Cautiously setting foot into the beautifully ornate atrium of the grandiose Clockwork Mansion, I momentarily lose myself, wondering at its Victorian-esque architecture, and keen to explore further. However, it’s not long before the disembodied voice of Kirin Jindosh – the building’s maniacal owner – reminds me of the brutal and challenging tasks I have at hand.
Dripping with atmosphere, Dishonored 2 is a first-person steampunk title that fuses traditional action-adventure combat with stellar stealth mechanics and, most significantly, supernatural powers. Set 15 years on from the events of its 2012 predecessor, the game allows players to select between the deposed Empress Emily Kaldwin or her bodyguard and original protagonist Corvo Attano, both of whom come complete with their own personality, quirks and abilities.
Today, my EGX 2016 demo sees me resume the role of Corvo, who possesses many of the same superpowers from the original game, including the ever-popular Blink ability that allows him to teleport several metres forward at the speed of light. A fellow member of the press is playing as Emily, whose unique abilities include the Shadow Walk, which allows her to traverse in a fleet-footed wraith form to either evade or sneak up on enemies.
My objectives are two-fold: firstly, I must assassinate the seemingly omniscient Jindosh, navigating his perilous manor to reach his innermost sanctum. Secondly, I’m here to rescue Jindosh’s former mentor Anton Sokolov, who is being held prisoner somewhere within the building’s walls. In my way stand both human guards, equipped with a veritable arsenal of weaponry, and Clockwork Soldiers, spindly automatons that have heads resembling demonic mechanical birds, who also have the ability to rip me limb from limb.
If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, the very design of the Clockwork Mansion itself provides one of the most significant trials players have to face. Most rooms feature at least one elaborate lever, which, when activated, completely recalibrates the layout and architecture of the current area you’re standing in. Staircases seamlessly disappear, walls rotate and hidden paths are opened up; navigating my way to the basement levels to rescue Sokolov provided a genuine and rewarding challenge in and of itself.
Aside from its knack for rearranging furniture, the darkest depths of the ostensibly magnificent mansion also play home to a number of more obvious and gruesome contraptions: electric barriers powered up with enough voltage to more than knock your socks off and effectively sealing certain paths, requiring you to take another route; sentry arc pylons return from the first game, causing instantaneous death if you manage to stray too close; while rigged pressure plates also stand in the way of reaching your targets.
While players will have the opportunity to spurn all supernatural powers in favour of playing Dishonored 2 with a more grounded approach, it is undoubtedly best experienced by taking advantage of the opportunity the game affords you to combine both gunplay and magical abilities seamlessly together, ala BioShock. While offering players the option to alternate their approach to objectives between either stealth or ‘guns-blazing’ without penalty is nothing new, Arkane take that a step further. With Corvo and Emily’s powers and combat mechanics able to be chained together so effortlessly, there is little limit to the number of creative kills and non-lethal takedowns players are able to perform.
The most rewarding moment during my 30-minute demo comes as I desperately try to escape the labyrinthine mansion with an unconscious Sokolov slumped over my shoulders. Constantly mocked by Jindosh, who remarks on my every move and misstep over the building’s PA system in a condescending tone not too dissimilar to the Joker’s in the Batman Arkham series, my nervousness is at a high. Punctuated by a subtle change in tempo in Dishonored 2’s striking orchestral soundtrack, I’ve taken a wrong turn and find myself only metres away from two physically impressive guards, flanked by a Clockwork Soldier.
With their alert levels rising, indicated by an on-screen meter, and with no pistol ammunition left, I’m going to have to be stealthy about this. Quick as a flash, I drop the hostage on the floor before activating Corvo’s Blink ability, jump ahead and brutally slash one guard in the throat, before turning and breaking the other’s neck before they’ve even had chance to process what’s happening. It’s an unapologetically violent manoeuvre; its brutality and deftness are sadistically satisfying. Finally, I turn my attention to the robotic bird, which wounds me with one of its multitude of blades before I activate Corvo’s Bend Time power and pick off its weak spots with a few rapid flashes of my blade. Carcasses laying at my feet, I stand unashamedly triumphant but also take a second to catch a breather.
Although the powers I’ve used are returning abilities from the original game, the upgrading system has been completely revamped into a skill tree that allows for both lethal and non-lethal overhauls to the vast majority of abilities. While I’ve been deliberately violent in this play-through in order to boost the returning chaos meter and cause as much destruction as possible, it’s also quite acceptable to play through the game with a more humane approach; tranquilliser weapons are available from the outset to accompany those non-lethal supernatural abilities.
Eventually, having safely delivered Sokolov to the comfort of my waiting carriage outside, the time has come for me to put an end to Jindosh’s taunting once and for all. Reaching his private quarters having fought through several battles akin to the one described earlier, I use his architectural ingenuity against him: reconfiguring his bedroom several times until it eventually leads me directly to his location: the upper level of his private laboratory. With Jindosh accompanied by several Clockwork Solider guards, I Blink forward and make short work of the party at close-range, delivering devastating and critical blows to each, having parried their own attempts at piercing my vitals.
Somewhat unimpressed with my own performance, however, I restart from the last checkpoint and this time I have other ideas. A solitary grenade is tossed somewhat nonchalantly at Jindosh, while I quickly unleash a headshot with my pistol for good measure. The resulting explosion, with machinery and blood flying everywhere in a delightfully violent crescendo, is a much more rewarding way to silence the man who has mocked my efforts over the past 30 minutes.
With that, my demo sadly comes to an end. November 11, when Dishonored 2 releases on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, can’t come soon enough.