“Dishonored 2” Review: The Beautiful Chaos Of A Magical Lady Assassin

Right off the bat I should probably tell you I never played the original Dishonored and cannot offer any meaningful comparison between this game and its predecessor. The primary reason for that is that in the first game you could only play as a dude, and I guess even as far back as 2012 I was feeling pretty done with paying AAA studios for New Adventures in Manpain. I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just where I’m at. For the same reason, I still haven’t played Witcher 3 even though it is apparently the best game ever according to a lot of smart people I am inclined to believe. But Geralt is an angsty fuckboy and I just can’t spend 100 hours of my life with that guy. In the case of Dishonored, Corvo seems alright I guess from what little I’ve seen of him, but I just don’t really care and I don’t really feel too bad about that. So I skipped it, and I forgot the game had ever existed until the Dishonored 2 trailer premiered at E3 in 2015 looking pretty rad, with a magical assassin lady protagonist this time.

Luckily it seems like I didn’t miss too much. The plot of the first game sounds almost exactly the same as the plot of this game: a coup, somebody you love gets killed(ish), you go on the lam, make some friends along the way, then come back stronger than ever to save the day. Effectively these games are The Lion King, except not nearly as hard as the SNES Lion King game, thank goodness.

Anyway. This time around you play as Emily Kaldwin, the young Empress of Dunwall who spends her nights doing assassination obstacle course practice with her father, Corvo, and her days I guess doing whatever it is Empresses do. (Technically you can play as Corvo if you want, but first of all why would you ever want that, and second of all the prologue and tutorial are from Emily’s point of view so it genuinely feels like the game was meant to be played from her POV all along.)

a-rude-witch

A Rude Witch

The action picks up in earnest on the anniversary of Emily’s mother’s murder (which was the catalyst for the first game’s plot), when in true fairytale fashion a Rude Witch shows up and usurps the throne, turns Corvo into a statue, and also accuses Emily of being a serial killer. So thorough. Good hair. She is possibly Emily’s aunt but definitely not very trustworthy. Either way I’m not supposed to have a crush on her but I have a type and what can you do. She has a minion voiced by Sam Rockwell who you can murder for killing your most loyal guard friend. I murdered him. He had my signet ring and I needed it to access my secret passageway. Also, revenge.

The real game begins there, with your escape from the palace down to the docks to slip aboard a boat with Sea Captain Meaghan Foster who has conspicuously good timing and more importantly is voiced by Rosario Dawson. And for sure, in my weakness I would have stayed with the Rude Witch if I could have, I like her evil face, but I’m possibly even happier to join Sea Captain Meaghan Foster’s crew, because boats are cooler than castles and she gives me a crossbow. Honestly though it’s just nice to be anywhere where boys are not in charge.

ship-captain-meaghan-foster

Sea Captain Meaghan Foster

Once you’re safely settled on the boat you take a nap and dream of a Grumpy Ghost Boy who looks like a baby Jim Caviezel and tells you to make sure to pick up anything that looks disgusting and awful because it will give you magic powers. So you touch something gross, then take your sword and your gun and your crossbow and your magic out into the world and you sneak and you find clues and you achieve objectives, and then at the end of every mission you get kind of a scorecard that tells you how “chaotic” you were, which I didn’t find out until I was reading about the first game for research purposes is actually very important and not just for bragging. Apparently a high chaos level effects the ending you get? Like, in a bad way? Guys, I am WORRIED.

i-have-killed-so-many-people

I have killed so many people.

It’s just an incontrovertible fact that I am very bad at stealth. I tried, but damn. In this game you can sneak up on people and choke them unconscious instead of killing them, which is nice, theoretically, but not especially effective if three other people see you do it. So at first I tried to be merciful but I kept getting spotted and then panicking and I’d just start swinging my sword around until everybody was dead. And even when I did occasionally manage to knock people out without getting caught, I got stressed out because what if they woke up again (apparently they DO NOT wake up again, but I still think this was a reasonable concern okay?)

