Dishonored 2: The Joys of High and Low Chaos

There is something comforting in family as well as in familiarity, though more so in family. In Dishonored, Princess Emily Kaldwin’s family is somewhat dysfuncional. Her mother, the Empress Jessamine and de facto ruler, is murdered when she is ten and her father, Jessamine’s bodyguard and spymaster Corvo Attano, wanted for killing her. Of course, Corvo spends the rest of the game trying to reestablish his honor by cleaning his name and avenging his lover. He can do this either the very brutal way or choose a stealthier path. If he chooses the latter, little Emily, who becomes the players conscience over time, will paint pictures of both of them standing in the sunshine and wearing huge smiles on their faces. If he chooses the violent approach, she’ll paint a picture of him standing atop a pile of bodies, alone and bloody sword in hand.

One way or the other, fifteen years after Corvo has emerged victorious from his ordeal and restored his daughter to the throne, history repeats itself. But, since this game is called Dishonored 2, that’s really no surprise. So, again a group of conspirators threatens the Empire, again the hero, or heroine, in this case, since you can play as either Corvo or Emily, needs to find allies to fight them and regain their honor. Again this hero/heroine is given the choice by the entity known as the Outsider, whether or not to bear his Mark and become his outlandish tool of chaos, be it High or Low. The Outsider’s Mark grants magical powers which can be used to either kill or circumvent. So Low Chaos means you try to play it cool and stealthy whereas High Chaos is a clear indication for your prefering outright assault. For the record: I ended my first playthrough of the first Dishonored on High Chaos.

First things first
First, Dishonored 2 borrowed all the good things from its predecessor. Stealth is extremely taxing, in combat enemies are tough as nails and there are numerous approaches to achieving one goal or another.

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Emily Kaldwin is Empress- But can she keep her throne?

The musical score sounds very familiar (Drunken Whaler, anyone?), which, for me at least, is comforting because it reminds me of how much I enjoyed Dishonored in the first place.

The characters and breathtakingly beautiful city locations have also retained their very distinctive style, as if painted by a particularly bold artist with large and vivid strokes (Anton Sokolov comes to mind). I got to say this: I find the artwork extremely refreshing in a time where video games try to achieve the most realistic depiction of the real world as possible.

Also familiar, although not as welcome, are the enemy factions, namely the Conspirators aka wannabe-emperors or, in this case, empresses, the Howlers and the Overseers. I admit I felt a little disappointed. I mean, I understand that the Overseers are a religious order that spans the Empire, but, the Howlers? Seriously?

The good thing is, though, that there are more sinister forces at play and the protagonist, be it Emily or Corvo, is not the only one bearing the Outsider’s Mark… Actually, I briefly considered playing without the Mark, but I really wanted to see what Emily’s new powers feel like, so I had to go with it, with both the Empress and the Royal Protector.

Like Father, like Daughter? Unlikely.
I have to confess: I have not finished the game yet. I have just mastered Mission Four, which takes place inside the Clockwork Mansion. Also, I am playing as both Corvo and Emily, so I have to play each mission twice (at least). But I really wanted to share my first impressions and thoughts.

So, over the past years Corvo Attano has been training his daughter in both stealth and combat. Yet they are not the same and the game does not treat them as equals. Which is very good.

While Corvo is a veteran fighter who has dealt with street thugs in the cold and dank streets of Dunwall and the alleys of his birth-place Karnaca before that, this entire setting is very new to Emily.

Emily is not as strong as her father, but she is quicker, more agile. So I decided to play her  stealthy and non-lethal, when possible, which means on Low Chaos, while Corvo went with the bold assault style and thus High Chaos. I admit, his rather grim and vengeful view of the entire situation at the very beginning of the game was what ultimately made my choice. Also, there was this one little thing that had me start both campaigns twice and, be warned, there are spoilers ahead:

In the beginning the mentioned conspirators have successfully staged a coup to dethrone Emily, and either she or Corvo is being held prisoner in the royal chambers and has to escape.

To do that, they need to eliminate a guy named Mortimer Ramsey. So I snuck after him as he went to inspect the royal quarters, choked him into unconsciousness and that was that. Except: When I did that as Emily, I had not problem taking him down and carrying him upstairs (Emily is a strong woman!) where I needed him. Undetected, mind you.

When I did the same thing as Corvo, a guard followed Ramsey from the throne room to the royal quarters and spotted him. As I said, I played both campain beginnings twice and that was no coincidence. So, as Emily I managed to leave undetected, as Corvo I had to carve up a few guards before escaping. So, you see, High Chaos really was no choice at all…

With Emily, I manage to be stealthier, but then, that might be due to the fact that I play each mission first as Corvo, scouting the location, getting into fights, before I send my dear little daughter into the unknown. Which, I guess, is actually cheating, were it not for the fact that, no, that safe code is NOT the same in your playthrough, silly girl!

I also take her on different routes through the levels so she gets to explore by herself.

The difference between playing on Low or High Chaos also manifests itself in other, small ways throughout the game and I absolutely adore those details.

For example, there was this one tiny yet highly memorable difference in the Addermire Institute in Mission Three. While, as Corvo, I had been on a bloody rampage ever since leaving the tower in Dunwall, as Emily I had managed to get to Addermine with very, very few casualties. So, on the, I think, second floor of the Institute you’ll find the matron’s office. Apparently, she has been let go, as revealed in a letter found on her desk.

Yet when I entered the Institute on High Chaos, I found her dead body hanging from the office’s ceiling, with a nest of bloodflies close by. On Low Chaos, I simply found the office empty. How cool is that?!

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Sunset in Karnaca – Simply stunning.


Karnaca versus Dunwall

While the first Dishonored was set exclusively in the Empire’s capital, Dunwall in the North, which I remember as being a dank, cold place, the second installment brings players to  Karnaca, the Jewel of the South. It is where Corvo was born and where he turned into the street-smart master swordsman he still is today. You can practically feel the baking heat given off by the sun-bleached piers at the harbor. I actually found the shadows in the alleys comforting because of that.

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The sun-bleached pier of Karnaca. Can you feel the heat?

While both Dunwall and Karnaca are port cities, Dunwall crouches on the edge of the rocky coast while the bright, sunny Karnaca sprawls leisurely across the hills and mountain side surrounding it.

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This rich district reminded me of Italy, or Greece, maybe.

In both locations the differences between rich and poor districts are very pronounced. Rich districts are also protected by Walls of Light which the player needs to disable or circumvent. Disabling the Walls of Light has become easier, since all you need to do is find the windmill that powers it and shut it down. Or else stick with the old pull-out-the-whale-oil-tank-trick.

Verdict
As games go, Dishonored 2 is still the breath of fresh air its predecessor was. Even though it really is Dishonored, Part 2, meaning that the story mechanics haven’t really changed. So far. As mentioned, I have still a way to go and I am very much looking forward to that! Also, Emily’s new powers rock!

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Far Reach, as the Power displayed in the upper left corner is called, is one of Emily’s new magical abilities and it is way better than Corvo’s good old Blink-ability, as much as that pains me to admit…

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