Dishonored 2 is an excellent stealth game. With achievements to be won for playing the game without being detected or killing a single soul, it’s a title that embraces living in the shadows. And while you certainly should take on the challenge of a hardcore stealth run, there’s another style of play that you need to try too. The style of a bloodthirsty murderer.
Arkane's brilliant immersive sim is one of many superb PC games released in 2016.
Many stealth-focused games make combat feel like a cheat; the get-out mechanics that only come to the fore if you mess up. Playing anything less than completely non-lethal is made to feel like the easy way out. In those games blowing a man’s brains out with a shotgun at close range is the alternate, frowned upon method.
Not in Dishonored 2, though. By limiting yourself to playing purely stealth, you’re missing out on some of the game’s most refined, exciting elements: the combat and weapons. It’s a mistake I made in the first game. By playing completely non-lethal, pretty much the only skills I used were Corvo’s fast-jump Blink ability and the choke-out attack. I wasn’t going to make that mistake with Dishonored 2.
The swordplay in Dishonored 2 is one of the strongest first-person melee systems ever made. You can see it in action in the Miller Rapport video embedded above, which shows… well perhaps not quite the exact method I’m advocating. The combat has its roots deep within Arkane’s underappreciated Dark Messiah of Might and Magic; a Source engine hack-and-slash RPG that saw you plunge swords deep into the necks of guards and kick ragdoll-y orcs into spike pits. Dishonored 2’s combat is a fresh and updated take on that, and a deeply enjoyable endeavour.
Each and every strike from your blade resonates; there’s none of that Elder Scrolls weightlessness here. Parried blows clang, and counter-attacks cause geysers of blood to burst from fresh wounds. It’s all in the finishing flourish, though: a sword through an open mouth, a downwards thrust between shoulder blades, or a swipe that cuts torso from legs. It’s beautifully vicious and teetering on the edge of unnecessary. There’s nothing that comes close to it.
But the thing about Dishonored’s combat is that it’s not just a bit of fancy knifeplay. Arkane have built an incredibly creative sandpit of violence. Emily and Corvo have access to a vast variety of equipment: pistols, crossbows, proximity mines that erupt into showers of razor blades, and more. Then there’s their supernatural powers, like Emily’s Domino which causes every enemy linked together to suffer the same fate.
Creating deadly situations for your foes to fall victim to is the best thing you can do with your time in Dishonored 2. During his review playthrough, our Fraser used his skills to cause one enemy to shoot another. Thanks to the Domino effect, the impact of the bullet not only shattered the skull of the victim, but also the shooter and a third helpless soul.
Both characters have their own unique murderous capabilities. Playing as Corvo you can affix a spring razor mine onto the back of a rat, possess them, and force them to scurry into a gang of guards. The results are predictably satisfying every time.
Even the environment is filled with excellent opportunities to go ballistic with. Walls of Light, electric gates that only allow guards through, can be re-wired to flip their priorities. A good kick in combat can throw a guard backwards, only for them to be fried in the gateway that previously let them through. Even something as simple as placing a stun mine at the base of a tree where a guard stops to relieve themselves is an exercise in brutal fun.
The most important thing about Dishonored 2’s combat though is that it’s difficult. Opting for a violent playthrough doesn’t rob the game of challenge, it just changes the way in which the difficulty presents itself. You need to be exceptionally aware of both you and your surroundings during melees. Every strike needs to be blocked and countered, and a stray bullet can be the end of you. Fighting packs of enemies is near impossible without a strong plan and deep familiarity with the mechanics.
Enemy variety alters the difficulty, too. Clockwork Soldiers are vastly more superior in combat than their fleshy alternatives. A well-angled thrust won’t leave them bleeding out on the cobbles. Defeating them is a genuine achievement, which makes battle a far more challenging activity than avoiding them through stealth.
Dishonored 2’s stealth mechanics make it an unrivalled sneak-’em-up, and you should by all means try and get that perfect no kills and no detections run. But don’t feel like violence should be the core of your alternate playthrough. Y’know, that third attempt you’ll never get around to. Getting your blade dirty is worthy of your first experience of Karnaca. Violence is not a failure in Dishonored 2, it’s actually one of its finest achievements.