So naturally once they were unconscious I would stab them just to be on the safe side. And then I chose a magic power that makes dead bodies disappear, which is actually a good thing because it’s less chaotic to not make everybody else upset about all the corpses I’ve left everywhere because I can’t stop murdering, but it also sort of incentivizes murdering even further because unconscious bodies don’t disappear so you’re often better off just murdering them. Out of sight out of mind. Almost reasonable. But THEN, I upgraded that power so that now whenever I murder somebody, instead of disappearing, their corpse turns into a swarm of bloodflies that murder EVEN MORE PEOPLE, which is, I think, the actual most chaotic thing I could possibly have done.

i-murdered-those-flies-into-existence

I murdered those flies into existence.

Also I’ve smashed almost every glass case I’ve seen because the noise is really satisfying. And I dropped explosive whale fat off a roof and onto a man and exploded him into the sea. And also I threw more explosive whale fat at an electrical panel to try to blow it up but it ricocheted back and hit me in the chest and exploded ME into the sea where I got attacked by piranhas (the water in this game is very pretty, by the way). And I think I may have recruited a serial killer to my cause. Like, I’m only a quarter of the way through the game but I think it might already be too late for me to turn my back on chaos.

Besides murdering people or even not murdering people, there’s also plenty of exploring to do. The first magic power you get allows you to jump long distances, which lets you stealthily hop between balconies and the tops of buildings instead of walking the streets all exposed like some kinda common dummy who forgot they had that skill for an entire mission and wound up having to murder every single guard in the city. You can sneak through windows and peek through keyholes, or you can just try smashing things until you find a way though. There’s all kinds of loot to collect, which I have somehow managed to miss at least half of despite being generally even more fastidious at looting than I am at mayhem. Like I feel like I must have stolen every possible thing and then at the end of the level it just taunts me with all of the stealing I didn’t manage to do. If you are a completionist, I wish you the best of luck.

Across the board it’s a pretty gorgeous game. It’s got a steampunk aesthetic, and the character design is stylized enough that it’s clearly not going for absolute realism. The result is consistent and lively and honestly a lot of fun to murder.

One critical note, the PC port of this game is not super stable. My computer can run basically anything on ultra but I am seeing some insane framerate drops at certain points regardless of what settings I use, and it seems like that’s a common issue. So at least for now you’re probably better of playing it on Ps4/XB1.

There’s no romance, I Googled it to be sure (my vetting process for games is basically “can I be a girl” and “can I be gay”), but the developer has said that basically Emily does what she wants and is in love with a person named Wyman who doesn’t appear in the game (they are only referenced in-game using they/them pronouns). So there’s at the very least no Straight Agenda. And right now I’m a girl fighting a girl arch-nemesis and my headquarters is a ship with a girl captain and a girl mad scientist and I feel real good about everything besides my chaos level and the fact that I think my next mission is to rescue a boy from a boy. But it’ll still be three to one and I think he’s an old grouch anyway so I guess he can stay (if I don’t murder him by accident or on purpose). And If everything goes according to plan, I’ll eventually get to murder a character voiced by Vincent D’onofrio, which is truly The American Dream. Then, in the DLC that has not been announced and will probably never exist, I will marry my non-binary dreamboat Wyman and hopefully convince a Rude Witch to join my chaotic girl gang in murder adventures on the high seas. I’ve got it all figured out.

Related:

Sarah lives in the Boston area and plays a lot of video games. Her interests are cats, bragging, and foods that can be eaten lying down. She has too many sneakers and not enough pants.

sarah has written 30 articles for us.

