It isn’t uncommon in the world of video games for the second entry in a franchise to be its best. When a developer has time to iterate upon a new and exciting idea, but before the inspiration becomes a formula – that’s where the best results are often found. We saw it time and time again last generation: Uncharted 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Dark Souls, Mass Effect 2…
Dishonored, on the other hand, felt like it arrived fully formed. Its emergent blend of stealth, FPS and Deus-Ex style sim gameplay was inspired, letting the player loose in a series of branching levels which could be tackled from any conceivable angle. It was my favourite game of 2012, and I would have been perfectly content with a sequel that just gave me more of it.
Which is, on a first impression, what I thought I was getting from Dishonored 2. The setup to Arkane’s sequel is very similar to that of the original and struck me as a bit unimaginative, while it’s opening levels felt like more of the same – not that that was necessarily a bad thing. That was, however, until I reached the Clockwork Mansion in Dishonored 2’s fourth mission.
The house belongs to inventor and technician Kirin Jindosh, and at the touch of a button will completely reform itself into a new layout. Huge cogs and wheels will pull the floor from beneath your feet, or strip out a wall and turn it into the ceiling. As the level is transforming around you, you can use your Farreach or Blink powers to slip between the cracks, and thus see it from the inside out, rather like the trick Valve pulled in the second half of Portal.
It’s an inspired piece of level design, and indicative of what makes Dishonored 2 such a fantastic sequel. It chooses to leave the excellent framework of the first game largely intact, and opts against stuffing in more gameplay gimmicks or hours of playtime. Instead, it focuses on increasingly daring and creative individual moments, expanding sideways with some truly unforgettable missions.
The sixth mission, for example, finds the player in the Dust District, and tasks them with breaking into the manor of a gentleman named Aramis Stilton. The door to Stilton’s mansion is locked, and to open it you have three options. Either of two warring factions in the area will provide you with the door code if you kill the opposition leader. Or, you can sit down and solve an absolutely fiendish logic puzzle called the Jindosh Riddle, which will provide you with the door code and let you skip the entire stage.
Again – what an utterly brilliant, brave idea that is. The perfect expression of the game’s ‘play your way’ philosophy, letting you choose to tackle the level with brainpower, stealth or just pure aggression. It took me over an hour to solve the Jindosh Riddle (which is procedurally generated, by the way, so can’t be easily cheated using the internet), but when I finally did, it provided one of the game’s most satisfying moments.
There are others moments just as brilliant which I don’t want to spoil in this review, including the seventh mission which is possibly the best of them all. Suffice it to say that Dishonored 2 never wants for inspired set pieces and labyrinthine playgrounds to set the player loose in.
I have to say, though, that I did find the new powers for Emily (one of two playable characters) a bit lacking compared to those of the first game. Farreach and Domino are the exception, the former feeling like a more visceral version of Dishonored’s Blink, and the latter allowing you to chain two or more enemies together so they share the same fate. This one will truly push your capacity for creatively murdering people.
But then there is Dark Vision, which is a fairly bog-standard ‘stealth vision’ like those found in most modern stealth games, as well as Mesmerize and Doppelganger, both of which serve a fairly similar decoy purpose. Shadow Walk is fun, allowing you to temporarily become a ghostly shadow-creature which guards struggle to see, but many of these powers feel lacking in the ways they can combine with each other, which is what made those like Possession from Dishonored so special.
The art direction of Dishonored 2, however, is consistently brilliant. Characters, environments, weapons and powers all look and feel incredible, with some particularly gorgeous views and interiors to be found towards the end of the game. The attention to detail in the character design, too, makes the people you’re tasked with assassinating much more real, and much more fun to hunt.
All in all, Dishonored 2 is a fantastic sequel. It expands upon the original game not in size or scope but in pure cunning and creativity, like a true assassin. Though not without a few flaws, the game is elevated to classic status by some truly unforgettable missions and an unwavering confidence throughout. Whether or not we’ll see a third game in the series remains to be seen, but Dishonored 2 would be a fantastic way to bow out if it does prove to be the end.