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Dishonored 2 Hands-on Preview | Like clockwork

Dishonored 2 Hands-on Preview | Like clockwork
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

I must confess something before we go any further – I only got around to playing Dishonored a few months ago. It sat at the top of my Steam backlog like a mark of shame, but as things slowed down with the industry this summer I finally got took Corvo Attano on his stealthy journey of revenge. I immediately kicked myself for not doing it sooner, as I loved every second of it. So when it was announced that the world-first hands-on experience with the game was taking place at EGX this year I made sure it was my first stop as soon as the doors at the NEC opened to the waiting masses.

While the demo was playable as Corvo – whose powered have been updated but remain familiar, we were told – I absolutely had to play as Emily. Her powers came across as rage personified in the original reveal trailer back in 2015, and I wanted to know if Bethesda had managed to capture that essence in the gameplay. So began my playthrough, where I was tasked with infiltrating a mansion in the Avante district of Karnaca to assassinate a target and rescue a familiar face.

But before the infiltration began, I got to enjoy an on-rail taxi ride.

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I’m sure most of you are more interested in hearing about how I went about slaughtering my enemies, but the opening sequence of the demo where Emily is transported up a cliffside actually took my breath away. The vistas on show were so staggering that I was more interested in looking out at the beautifully rendered landscapes than I was in where I was actually headed. The stylised art direction provides a familiar feel, but the colourful jungles in the distance made the dark, downtrodden streets of Kirkwall seem a million miles away.

As I reached my destination my objectives came on screen – assassinate Kirin Jindosh, and rescue Anton Sokolov – and so I entered the mansion with the intention of doing things as quietly as possible. That, of course, didn’t go to plan initially, as I was introduced to the spectacle of Jindosh’s contraptions. Just like in the original reveal trailer, the wooden panelling made way for metal beams and clockwork-style gears as it transformed into an open hall, revealing my intended target behind a glass door.

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As the two characters conversed it became clear that the dialogue had been tailored to my chosen protagonist. While I didn’t have the opportunity to play the demo as Corvo, I did feel that I would be more inclined to do a second playthrough of the full game just to see how he would have handled the conversation. No longer is it just about high or low chaos, but how Emily or Corvo deals with the situations at hand.

The pleasantries were over as quickly as they began, as Jindosh introduced a mechanical soldier into my life. The twin-bladed enemy was an intimidating sight at twice my size, so I did the only thing I could and use Far Reach (Emily’s take on Corvo’s Blink) to hide up above. It became clear quite quickly that the controls felt the same as they did back in Dishonored, but Emily’s standard powers appeared more aggressive in nature. After all, Far Reach sends a black smokey arm out that reels her in towards her destination, which I’m sure looks terrifying to onlookers. This contemplation didn’t last long, though, as my mechanical foe did something I wasn’t expecting.

It looked up.

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Suddenly I was under attack by a bolt of lightning, forcing me to make the poor decision of heading towards what looked like a clear corridor. There I noticed what looked like Karnaca’s version of the Light Walls of Kirkwall, but I thought there was enough of a gap above it for me to Far Reach through. Let this be a helpful warning to the rest of you – it isn’t a gap, and you will die in sizzling pain if you try.

The checkpoint was thankfully right before the encounter, but instead of going full stealth on my second attempt I hid round a corner waiting for the clockwork soldier to emerge. With its back turned, I sneaked up behind it and put my blade to good use. Once again Arkane have made sure the execution animations are gratuitously satisfying, as I watched the contraption fall to the floor in a pile of bits. There was no time to relax, though, as the room began to change yet again.

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Yet again I panicked. My years as Corvo had me instinctively hurl myself up high, only to find that the transforming room had created a new roof beneath my current position. Yet more panic set in as I tried to find a way out, but it was my first example of how the mechanical mansion has many hiding places to discover. Rooms with rooms, so to speak. It was by luck I discovered a button that freed me from my self-made prison (showing that Arkane had predicted my idiocy) and so the hunt continued.

As I continued I came across two guards down a long corridor, and so I decided to use another of Emily’s powers – Domino. Linking the two foes together, I waited for one to patrol towards me, sneak up behind them, and knock them out, rendering the other unconscious as well. Unfortunately, in my effort to try and be subtle, I was caught trying to hide the bodies by a third guard, who in turn called forth to appear alongside a clockwork soldier. So began what I refer to as “the slaughtering.”

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Flinging myself with Far Reach, I tried to line-of-sight my foes, but the AI’s search routines were too thorough for my feeble evasion skills. I had one last ace up my sleeve in Shadow Walk, allowing me to slip away undetected. Having had enough trying to be stealthy and not killing anyone, I got behind one guard and brutally dispatched him. Well, I say brutally – his friend suffered a worse fate as I parried it attack and then ensured he’d never be the head of a major corporation. This left the mechanical annoyance to deal with, but I was seeing red by this point and just slashed away until it stopped moving.

The next few sections went much more smoothly, as I evaded (or knocked out) guards and looted everything in sight. It wasn’t long until I found myself next to what was Sokolov’s location, which happened to be an intricate puzzle with moving walls. I was actually impressed by this section, which challenged me to work out the right sequence of floor switches to activate while trying to avoid yet another clockwork soldier. At the very least, it was a welcome change of pace from the constant stealth and combat that had preceded it. That said, I eventually “cheated” the design by using Far Reach to get me through, allowing me to pick up the infamous inventor and artist and begin his extraction.

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With the way out mostly clear thanks to my earlier antics, getting Sokolov to the on-rail taxi was fairly straight forward. Unfortunately, it was at this at this point that I had run out of time for my playthrough, and so I left Jindosh live another day (in my version of events, at any rate – I’m sure he was murdered many times over the course of EGX.)

If I were to sum up my time with Dishonored 2, it would be that Arkane have taken what made Dishonored such a satisfying experience and doubled down. The refined the gameplay mechanics and the change of pace with the floor puzzle kept the experience interesting, and while Corvo’s abilities are capable of being terrifying I do feel Emily’s skillset will be the favoured of those looking for a more aggressive style of play. There was enough challenge throughout the demo to keep my on my toes, so if the gameplay is in fact even harder in the full game I imagine I’ll more than have my work cut out for me. Ultimately, the demo had me yearning to get my hands on the game come November, if only to make sure Jindosh definitely gets what’s coming to him.

Dishonored 2 releases on November 11th for PS4, Xbox One and PC.