It's been 15 years since the events of Dishonored, and we've left the city of Dunwall behind for the vast streets of Karnaca. Emily is now banished, removed from her throne by a powerful outsider, and it's our job to set things right as we're thrust back into Arkane's intricate level design, malfunctioning moral compass, and exquisite art style while recently visiting Bethesda's London offices.
Welcome to the Clockwork Mansion, Kirin Jindosh's humble and mechanical abode. Our objectives are simple: free Anton Sokolov (a returning face) and 'handle' Jindosh. Fortunately, executing these objectives can be as simple or as complicated as you see fit, in true Dishonored style. The level itself is vast, both in scale and in detail, with our mechanical cart-ride entrance showcasing the beautifully beefed up visuals with a stunning view over the city of Karnaca below.
Upon entering the Clockwork Mansion, the real extent of Arkane's attention to detail becomes apparent. Levers populate the home and cause the very walls and floors to reorganise themselves – think the staircases in Harry Potter on steroids. This takes the infamous multiple pathway system from the previous game to new heights and creates incredibly clever gameplay as a result. Our experience completing the objectives in the Clockwork Mansion took us from nearly two hours in one run to six minutes in another, and was entirely down to a domino effect of choices, both in navigation and combat.
Every decision you make somehow feels like the correct one, and it's only upon revisiting the scenario that you truly comprehend how different things could have panned out if, for example, you slinked through that open window you aimlessly breezed past previously. While the combat also provides tactical choices and the return of the lethal or non-lethal pathways, we think that it's the level design that makes this game and its predecessor so interesting and enduring.
Combat and navigation is enhanced by the powers at your disposal. Dishonored 2's unique selling point is the choice of playable protagonists as you can either re-assume the role of Master Assassin Corvo or slip into the new boots of Emily, the fallen monarch. Beyond cosmetics, the differences between these two characters are largely down to the supernatural powers in their arsenal. Corvo's will feel familiar for veterans, while Emily's bring some welcome new choices to the fold. Fresh powers like Domino – which causes multiple enemies to receive the same fate – or Shadow Walk – which acts like a feral invisibility cloak – can be instrumental in success or failure of a mission and the balance of each power is apparent. Although it would have been nice to have more impacting variety between the two characters, it's a wise decision to make the playing field equal as to avoid making one feel entirely redundant.
Different powers aren't the only new trick up Dishonored 2's sleeve. The mansion is patrolled by Clockwork Soldiers, a masterful creation of Jindosh that tower above you, brandishing four bladed hands. The Clockwork Soldiers and their emotionless behaviour are chilling, but their design is masterful. Polished wood and clockwork limbs house small whale oil (the main source of power in Dishonored's steampunk universe) capsules that can be individually detonated a la Dead Space. Alternatively, you can creep up on them and rewire their circuitry turning them against your enemies. They offer a welcome reprieve from the human foes and reorganise the combat decisions regularly, just like the mechanised surroundings of the mansion.
Choice and consequence is something many games hark on about and rarely deliver upon, often as a result of aspirations outgrowing ability, but Dishonored 2 simply gets it. Choice is the focal point of everything here and it's gloriously refreshing to play something that clearly accommodates the player and their imagination. It's even more impressive to have this choice alongside a seemingly well-crafted and structured storyline. The sheer variety of possible experiences to be had just in this mission alone were staggering – even after several hours of play we still felt like we'd only just scratched the surface of the secrets held within the mansion.
Dishonored 2 is easily going to ring true with fans of the previous game when it releases on 11th November this year, even if the previously mute Corvo has discovered his cliché gravel-munching voice for this instalment. It's turned its unique art style up to eleven, raised the design and verticality of the levels to staggering heights, while managing to fold in a whole new playable character and her powers, keeping combat balanced and fluid throughout. We reckon we're safe in saying that Dishonored 2 is shaping up to be a strong contender for Game of the Year 2016, and definitely something you should be keeping an eye on in the run up to release.
Are you hyped for Dishonored 2 at all? Were you a fan of the original stealth outing? Stab us in the back in the comments section below.