We play through the clockwork mansion as both Corvo and Emily.
At EGX 2016 we got to go hands-on for the first time with Arkane's Dishonored 2. As it offers two playable characters, Matt and Alex decided to take one each and play through the same level. Here are their impression of playing as returning hero Corvo and new heroine Emily.
I saved a life and took many more during my time with Dishonored 2's clockwork mansion, a baffling and intricate mission where the entire level is designed as one giant puzzle - complete with deathtraps and brutal enemies. It seems years since I last played around in Arkane's mad steampunk world, but it has an air of familiarity about it. It's alive with sinister, mean-spirited enemies and intricate, obsessively detailed oddities. A curiosity shoppe of razor sharp fancy goods.
"Mistime a block and you'll get a blade through your chest. Deflect an enemy sword and you can send him sliding across the floor with his own blood as lubrication."
You have two objectives when you enter the clockwork mansion; rescue a prisoner and eliminate a chap called Kirin Jindosh. Jindosh is seemingly a genius who can't help taunting Corvo, offering clues to the player as you explore the mechanical architecture, where the pull of a lever alters the layout of entire rooms and floors.
Playing as Corvo with a more aggressive style pushed me to approach the first confrontation a little more ballsy to begin with. Pistol cracks put guards down quickly, swords pierce limbs and follow up with a swift decapitation. Dishonored 2's hand-to-hand combat is visceral and final; mistime a block and you'll get a blade through your chest. Deflect an enemy sword and you can send him sliding across the floor with his own blood as lubrication.
Jindosh has his automaton guards too; spindly robots with blades for arms. Take their heads off and they keep on coming, using sound to to track you down. They're more deadly than any human guard (who aren't to be under-estimated) and you need to either take them down quickly with everything you've got, or avoid confrontation entirely.
In the lower level of the mansion, rescuing a prisoner requires that you rearrange a maze to reach his cot, while trying to stay out the way of a one of these robotic guards. Time it carefully and you can block the guard in a room and break the prisoner to freedom. Or accidently trap yourself in the same room, impaled on twin blades.
I used brute force for all of this, until I was all out of bullets and bolts. Once the prisoner was safe, reaching the top of the mansion to assassinate Jindosh felt a lot more daunting knowing I wasn't nearly as well-armed as I began. But it turned out the moving walls, rotating rooms and disappearing stairs weren't as hard to navigate as they initially appear. Just keep going up and Jindosh himself guides you to his location, as you move through his chambers and finally the laboratory where you find him flanked by robotic guards.
It turns out I was carrying four grenades that I hadn't even realised I could use. This mission isn't too far deep into the game but I already had an abundance of powers and weapons, perhaps too many. My first approach was to try to distract the guards and kill Jindosh but they flanked me and sliced me apart. A quick save later and I just stood in a doorway and tossed four grenades at the group, nuking all three of them and completing my final objective with crude force. The intricacy of the clockwork mansion all but pointless as my foes burst into flames.
It almost seemed like a cheat. Here I am, equipped with magnificent and inventive talents and yet all I did was toss explosives. But throughout my rushed playthrough I caught glimpses of other ways to play; alternative routes, the ability to get behind the moving walls and inside the mechanics of the mansion, sneak attacks, duping guards, and avoiding confrontation entirely. That was the beauty of this level, that I could see more ways to play when I return again. And I do want to return to Jindosh's mansion again.
When I learned that the Dishonored 2 hands-on at EGX was to be with the awesome looking clockwork mansion level that Harvey Smith guided us through at Gamescom I was pretty pleased. This was a level I'd already seen in some capacity and thus wasn't spoiling more of the game for myself, but I also had a broad idea of how the level worked from that quick Gamescom fly-through.
Much of my experience has already been recounted above in the section on Corvo's play through the level. The basic set-up is the same, with your character of choice tasked with two objectives - rescuing one man and one way or another taking down another.
"Even after making full use of only using a few of her powers the difference having Emily available to play makes to Dishonored's gameplay becomes obvious."
I tend to play these games in a very methodical, stealthy fashion when I play for real, often shooting for those lovely no kill pacifism achievements, but I let that go out of the window here. Time was short and more importantly it's been a long time since I touched a Dishonored game.
I die pathetically early on and have to rethink my strategy as I get used to Emily's new powers and Dishonored's slower and more thoughtful basic movement speed. It's quite the change after playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which is similar at a superficial level and in terms of series lineage but also features a protagonist who zips around at super-human speed. Here, crouch-walking is slow. You have to be much more careful, and Dishonored is quick to remind me as much.
Quickly it starts to click, and while Corvo's powers have been reworked from those in the first game, I quickly become convinced that Emily might be the character for me. While I didn't play non-lethally, I did make an effort to stay in the shadows and strike from there with a decisive deadliness. After some stumbling around getting used to Dishonored's controls again (oh, how many times I clicked in the right stick to crouch - wrong) everything started to click and I was loving how she plays.
My favourite skill of hers is Domino, a skill which ensures that any enemies you tag with it all share the same fate. This lets you tag two or three guys and then slice one in half and they'll all get sliced in half. It's ludicrous and brilliant. I love it.
There are other powers I get less use out of in this particular scenario - I only use the stealth-aiding Shadow Walk once, for instance, but even after making full use of only using a few of her powers the difference having Emily available to play makes to Dishonored's gameplay becomes obvious.
The most useful of her unique skills is Far Reach. This can be functionally used as a stand-in for Corvo's blink ability as it lets Emily quickly travel around levels, but it can also be targeted directly at enemies and used to drag them towards you. There's little more satisfying than yanking one towards you and essentially holding out your blade so their neck conveniently lands on it.
Far Reach's true potential becomes clear when after triggering one of the clockwork house's transformations - you use Far Reach to zip in an otherwise unreachable gap, dropping out of the intended area of the house and behind the scenes. Suddenly everything is less pretty and more industrial: this is a side of the incredible house its in-universe designers never intended anyone to see. This is something director Harvey Smith touched on in our interview, but seeing it in person it becomes clear what a cool touch this is both for world-building and for stealth gameplay opportunities.
This is just one gimmick of this one level, of course - and the idea is that each level will have something unique in this vein such as the soft time travel mechanic shown at Bethesda's E3 presentation. This is an exciting concept, as this level's gimmick is handled extremely well indeed.
The presentations in the past have all been convincing, but it's always nice to get hands-on with a game and feel similarly reassured that it's actually fun to play. The promises made at the various E3 and Gamescom presentations I've seen appear excitingly intact. I may have been a clumsy idiot in the first few minutes I had with Dishonored 2, but quickly it clicked again. I'm now very interested in and am looking forward to playing more.