a hugely satisfying experience, which happily is something that Dishonored 2 has in abundance.
The first of your many choices comes early on when you're asked to pick which of the game's two heroes you want to play as. On the one hand there's Empress Emily Kaldwin, and on the other her father – and protagonist from the original Dishonored – Corvo Attano. While both have access to the same weapons as well as sharing some skills, they do have some unique abilities that mean whoever you pick will end up having a very real impact on how you play.
As in the first game, the skills at your disposal can make for some exceptionally creative gameplay if you're willing to kick-start your imagination and get experimenting. Whether you prefer to hide within corpses as Corvo, or use Emily's Domino power to take down multiple enemies with a single strike, you'll constantly be digging deep into your supernatural toolbox to find the perfect combinations that'll help you gracefully dance into even the most heavily guarded areas.
While it's hammered home that how you choose to approach your objectives is entirely up to you, straying too far from the stealthier end of the gameplay spectrum makes you feel like you're failing in your role as master assassin. Whether it's the chaos system that changes the ending to the story based on the carnage you cause, or the after-mission summaries that stamp big red X marks highlighting your failure to avoid being detected or spilling blood, you'll feel driven to refine your strategies and leave as little trace of your passing as possible.
Since the enemy AI turns out to be surprisingly observant, this can lead to a fair amount of trial and error, and if you don't have the patience to slowly pick apart the layers of security that bar your way, you'll be resorting to open combat all too frequently.
While there's a certain catharsis to hacking apart, blowing up, or shooting those enemies impeding your progress, it never comes close to the smug satisfaction of clearing a mission while barely being seen. Consequently, you'll probably find yourself making liberal use of the game's quick save system that allows you to try out different approaches without worrying about losing progress – even if the load times do feel a little on the long side.
The change in primary setting for this sequel from dark and dreary Dunwall to the sunnier climes of Karnaca is precipitated by a coup that removes poor Empress Emily from her throne. In order to take back control of the kingdom, you need to get to the bottom of the seemingly supernatural powers behind the attack, and eliminate the conspirators before their plans come to fruition.
In terms of story, Dishonored 2 isn't anything special. It's a pretty straight forward tale that feels all too similar to the original, and surprisingly manages to squander a fair few of its revelations in the opening cutscene. On the upside there are some interesting characters in the story – mainly in terms of the people you're trying to eliminate – which will at least keep you slightly engaged, even if the quality of the voice acting occasionally ends up being suspect.
Day or night, the sun-bleached streets of Karnaca look great with the distinct artistic design that's a hallmark of the property once again making both its environments – and the characters populating them – visually refreshing. The frame rate also manages to be surprisingly stable given the issues currently being reported on PC, and while it doesn't run close to 60 frames-per-second, the slower, more deliberate pace to the action means that the decision to prioritise visual fidelity was an understandable trade-off to make.
On top of being fascinating places for a spot of video game tourism, each of the areas you visit also happen to be masterclasses in environmental storytelling, with the ambience and thoughtful layouts telling you just as much about Dishonored's fascinating world as the documents or voice recordings you come across as you explore.
No doubt early in development there was a temptation to make Dishonored 2 an open world title, but the decision to stay with specific one off areas for each mission – all with a multitude of pathways – once again pays dividends. Whether it's a clockwork mansion packed with robotic guards whose rooms shift at the pull of a lever, or dust swept city streets where two warring factions are locked in battle, you'll want to poke your head anywhere and everywhere in order to soak up the atmosphere, look for new paths to your targets, or seek out opportunities to eliminate them non-lethally.
By exploring thoroughly you'll also end up pilfering runes, bonecharms, blueprints, and money that can be used to upgrade both your abilities and equipment. The fact these can only really be accumulated this way means that should you rein in your curiosity you'll hobble the options open to you further down the road, and cut yourself off from the fun of using the fully upgraded versions of your powers.
While hunting around is ultimately fun, you can't help but feel forced into it once you realise the massive impact not collecting these items will have. While on the upside the mechanical heart from the first game returns to help point the way to both the runes and bonecharms, for a title that wants to encourage you to play it your way the upgrade system feels somewhat at odds with that philosophy.
By throwing you into its gloriously open missions with a bag full of tricks, running wild in Dishonored 2's fascinating world of stealth playgrounds never fails to be both fun and challenging. While anyone who doesn't have the patience for its particular brand of methodical exploration will likely find the experience tedious, if you can commit to trying to ghost your way through its lengthy campaign, even disappointing shortcomings – especially in terms of its story – likely won't stop you from having a whale of a time.