Here's what we learned when sneaking past guards and hiding in the shadows in Arkane's new stealth 'em up.
Arkane Studios has finally finished Dishonored 2 and late last week released the stealthy sequel on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, and what a game it is; with some fantastic mechanics wrapped around incredible level design and an immersive story, it's one of of our favourite games of 2016. There's a lot to take in, though, so we thought we'd put together a handy guide to help you get started in Karnaca.
Choosing a Character
Last time you had but one choice, but now you choose between Corvo from the first game, and his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin. The two characters feel suitably different thanks to a range of unique abilities, and the variety you get from these abilities informs your whole experience (unless you play a "no powers" game, in which case the difference is more cosmetic).
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Corvo returns with Blink, his signature move from the first game, and this is joined by the ability to bend time, posses the bodies of rats (and even call a swarm of the little critters to eat your enemies), send out a blast of wind, and see through walls.
Emily, on the other hand, moves around using Far Reach, which drags here between locations at high speed. She can also see through walls, but there the similarities end. She can also put enemies into a trance-like state, tie NPCs together so they all suffer the same fate when it comes to strike, transform into a shadow, and even produce a clone of herself to distract guards.
There's a lot of differences between them, and so it's worth considering which skillset you want to adopt during your first play-through. It's also worth adding that the first pass is the hardest as you don't know where anything is, so bear that in mind too.
We went with Emily the first time, just because she's new to the series, but some of you might prefer the familiar feel offered by Corvo. It's up to you, but bear in mind that your choice is locked in for the duration, and there's no changing your mind halfway through.
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Picking a Style
Replayability has been built into Dishonored 2, and it's clear from the outset that Arkane expects us to play through the game twice (once with each character). This means that you should definitely think about playing the game differently both times, to make the most out of the experience.
For example, for your first game you could do like us and pick Emily Kaldwin, and play her very aggressively. We tailored her skills and abilities around stealthy attacks, loading up on the Shadow Kill enhancement that has dead bodies disappear into dust upon the point of death, as well as updating her Far Reach and Dark Vision.
Alternatively you can play a non-violent game, where you either knock guards unconscious and hide their bodies, or even leave them alone to patrol in ignorance. There's skills for both characters that make this a viable option, whether your possessing rats in order to access hard to reach places, or sending out clones of yourself to distract guards while you slip past.
One thing we will advise: be thorough. We didn't get as many runes as we'd have liked during our first play-through, and as such we weren't able to unlock as many of Emily's unique powers as we'd have liked. Right from the start you should take the time to seek out as many runes as you can find, as they're the key to unlocking the magical abilities that are arguably the most fun part of the game.
If you don't want to rely on magic to get you through you can always opt for the "no powers" option, and play the whole thing without using any of the powers bestowed upon you by the Outsider. Arkane has made sure that whether your aggressive or conservative, violent or peaceful, supernatural or normal, you can play the way you want to.
Also, it might be tempting to kill some of the main characters that you meet along the way, and one or two of them really do have it coming, but there are benefits to letting them live, so consider showing some mercy and you'll be rewarded for staying your blade.
Weapons and Upgrades
You sword is constantly in your right hand, but in your left you can equip a variety of different abilities and weapons. Accessed via a radial menu, you can quickly switch between your powers and either your crossbow or a pistol. There are advantages to each, which we'll endeavour to explain now.
There's plentiful ammo for the pistol laying around the world, and if you don't mind going loud during a mission then it's a perfectly effective way of dealing with your opponents (especially if you combine it with Emily's "Dominos" power, where you link enemies together, shoot one, and they all die). It is, however, a crude weapon, and purists won't want to use it too often as it nearly always draws unwanted attention. Besides, if you wanted to play a shooter, you'd be playing Battlefield 1, right?
Much more flexible is the crossbow, and you can change up your tactics by using different bolts. The vanilla option is reasonably quiet and deadly if you score a headshot (just beware of those wearing helmets). However, things get more interesting when you mix it up. The sleeping darts are great if you're playing a non-lethal game, though beware that they don't have an instant effect. There's also incendiary darts which are deadly and macabre in equal measure, but our favourites are venom-tipped arrows that induce fear and memory loss in your target, sending them screaming from the scene of the crime.
Beyond that there's grenades (very loud, only for emergencies we'd say), plus mines that spew out either shrapnel and an electric charge that can stun nearby enemies (which can be really handy against the clockwork soldiers).
Explore and Collect
As you explore the world you'll find lots of pieces of paper, but it's the blue ones that you really want to look out for. These blueprints activate new upgrades that can be purchased whenever you visit a blackmarket dealer, so if there's an aspect of your bow or pistol that you're particularly fond of, you can enhance it. Best of all, you might want to equip more bonecharms, and this is something you can upgrade.
Every environment is strewn with things that you can read and collect. The stories, letters, and book extracts don't offer anything in the way of financial reward, but they will give you a much better overview of the wider world, as well as certain bonus items that may be in the vicinity (we're thinking of one safe in particular where the combination can discovered by reading paperwork in a room nearby).
Paintings are particularly valuable (perhaps an indication of how highly Arkane regards art), and there's plenty of other items in the world that can be picked up and instantly turned into cash to be spent later on upgrades. It pays to be thorough and grab everything you can, because money can be spent on resources and upgrades at blackmarket dealers. So slash bloodfly nests, pick up every trinket of value, pickpocket civilians wherever possible, and most importantly of all, keep an eye out for runes and bonecharms.
In fact, the most valuable items in the whole game are without doubt the runes, and in particular you should seek out the rune shrines in each level, as you get two for your trouble, as well as a bit of story from the Outsider. Runes are tied to your powers, and the more you find, the more you'll be able to unlock. Make these a priority, especially over bonecharms, which can be helpful, but not always.
One tip, if there's an item you want and there's guards and/or civilians in the way, if you're playing as Corvo you can slow time down to a crawl and nip and grab said item. They'll still see you, but they'll be moving so slowly that they'll never catch you. It's a handy trick, but it eats up mana quick, so only use it on special occasions and if you're prepared to run away.
Manage Your Resources
If you're the type of player who searches everywhere then you'll no doubt have enough bolts and bullets and health potions to keep you going until the end, but that's not a universal approach and there's going to be plenty of you who want to burn through the story and focus on the narrative, rather than exploring every corner of every level.
While charging head first towards your first objective might make sense from a narrative perspective, it will leave you short of resources and you'll have to be change your style when your ammo and health starts to run low.
For example, if you run out of crossbow darts (and assuming you don't want to go in guns blazing) then you're limited in terms of ranged attacks. If you're not going to scout for supplies then we'd suggest being more selective with your targets, and only bust out the crossbow when you get to a section where you have to use it in order to get past an awkwardly positioned guard.
Similarly, your mana can be hard to manage. The trick is to take your time. Simply put, if you use your powers in quick succession - before the meter has recharged - then you'll burn through it no time at all. Patience and purposeful actions are recommended, and you should only do back-to-back Blink/Far Reach jumps if you're being chased by a group of enemies and you need to get the hell out of Dodge.
Take Your Time
A quick one to wrap things up. Dishonored 2 is a fantastic game and it should be savoured. Take your time, soak up the atmosphere, explore, experiment, and most importantly, have fun.