You might think the most important decision you’ll make in Dishonored 2, Arkane Studio’s much-awaited sequel to its 2012 supernatural sneakfest, is whether you’ll play as Corvo, the slash-happy assassin from the original game, or as his sassy-surly daughter Emily, who favors a much more stealth-oriented style of sending her enemies to unconsciousness or oblivion.
You’d be wrong: The more important — and, frankly, fun — decision by far is how you decide to use your eventual jaw-dropping arsenal of magical abilities to overcome your enemies in the most hysterical and interesting ways possible. We’ve clearly moved way beyond simply teleporting behind them with Corvo’s Blink teleport move for a quick slash–kill: How about playing as Emily and using her Domino ability to link the fates of multiple enemies, then taking them all down with a single shot or well-placed mine? With enough power-ups in hand, you’ll eventually be able to do everything from creating clones of yourself to actually stopping time to aid a quick assassination or getaway.
The possibilities not only boggle the mind, but put to sorry-ass shame the pedestrian headshot kills of this season’s other shooter franchises. Combining and exploring them are also a compelling reason to invest in multiple play-throughs, not just of Dishonored 2’s individual levels, but the whole ten-plus hour campaign. If you’re going to unleash rivers of blood, do it in style. Just remember that every time you opt to kill rather than choke out an enemy, you’re sliding further away from the game’s happiest ending. Morality’s a bitch, even for deposed royalty.
Style was clearly on the minds of the developers, who’ve strung together not just a second, detailed and vibrant city (Karnaca!) to complement the dilapidated streets of Dunwall, but also a series of cleverly themed levels that offer as many intriguing possibilities as challenges. In an early level, you’re traversing an area that replaces the plague-ridden rats from the first game with intermittent dust storms that aid (and also confuse) your efforts to sneak past guards. In later levels, the scales even out, as the enemies you face begin sporting the same type of teleporting abilities you do. Even when you’re at your most supernaturally powerful, it’s wits and careful planning that win the day — especially when you’re matched up against those one-hit-killing clockwork soldiers. They’re ruthless.
The voice acting, meanwhile, gives the characters unexpected depth, while adding weight to all those clamoring to see Dishonored converted into a live-action movie. Rosario Dawson, who’s clearly embracing the rife possibilities of starring in geek-culture properties (see Marvel’s Daredevil Netflix series), really brings it as Megan Foster, a florid pirate queen who serves as the host of your between-missions base.
The only real clunker here is the plot, which makes it seem as though Corvo and Emily’s power menu also contains some kind of time-warp effect, given that we’re stuck re-doing the whole Somebody-Evil-Just-Usurped-the-Throne thing. While battling a magically imbued foe is more exciting than bashing heads with a political one, it sometimes feels like our heroes could have benefited from dispatching a different sort of threat. Given the myriad cool ways we’ve been given to do the dispatching, that’s a small crossbow to bear.
Dishonored 2 retails for $59.99 and is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.