It’s Emily vs Corvo in this High Chaos double playthrough of Dishonored 2.
Years after the events of Dishonored, a bored Empress Emily, still protected by grizzly Corvo, discovers her mother had an older, illegitimate sister, who exorcises her right to the throne – violently. Its your choice who she imprisons while the other escapes to nearby Karnaca, where they must uncover the truth about the family history and take back the throne from Auntie.
Dishonored 2 feels like the way Assassin’s Creed should have gone instead of ACIII’s shift into epic RPG. It’s focused, tactical, clever, all about stabbing. It would have been an awesome AC game; someone should just mod the Outsider as an Isu.
The one thing that’s missing from D2 is a save game; it’s crying out for import saves from Dishonoured 1. At one point, Corvo says “If only old Daniel could see me now” – what, the kindly old boatman I drowned at the end of Dishonored? D2 keeps a middle-ground when flashing back to D1’s events, but I’d have loved to see the deranged Emily I created in D1 on the throne. But, since I can play this however the hell I like, she’ll be deranged soon enough.
Karnaca is more vertical than Dunwall’s free-roam spread. The first nailed it, but this refines it. There’s a logic to the world and I feel like I make my own opportunities; not once did a situation or element feel out of place or convoluted, placed there to facilitate a gameplay element. While there’s the usual soldiers to manage, there’s also a criminal gang called the Howlers and the Overseers, dedicated to eradicating all knowledge of the Void.
Since you can play this as either Emily or Corvo, each have different perks and powers but they’re not split with Emily being the faster/weaker stealther and Corvo the stronger/slower tank. It could have worked better having them escape together and you choosing who goes on a mission, and each react and reflect (it’d be a killer co-op) but for the most part, it’s just down to if you want the hand at the bottom of the screen to have nail varnish or not. They’re not limited to playstyle, you just need to adapt your style to their abilities, and I play them like Mickey and Mallory.
Emily is a more tactical character; she wobbles at first but emerges as the clear choice if you're aiming to cause the very highest of Chaos - her perks can be weaponised in thrilling ways, and her brutality is compelling as she nonchalantly kills while talking about burning usurpers alive and acknowledges her indifference to court politics let this happen. She ain’t no Disney Princess.
Another thing that helps Emily win the decision on which to play is we’ve already been Corvo – and not just in Dishonored 1. In D2 he’s every grizzled hero we’ve played before. For once, a silent hero is preferable to D2's chatty Corvo, whose depressed mutterings we’ve been hearing since Max Payne. It’s just more compelling and original being the Queen cutting her way back to her throne than the Shining Knight trying to save the princess in the tower from the evil step-aunt.
When comparing their Void powers, Corvo is classic Dishonored; a simple, clean solution to a problem, while Emily becomes an elegant, almost artistic way to murder. Corvo’s Blink power is a teleport that breaks line of sight and can pause time, while Emily’s Blink yoinks people off their feet and yeets them across the map. Okay it’s not elegant to stab people in mid-air or pull them toward you just to nonchalantly step aside and let them sail over a cliff, but it is the stuff of legend.
Stealthing and enemy awareness is better, but not exactly life-like; you can hide behind a lamppost. The fights are great, and it gets scrappy if you lose the advantage; I occasionally enjoy walking through the front door, weapons and Void powers blazing, but that’s usually followed by running and hiding. Later additions like the Witches who have Void powers and the lethal clockwork soldiers shake things up a little, although not much; it’s a consistent experience and the only change is more soldiers on the beat the higher your Chaos is, which makes sense; if the next town calls and says someone just slaughtered everyone and they’re heading your way, you’d have your guard up too.
So far, Emily is the clear choice as lead character in D2, if nothing else because she sensibly disguises herself with a scarf while Corvo still bolts on a Halloween mask on and acts surprised that people are freaked out at him. Ultimately, the plot is the same for both – head towards the castle. It doesn’t have the intrigue or the politics of the original, even with the evil step-aunt’s backstory and more blathering from the Void’s Outsider, but the missions more than make up for the simplistic plot as we dismantle Auntie’s gang of conspirators. One mission requires us to survive a clockwork house patrolled by robotic guardians; trying to navigate a house that changes while evading robots is a thrill. And then it gets better.
Gifted a time-charm by the Outsider, we’re able to navigate a ruined mansion by rewinding time back to when the mansion was still neat, tidy and full of enemies. Flicking between the two time periods to traverse obstacles and tactically fight soldiers by zipping forward in time and moving to a new position then rewinding is awesome, a masterclass in level design that lets your own ingenuity, creativity and stupidity shine.
All the levels have some clever quirk or approach – it’s like chapters of a book rather than most games’ variation on a theme. Of course, all that subtlety is lost on me turning Emily and Corvo into mass-murderers, but I played Emily and Corvo back-to-back and it always felt new. What was interesting about my replay was I still made the same mistakes. I was so in the moment I never recalled the previous go (and my mistakes) until it was too late. Or maybe I just don’t learn from my mistakes.
It’s only the final push that somewhat disappoints. Naturally, and unoriginally, Auntie has turned Dunwall into a bleak, oppressive slum filled with witchy stuff and spells. It feels a little done-before to return and find everything’s turned evil. Still, it’s a good final fight. The only shocker is an abrupt ending where everything is resolved with a ‘it’s a long story *chuckles*’ end line. What I did was no laughing matter.
The only other disappointment really is Corvo – so good in the original, he feels unnecessary here and supposedly he was only added late into development, likely due to publisher pressure to include a male lead. He’s an excellent replay motivator, but just doesn’t resonate as well as Emily or provide a different enough experience or alternative take on events. Playing as Emily is the best Dishonored of the bunch. Long live Empress Emily, my High Chaos psycho Queen.