2012's Dishonored put players behind the sharp steel and supernatural powers of vengeance-driven antihero Corvo Attano. From beneath the assassin's mask, they could teleport short distances, summon swarms of man-eating rats, and stop time just long enough to slit the throats of unsuspecting marks.
The stealth-action series' ambitious sequel doubles down, quite literally, on its predecessor's imaginative arsenal by allowing fans to play as the returning protagonist or his equally adept daughter, Emily. Corvo possesses the same suite of powers as before, but new upgrade paths allow them greater flexibility. The aforementioned rodent-conjuring skill, for example, can now be enhanced to have the rabid vermin follow you around town.
While playing pied piper to a pack of diseased rats is pretty damn cool, it's even more thrilling to let the leash off Emily's fresh set of skills. Like her father, the young heroine is capable of eliminating threats silently or violently, but inspired powers, like Domino — which links the unfortunate fate of a single target to surrounding threats — encourage you to slay with style to spare.
Like its predecessor, Dishonored 2 wants players to experiment with these powers inside cleverly crafted sandbox missions. Where the first game had you tackling objectives within miniature open worlds, the sequel ups the ante by supporting the gameplay with intricately themed levels. One such area, for example, ingeniously incorporates time travel, while another unfolds in a mansion whose mechanically shifting structure can complement your ability to open baddies from brain stem to belly button.
"The young heroine is capable of eliminating threats silently or violently."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that every severed jugular erupts onto the same sort of painterly backdrops that made Dishonored stand out artistically. While the sequel's sun-drenched island of Karnaca is a far cry from its predecessor's dark and industrial Dunwall, it sports even more immersion-ratcheting details and lived-in charm. It's a fictional place, but it feels every bit as authentic as any era-specific geographic location you'd study in a text book.
Dishonored 2's revenge-fueled, by-the-numbers narrative doesn't match its engrossing gameplay or expert level design, but this is a minor nitpick in an outstanding interactive experience. In a season that's delivered all the expected first-person shooters and open-world romps, Dishonored 2 's refreshing stealth-action formula is as welcome as a rat plague vaccination.