More than most genres, stealth action games are about precision, patience, and the right opportunity to strike your enemies from above. From classics like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid to more recent favorites like the Batman: Arkham series, 2012’s Dishonored quickly became one of the prime examples of the stealth genre in the last generation, with its upcoming sequel aiming for the perfect kill.
From its striking Victorian-inspired setting and unique gameplay that blended stealth with a range of extraordinary abilities, Dishonored 2 (so far) looks to continue what made the original title so distinct and striking among stealth games. However, it also builds on the first Dishonored in some intriguing new ways between two playable main characters, transforming environments, and a range of new abilities and powers for players to toy with.
We had the chance to check out a demo of Dishonored 2 this week at an event in New York City, giving us a deeper look at what to expect from the title before it arrives on consoles and PC in November. Taking place at The Jane Hotel downtown and draped in period decor with a roving band of “guests” dressed like the guards and characters that players will encounter in the game (hosted by the exceptional “Duke Luka Abele” himself), the event set a great mood and tone for the world of Dishonored 2 and the mysteries waiting to be uncovered.
During the event, we had the opportunity to play a 20-30 minute demo of the title from either of the perspectives of Corvo Attano (the protagonist of the original game) or his daughter, Emily Kaldwin, who has grown up and become a lethal and deadly assassin in her own right after appearing in the first game as a young girl. I played through the demo twice with each character for a more in-depth look at how each of the characters played in the context of the levels and environments, coming away with a brief (but helpful) idea of what the experience is like with either character.
The demo we played featured two objectives to complete during the run; the first being to rescue a hostage in the confines of an elaborate puzzle room (the “Clockwork Mansion” shown in recent gameplay trailers), and the other being to take out a high-ranking target high up in the mansion’s hall (and getting past his robotic guards). Like in the first game, Dishonored 2 provides lots of opportunities to be creative with how players can approach their specific tasks. The high and low “Chaos” options for going in either a lethal or non-lethal route provide motivation for players that either want to go for the more difficult (but rewarding) task of not killing enemies and avoiding being seen, while at the other end players are free to go in and execute devastating attacks and kill everything in sight – at the cost of changes to the world and environments.
Dishonored 2 proves that right away with its open structure and willingness to let players approach objectives in whatever way they see fit, though the sequel also provides multiple new layers of strategy and depth in ways both large and small-scaled. Of course, the biggest change comes from the ability to play as either Corvo or Emily to progress through the story, and having played with both characters it’s easy to see how both characters will provide different (though enjoyable) play styles.
For the Dishonored veterans, playing as Corvo will be pretty much familiar as it was before. Corvo still has the use of his various weapons and trinkets (like his sword, crossbow, and pistol), and his trademark “Blink” ability to quickly teleport between positions is kept intact, and others like Wind Blast and Possession are back as well. Corvo’s power set and abilities will be a fine match for vets of the original game, though some of the abilities have noticeably been tweaked and refined (such as more precise contact when using Blink, or Possession now allowing Corvo to switch between different hosts when upgraded).
Emily, on the other hand, provides a similar but refreshingly different set of abilities; similar in the sense that they serve a lot of the same purposes as Corvo’s (teleportation, etc.), but different in execution. The prime example is her “Far Reach” ability that gives her a “shadow grappling hook” that’s similar to Corvo’s Blink, but provides other options like allowing her to fling objects (such as explosive whale oil) at enemies. Her other ability, “Shadow Walk,” complements Corvo’s Possession ability by turning Emily into a stealthy shadow beast that can sneak by enemies undetected, crawl into small places, and more.
The way the original game allowed players complete objectives in so many different ways already feels well-preserved in Dishonored 2, and especially refreshing given how different Corvo and Emily can play, depending on the user. However, the demo of Dishonored 2 also showcased one of the sequel’s other new features to make each level and environment feel distinct and provide new challenges for players to adapt to.
In the case of the Clockwork Mansion level, that’s meant literally as the level features levers that drastically alter and shift the layout of rooms, uncovering new layers of the mansion and new pathways to discover and reach a target or objective. Visually looking like something taken straight out of Inception, the shifting layout of the Clockwork Mansion was something that completely changed (in a lot of ways) how I usually approach missions in Dishonored, and with Dishonored 2 I’m even more curious to see what other environments and challenges that Karnaca will have in store throughout the rest of the game.
The original Dishonored was a game that, while not perfect, in many ways took players by surprise when it first debuted. Dubbed a “cult classic” and a “sleeper hit” since its release, the idea of a sequel to a game so rich with character and a unique, complex world is one that can be met with equal parts excitement for what’s to come, or disdain at (potentially) ruining a great thing.
As a big fan of the original game, Dishonored 2 (thankfully) is showing a lot more of the former than the latter. Combined with beautiful visuals that complement its strong art direction, Dishonored 2 is already shaping up to bring more of what fans fell in love with in the first game, while adding new layers of depth and strategy that made me want to keep playing well after the demo was over, whether as Corvo or Emily (which, to be honest, I’m sure will make me play through the game at least twice). Though I only had a brief taste of what’s to come from Dishonored 2, there’s at least not a long wait left before its release next month: plenty of time to perfect the art of the kill, in the meantime.
Dishonored 2 releases for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on November 11th, 2016 – for more on the game, stay tuned for our upcoming video preview, along with an interview with Arkane Studios’ co-creative director Harvey Smith.