Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBOX One, PS4

Dishonored 2 is better than the first Dishonored in every way. Everything good about the first game feels doubled, with two protagonists to choose from, at least twice as many powers and abilities to master, a new city and new enemies to tackle, and more fantastic and memorable missions.

It’s unfortunate that the PC version of Dishonored 2 has struggled with optimization issues at launch, but assuming Bethesda takes the problem as seriously as they should, patches will smooth out the rough edges and the game will take its proper place in gaming history in the long run, as a stylish and innovative stealth/action experience that improves on its predecessor at every turn.

Confident, creative design

The game deserves credit for letting you unlock the really fun powers fairly early, if you take the time to hunt down all the runes in your vicinity. A few hours into the game I tossed a container of explosive whale oil into a crowded guard room, killing five enemies instantly and turning them all to smoke with my Shadow Kill power. A couple of missions later I linked two witches together with Emily's Domino power, lured one on top of a spring razor by throwing a glass bottle, and watched from the shadows as both of them died as a result of one being torn to pieces.

There's a ton of stuff like that. This is a game you'll want to play over and over again, trying out different approaches, characters, and powers. The audacity of the Jindosh Riddle, which allows you to potential skip a major portion of the game if you’re willing to figure out a puzzle using some heavy duty logic, is worth spending an hour discussing all by itself.

The mansions, museums, and mysterious bunkers that make up the game's set-pieces all have different enemies, environmental obstacles, and fascinating twists. The urban environments that link these major set-pieces are a little less diverse, but they serve as wonderful playgrounds that let you put your abilities to the test in a variety of entertaining ways. 

Playing a painting (provided your GPU can handle it)

If you're planning to play Dishonored 2 on PC, you've probably already heard people complaining about frame rate drops and other technical issues, mainly relating to graphical performance. Unsurprisingly your GPU seems to be the major determining factor here, and even cards well above the minimum specs are having issues.  Bethesda, to their credit, responded quickly and an initial patch is imminent, but as of publication these issues are still on the table.

We performed our review on a few different computers, one with a GTX 1080 and a gaming laptop with a 980M. Running on the 1080 at 2560 x 1440 resolution and most (but not all) of the graphics settings on Ultra, we're seeing fairly consistent frame rates of between 55 and 60 FPS, with occasional drops into the 40s that don't last more than a second. We're also not experiencing the bad motion blur or strange glowing outline issues that some other PC players have reported. The experience as a whole on the GTX 1080 is good, but not quite perfect.

On the 980M, things are much less rosy. Graphics settings need to be dialed down to Very Low across the board, and while most elements of the game still look nice on these settings, close-up the textures get pixelated and ugly. 

A third PC designed for VR and sporting an AMD R9 390 looked and performed slightly better than the GTX 1080 system, which was unexpected. We’ll wait and see if more people report this same performance, especially after the first patches for the game.

All in all, these issues make Bethesda's recent decision to hold back on early review copies of their games look unfortunate, to say the least. 

But, with all that said, when things come together properly on high-end hardware Dishonored 2's visuals have a rich and vibrant style all their own. This game isn't trying to be photorealistic, and instead you're treated to lighting effects that pour into areas like liquid and environments that make you feel like you are exploring a Renaissance painting. Levels are visually distinct, and you’ll visit marvels of clockwork, crumbling bunkers, and opulent Greek-inspired palaces on your quest for revenge.  If patches can improve graphical performance and stability Dishonored 2 will serve as a strong argument for FPS titles that look great without looking like real life. 

Dishonored 2 features some of the finest voice acting I've ever heard. While the dialogue as written is sometimes clunky, the voice talent is top notch. Erica Luttrell as Emily Kaldwin is a great counterpoint to the gruff and guttural Corvo, Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones) adds flair and charm to an important street thug, and Vincent D'Onofrio's emotive Duke Luca Abele dominates the audio landscape with imperious pronouncements broadcast over speakers throughout Karnaca.

The music, too, is fantastic. Each area has its own score with different musical elements that add to the distinct flavor of each location. The music ranges from tense to spooky to triumphant, and thematic touches (like percussion reminiscent of a ticking clock in a level where you play around with time travel) enhance your experience even if you aren't paying active attention to them.

Take back what’s yours, in 20 hours or less

For the first hour, the story of Dishonored 2 feels a bit too much like a retread of the first game. A coup, again, seriously? And all of the “faithful” guards in the city are oh so happy to support a new empress who has emerged out of nowhere?

It’s hard to find good help these days, I guess.

As you explore the world around you and engage with the story (presented both through dialogue that suffers from a little too much “telling” rather than “showing” how people are feeling and well written lore pickups in the form of books and notes), the story situation improves. You uncover clues as to just how long this coup was being developed, and the ways in which the conspirators worked to turn the city against Emily and Corvo. You also learn a great deal about the backstory of Delilah, the game’s primary antagonist, which makes her both more frightening and more sympathetic than any of your foes in the first Dishonored.

The number of hours you’ll spend on a single playthrough of Dishonored 2 will vary wildly, and is exactly in line with what the game’s co-creative director Harvey Smith told us prior to launch. If you aren’t concerned with picking up all the collectibles and power-ups, don’t care whether you kill the people in your way, and aren’t worried about being stealthy all the time, then you could probably fly through the game’s missions in something around 10 to 12 hours. But if you attempt a non-lethal or no-detection playthrough or try to grab every rune and charm you come across, then you’re looking at 20 hours of playtime (with plenty of quick-saving and quick-loading, of course).

One area in which Dishonored 2 comes out far ahead of the first game in the franchise is in the way its ending works, which is now a multi-part affair that gives you brief vignettes about the fate of different people and places, in accordance with your actions and how you played the game. As we’ve already discussed, this time around there’s a lot more to the whole deal than just your chaos level, and whether you kill or spare the game’s key figures is important for more than just your lethality rating.

And of course, once you’re done with your first playthrough and see the ending you've earned, you’re going to immediately want to dive into the game again. There’s a whole second protagonist you haven’t tried, after all, with different abilities to unlock. And there are new choices to make, new areas to explore, and new ways to tackle each and every obstacle in your way.