37 Comments

    • I dont know if this violates this sites rule for conduct and all, but if you buy games on steam you can always check sites like g2a.com to see if they have the game on for cheap, like i bought this game called armada for my brother for like 1/4th the price, really helps on your college student budget, again i’ll take this off if i crossed a line here, really great article though, and the chaos rating had me replaying this game just to get the ‘good ending’

  1. “instead of walking the streets all exposed like some kinda common dummy who forgot they had that skill for an entire mission and wound up having to murder every single guard in the city.” I would buy tickets to watch you play video games IRL just saying (or buy you beer whatever works)

    “I will marry my non-binary dreamboat Wyman and hopefully convince a Rude Witch to join my chaotic girl gang in murder adventures on the high seas. I’ve got it all figured out.” YOU REALLY DO MY FRIEND. You really do.

  2. This game was on the edges of my radar but after reading this I’m bumping it up to next on my list once I finish playing through Skyrim again. I never played the first Dishonored and I’m always leery of jumping on with the second game in a series, but you’re in the same boat and having a grand old time so I should be fine!

  3. I just bought a PS4 so I could live out my gay as fuck Dragon Age: Inquisition lifestyle. I had heard of this game but wasn’t sure what it was about and I think you’ve sold me on it. I’ll probably get it later next year after I finish Dragon Age and maybe Skyrim, which I have never played.

    • Hey Erica. Just a heads up that Dishonored 2 is very short compared to Dragon Age and Skyrim if you want to play that first. Its only 8 or 9 levels. The latter two games will practically take over your life though. They are games with a ton of content.

      • Hi turkish! I’ve already started Dragon Age and it will probably consume my life for a while. Thanks for the tip about play time though, maybe I’ll play Dishonored before I pick up Skyrim! Whatever game has the lowest price when I need it will probably be the one I will buy.

  4. I played the hell out of the first Dishonored. The great thing about it for me is that it is very replayable. Even the achievements are designed around doing multiple playthroughs to get them. My usual routine is to playthrough once on high chaos and then on low chaos going for the ghost achievements. What interested me most about the sequel was getting to play as an adult Emily. She was a child in the first game and much of the plot was about saving her and restoring her to the throne. The voice talent is also really great.

    My only real complaints about the sequel are that the campaign is too short and I don’t feel they added anything particularly new to the game other than letting you chose to play as Emily over Corvo. The special abilities are much the same with a few minor differences. But that’s a very minor complaint as all of the abilities are still plenty fun. I highly recommend this series, especially if you love playing stealth. It’s one of the best games out there in that category.

  5. a) I didn’t realise from the trailer that the lady assassin was the playable character because it had a male voiceover so THANK YOU!
    And b) I think not playing the witcher for feminist reasons was a good choice. My girlfriend is a programmer and graphic designer and heard really good things about the game and it is STUNNING but women are sex objects to the point where you can literally hire prostitutes for Geralt to shag and one of the male characters shouts at a female secondary character for going into battle with her tits out. THE DESIGNERS DIDN’T GIVE HER ARMOUR AND THEN THEY HAD THE AUDACITY TO CALL HER OUT ON IT! Seriously. It’s a fantastic game but it is not feminist in the slightest.

  6. Ha ha, Geralt and his chronic laryngitis. At least, that’s what he often sounded like.

    I loved Dishonored, and was stoked for the sequel. I got the PS4 version after hearing that, aside from the frame rates, it was misbehaving with game pads. I usually prefer the PC version, but hey.works to be flexible, right?

  7. So awesome. I was heartbroken in the beginning thinking my most loyal lady guard was now my dead lover. :( I gently picked her body up…then chucked it harshly at the bed so that her limbs fell askew and she was hanging off of it awkwardly? I’ll admit, I was still getting the mechanics of the game down that early. I think I could better aim her at the center of the bed now for her final rest. Good night, sweet bodyguard.

    But maybe it’s just me. I loved this review. I played the last game and as soon as I saw that you could get points for being stealthy, I went that direction. So I’ve been trying to ghost through this one (except not really because they always see me). If it’s taking too long, I’ll chaotically run out and kill everything to scout ahead, then die to reset it after I’ve planned my sneak attack.

