Dishonored 2 PC, PS4, Xbox One
How Arkane is building a new world of supernatural assassination
Developer Arkane Studios
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Format PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Nov 11
Karnaca isn’t Dunwall. Dishonored 2’ s new city is part Barcelona, part Havana, and – thanks to Arkane’s still-extraordinary art direction – part itself. The first game’s rain-slicked docklands and sheer imperial palaces have been traded for tall, sun-baked terraces and colonial mansions nestled in thick trees. Karnaca sits in a bay in the shadow of a mountain, and your first view of it comes from the sea, from the dock of an old ironclad ship, the Dreadful Wale, which forms your headquarters between each mission.
As an outpost of Dunwall, however, Karnaca features a few of the same faces. You’ll encounter familiarly thick-set guards, this time in service to the Grand Duke of Serkonos. These colonial soldiers wear shortsleeved military shirts, betraying deep, angrylooking tan lines. Dishonored 2 retains its predecessor’s eye for detail, particularly when it comes to faces, bodies and fashion. A new engine enables a new level of detail, and this new place enables a greater diversity of ethnicity, gender and culture.
This is reflected in the two protagonists. At the beginning of Dishonored 2 you’ll play as Empress Emily Kaldwin in Dunwall – she was ten years old in the first game and is now 25. After something goes dramatically and violently wrong, she’ll find herself fighting back to back with Corvo Attano, the first game’s lead. You’ll then pick which character you’d like to continue playing as, and that’s who you’ll be for the rest of the game. They undertake the same missions and encounter the same overarching plot, but provide differing approaches and themes. Creative director Harvey Smith describes
Dishonored 2 as the “second half of the original story”, the culmination of the events that started when Emily’s mother was assassinated. He explains that the characters present at that crucial moment are a family unit – Dishonored 2 makes it explicit from the outset that Corvo is Emily’s father, something that was heavily implied in the first game. Here, Corvo is “a man coming home”, as Smith puts it. Karnaca is his homeland and he’s getting old. Emily, by contrast, is exploring both parts of her legacy, Empress and supernatural assassin, for the first time. Both leads are now fully voiced – Emily by Erica Luttrell and Corvo by Stephen Russell, the original Garrett in the Thief series. “We were committed to Emily up front,” Smith tells us, “but we had a nostalgia for Corvo. We wanted to give him a voice and see what he was like.”
The mission we’re shown takes place in the Dust District, a part of the city that sits at the end of the Wind Corridor. This is a huge cleft in the mountain that channels wind – and dust from the silver mines – out over the bay. The Dust District, as you might have inferred, is choked by it. Huge wooden windbreakers line the outsides of buildings
while massive elevated pipes rattle in the sky above. This is more than an environmental detail: it’s key to the way the mission plays. Frequent, procedurally generated dust storms sweep through the area heralded by a distant horn. When a storm hits, visibility is reduced and sound is muffled, both helping and hindering your infiltration attempt.
Each mission will have a conceit like this, Smith says, and each will provide the opportunity to play entirely non-lethally. In the Dust District, for example, you have two targets – a church Overseer and a gang leader. The two factions are at war, the map divided between their respective strongholds and the no-man’s-land between them. Both have the information you need, but how you get it is up to you. In the first instance, Emily infiltrates the church, kills the Overseer and carries his body to gang territory. This allows her safe passage to her other target, who trades the body for the information she needs. In another approach, Corvo takes the war in the opposite direction.
The protagonists have different powers, but neither is more weighted towards a particular approach than the other. Corvo has most of the same abilities as in the first game, though they fit into a new upgrade system that allows for branching customisation. He can leap from possessing one person or animal directly into another, for instance, and can also possess flies for greater mobility.
Emily, however, plays in an almost entirely new way. Instead of Corvo’s point-to-point teleportation power, Blink, she has Far Reach – a longer grapple that allows her to pull herself to distant spots. It’s more than a cosmetic distinction. Far Reach is physical in a way that Blink isn’t; grabbing a part of the scenery and pulling yourself towards it conserves momentum, allowing you to transition into leaps, slides and drop takedowns. It can also be used to grab items, pull enemies towards you, or to fling objects back over your head towards pursuers.
Since Emily can’t possess animals, her stealthy movement options are very different to Corvo’s. Shadow Walk allows her to transform into a tentacular smoke form to crawl down walls and under obstacles. In this mode she can also perform dismemberments reminiscent of The Darkness. Her other offensive powers are more subtle: Domino allows her to ‘link’ characters so that what happens to one happens to the lot of them, while Mesmerise creates an otherworldly obelisk that entrances guards. Using Doppelganger she can create a full duplicate of herself, which can ultimately be upgraded to fight on her behalf. As ever with Dishonored, it’s the freedom to combine abilities that makes them exciting. Smith gives the example of the cornered player who, as Emily, created a wounded doppelganger of herself. She then linked the doppelganger to her pursuers via Domino before slitting the doppelganger’s throat to kill all of them at once.
In addition to these new attacking options, it should be easier to take a non-lethal approach. In the first game, getting seen meant either losing your pursuer or killing them. Now, there’ll be ways to subdue guards through combat – a human-shield grab that transitions into a choke, and a non-lethal variant on the drop assassination that lands knee-first rather than sword-first.
The Chaos system – which alters the world and the story based on the violence of your actions – will work in much the same way, but will be less punishing for these additions. Arkane wants Dishonored to be ultimately a game about dealing with the consequences of your actions but is happy to provide more tools to give players options in that regard. “My favourite player is not the one who gets it perfectly,” says lead designer
Dinga Bakaba. “My favourite player is the one who improvises when he fails.”
Arkane’s approach to this sequel is less about correcting mistakes and more about building on a now-proven formula. If the first game represented a commercial risk – a new, idiosyncratic world supporting a complex, systems-driven game – then Dishonored 2 is what happens when such a risk pays off. Karnaca isn’t Dunwall – it’s what the people who made Dunwall made next.
It’s less about correcting mistakes and more about building on a proven formula
Harvey Smith, creative director
Corvo Attano retains the powers that defined him in the first game, but benefits from new upgrades. In addition, Arkane has revisted all of these old abilities to iron out long-standing bugs and reliability issues