A fantasy without limits
We actually got a couple of codes for this, so thanks to Xbox and to Bethsoft Europe.
Dishonored works on so many levels because it puts freedom into your hands, the freedom to play how you choose, find loopholes (features) in the game's skills and powers, exploit them to create new and interest opportunities to approach the various puzzles that are layered on before you, like some thick glorious icing on a very filling, and extremely edible cake.
Dishonored takes off the training wheels, gives you complete Carte-Blanche to tackle the expansive sandbox environments, doing objectives in any order and dealing with your targets, their subordinates, henchmen and random NPCs how you want.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first game, it is one of my favourite games and it took the concept of Assassin's Creed, married it to Thief and managed to be a better game at the time than both of those combined. Whilst Corvo Attano was the sole voiceless protagonist of the first game, there was a connection to that character and the fact that the story's denouement was based on several factors as you played through the game, even better.
It boiled down to High and Low Chaos. Which was simply: High Chaos (kill main targets, kill as many people as possible) - Low Chaos (Be a ghost, take only a few lives, try not to kill anyone important.) You had supernatural powers gifted to you by the game's mysterious figure: the Outsider, a being of seemingly limitless power and unfathomable purpose.
It constructed an end even in Low Chaos that was different to my friend's playthrough and delivered a superb experience from start to finish. The game also reacted by making the city darker, nastier and encounters with foul dark powers much greater.
The game assumes that you've played the first title and gives you enough lore to get by if you haven't. You learn quickly that the major players from the first, Corvo and his young daughter Emily, are older and Emily is Empress of Dunwall like her mother before her.
I strongly advise you to play the Tutorial first as well, since that has story bites and various story beats - as well as teaching you the fundamentals.
You will very quickly have to make a choice as well at the start of the game, taking the role of Corvo Attano, Royal Protector and assassin from the first game - or his daughter Emily, trained by her father in many of the skills that made him famous.
You will also be able to play with the Mark of the Outsider, or without this time, eschewing supernatural powers for a harder kind of game against odds that might seem overwhelming.
It's interesting how Dishonored gets into your head, because from the opening scene and my choice to play Emily - I decided early on: High Chaos would be my route to power and revenge. I'd take back what was mine by any means at my disposal, accepting the Mark of the Outsider and murdering everyone that got in my way. Emily would not stop until Dunwall and her new location: Karnaca, burned.
Both Emily and Corvo have a voice this time, and those fans of the Thief series will find (in a twist) that the Royal Protector is voiced by Stephen Russell (Garrett from Thief) - I thought this would disconnect me from the characters, but it deepened the connection and as Emily became more murderous, her attitude to everyone around her changed too. Erica Luttrell does a top job voicing the ex-Empress turned assassin.
It's world building like this that makes Dishonored 2 an exemplar game in its field, emergent, reactive and ever-changing from the sublime to the not-so-subtle.
It is another revenge story, carries on from the first and Emily gets a whole new set of powers to play with. Part of the reason I chose her for this High Chaos run too.
Emily's powers are drawn from the Shadow of the Outsider, from the Void and they are in many ways more refined than her father's abilities. Emily can turn into a shadow form, murder people similar to the way the Darkness does it in the games (and comics). She can use Far Reach to grab objects, enemies and pull herself around. There's some cross-over from Corvo's set, like Shadow Kill, which turns enemies to ash (first unaware, and then any enemy in combat).
Powers can be improved by finding Runes hidden around the world, doing so requires a little puzzle solving and navigation now and then. Nothing too taxing to begin with, and then as the game ramps up, so do the places where the developers have hidden these lovely Runes.
You can also equip bonecharms (bonuses to your character), upgrade gear, find blueprints and improve your arsenal. Again, you need to find out how yourself, because there are some surprises here for you to enjoy.
Basically everything from Dishonored is back and improved, with new stuff that's even more fun to play with.
Fight Fight Fight!
Warning, unless you have some pretty kick-ass abilities unlocked in terms of combat, you're going to get minced in Dishonored 2 if you go sword-to-sword-to-pistol with the many enemies of the game. Thankfully there's a robust save system and quick save, so you should always remember to try and save before you experiment with a new strategy or try your hand at killing people with stabby things.
The combat system is similar to that of Dishonored, and since Arkane are known for the seminal Might and Magic first person game, Dark Messiah, this might feel somewhat similar to that game. The combat system is also much improved, more reactive and the bad guys have a pretty impressive repertoire of moves.
You can combine fight skills with supernatural powers and mix and match, throwing items into the battle, using your crossbow or pistol - remember: play your way? Yep, every element of Dishonored 2 cleaves to that concept and it's simply brilliant.
The word I'd use is: refreshing.
To describe Dishonored 2 in a single phrase I'd say: A game of revenge-fuelled assassination, sandbox fun that allows you to unleash your creativity. This extends to the mission designs themselves, every location has multiple routes and hidden ways to use your physical, mental and supernatural abilities to deal with the problem at hand.
A good example of this is in a certain level, I was in that level for seconds before I went totally off path (off script) and found my own way (rather sneakily) to the target I needed to kill. I was running High Chaos, so I had no compunction about seeking a bloody finale to this particular person. If I was doing Low Chaos, I could have used another way to eliminate them without spilling a drop of the red stuff.
Not this time...
Even the minor encounters, such as the guards and the NPCs can be dealt with. You can terminate key NPCs if you like, but they will be gone, they won't respawn and if you break something/someone - you deal with the consequences.
That's Dishonored's mantra. You break it, you can't fix it.
I started a fight with a key NPC and the local elite guard, it ended badly for the NPC and they were gone. I love this, again, refreshing.
I also know it's possible to play the game as a true ghost, not being seen, KO'ing people you can't get past and doing a total non-lethal run. There's no New Game Plus, so it's the perfect incentive to go through again with Corvo and go Low Chaos - perhaps even refusing the Mark.
Another stand-out part of Dishonored 2 is the new city, the game's graphical design and its aesthetic I've come to love. I call this whole genre Whalepunk, because it's like Steampunk only with Whale Oil as the primary power source - barring wind power in some places in Karnaca). Everything about the game is slick, animations, graphics, textures, lighting and more all combine to bring this aesthetic to life and immerse you deeper than before.
It runs smoothly on the Xbox One too, delivers a solid frame rate, no graphical hitches and a decidedly crash-free experience.
The voice work is excellent, and the script is solid.
The music as always is highly atmospheric and compliments the whole perfectly, especially in some of the creepier areas of the city. There's a certain mission which brings to mind Shalebridge Cradle and it is suitably backed by a very low-key use of music.
I love Dishonored 2 as much as I did the first, perhaps even more. I'm really impressed with how Arkane have managed to take concepts from the first game and amp everything up, yet keep the balance spot on and provide a truly wicked playground where you can indulge your Assassin's Creed fantasies in a first person game that really does bring to life being an assassin - supernatural or otherwise.
It plays beautifully, controls like a dream and lets you play your way - to my mind that's all I really want from a sequel (or any game really).
I can't wait to see what they do next!