    Thank you for pointing out the gender ambiguity in Wyman. I’ll hold on to a queer love in the future!

  8. Dishonored is my favorite game franchise. It has everything I like – ancient gods, disembodied hearts, fun mechanics, variety of choice without being open world or too limiting, and a story that is mostly fleshed out by environmental elements. (In the first game there is a very subtle thread you can follow regarding xenophobia that Corvo faces that you can mostly put together from the texts you can pick up throughout the game and context clues.)

    I haven’t gotten to beat the second game yet cause I’m trying to graduate right now, but I am a few missions in and loving it. I always play low chaos the first time, cause I get more invested in the story in that mode.

  9. I share your dislike of asshole male protagonists! There are many great-looking games I’ll never play, and others I’ve played while grinding my teeth all the way through. It’s not worth it most of the time.

    That said, I didn’t mind Corvo in the first Dishonored because he basically never speaks and has the personality you give him, much like the blank slate protagonists from other Bethesda games. I definitely recommend the first game, the world-building is fascinating (if steampunk, dieselpunk and solarpunk exist, would the Dishonored aesthetic be called whaleoilpunk?) and the stealth-based gameplay is one of my favorites in the genre.

    I haven’t picked up Dishonored 2 yet because of the issues with the PC version you mentioned, but I’m excited to play as Emily.

  10. This is relevant to my interests because I finally shelled out for a PS4 a couple of weeks ago after spending the entirety of my twenties denying myself any kind of console out of… I really dunno, puritanism? Anyway I’ve been reading a bunch of game reviews lately and this is the first one to have made me laugh, so, thanks! D2 is going on my wish list right now.

    Although, I just finished The Last of Us and Left Behind and now I’m quite seriously concerned that I might never play another game as good? I mean, I hadn’t realised what games were capable of in terms of storytelling and, like, actual grown up pathos, and I think Ellie turned out to be one of my favourite characters ever written into existence in any medium, which I was not prepared for. I started playing Assassin’s Creed: BF the next day, and after 20 minutes with the main dude I was all FUCK YOU YOU’RE NOT ELLIE and shut it off again and returned to gazing adoringly/folornly at my TLOU disc box instead. (Now I’m on GTA V and half-heartedly throwing dollar bills at strippers to work out my own feelingz of soul-deadness in this empty, post Ellie world.)

    PS you guys sob at the moving bits of game storylines too right? It’s not just me?

    • This game is definitely not as amazing as TLoU, that game is one of the most beautiful things ever made. BUT this one is a lot of fun.

      Did you see the trailer for TLoU 2? Ellie will be the playable character. It’s still at least a year away but I am pumped.

    • How hype are you for The Last of Us 2? That game is definitely one of the best in terms of storytelling. Nobody beats imo. Though the Bioshock series is way up there for me.

      I’ve been able to get my “Ellie” fix by watching her voice actress, Ashley Johnson, on Blindspot. Her character on that show is just as awesome and adorable and If they ever kill her off I will be furious.

      • YES I saw the trailer. I am very, very excited. I love the version on youtube where you can hear the audience reaction at the first reveal. The huge roar when the firefly symbol comes on screen is awesome/hilarious/totally infectious.

        I hadn’t heard of Blindspot before, but I’ll check it out at some point. I kinda wanted to keep her as Ellie in my head for a while but that’s already out the window after realising she played Mel Gibson’s daughter in What Women Want, which is a movie I am way, way too familiar with.

  11. Is it possible to play Dishonored 2 in 3rd person?
    I decided to play Dishonored first and now I’m having issues with this 1st person point of view. I mostly play 3rd person because I like to see the character I’m playing with..

  12. “So at first I tried to be merciful but I kept getting spotted and then panicking and I’d just start swinging my sword around until everybody was dead. ”

    This is me with every single one of these “You can totally be stealthy if you work hard enough games”

    I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed…

    I tried the first Dishonered but as with all Bethesda games, too slow, too much reading, frustrating controls on the console.

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