‘Dishonored 2’ lets you make your escape by body-surfing your fallen foes

2012’s critically-acclaimed, first-person stealth-action hit Dishonored put players behind the mask of Corvo Attano, a supernatural assassin who could blink through time, summon swarms of man-eating rats, and blast enemies backwards with a power that made a Jedi force-push look like a cheap parlor trick.

Though Corvo returns in Dishonored 2, his daughter —and second playable protagonist— Emily Kaldwin has stolen the spotlight in previous looks at the upcoming sequel. During a recent behind-closed-doors demo and discussion with creative director Harvey Smith, we spent some time catching up with the series’ original cloaked killer.

Power of possession

Our demo opens on the streets of Karnaca, the sequel’s new setting, which Smith described as “architecturally inspired by 1852 Spain, Antilles, and even parts of Cuba.” The coastal, steampunk-inspired city sports plenty of scenic landscapes and regal castles, but this particular part of town, dubbed the Dust District, is a bit gritty, literally. “It’s an industrial ruin where randomized dust storms kick up and can affect visibility and stealth.”

“Corvo’s path is at breakneck speed, killing everybody, and crashing through windows, but you can choose the pace … play how you want.”

If Corvo’s first encounter is any indication, though, he’s not all that concerned with remaining stealthy. Using his returning blink ability to teleport up to a nearby balcony and into a building, he gets the jump on a Nest Keeper, a disturbing new enemy with a thing for parasitic bloodflies. Corvo slows time, nearly freezing him in place, before blowing off both of his arms with a pair of perfectly timed pistol shots.

As the enemy falls to his knees in slow-motion, Corvo fires an explosive crossbow bolt into a bloodfly nest, releasing a swarm of the nasty winged insects into the room. A second mass of bloodflies joins the buzzing horde, bursting from the Nest Keeper’s midsection after tearing his torso in two. Thankfully, Corvo’s possession ability has been upgraded, allowing him to take the form of these new, flying threats, and make a quick escape out a nearby window.

According to Smith, Corvo’s possession power isn’t the only one of his supernatural skills that’s receiving an upgrade. “We’ve basically taken all the nostalgic Corvo powers … devouring swarm, wind blast, bend time, possession … and found new ways to extend them,” Smith said. “All of Corvo’s classic powers now have trees attached to them.” For example, you can improve the first game’s fan-favorite rodent-conjuring power, allowing Corvo to summon a larger swarm of rats, two swarms, or even a swarm that follows Corvo around.

While Corvo’s ability to paint Karnaca with the blood of his victims is very different from the stealthy approach developer Arkane Studios has shown in demos with Emily Kaldwin, she can wreak her own brand of havoc. “Both of them have the capacity for incredible violence or incredible stealth,” Smith said. The empress’ daughter is equally capable of favoring blades and bullets over non-lethal powers and sleep darts.

Slaying with style

We didn’t have the pleasure of watching Corvo play Pied Piper to a pack of plague rats during our preview, but we did check out an enhanced version of his aforementioned time-bending skill. With an incapacitated enemy slumped over his shoulder and slowing his progress, Corvo peers over a balcony and spots additional threats in the alley below. Reacting swiftly, he tosses the enemy over the railing, stops time, and uses the floating body as a platform to break his fall. Once on the ground, he dispatches the baddies in time to catch his falling bounty, then continues on his way.

While players could slow time in the previous game, Corvo can now gain the ability to advance time. Corvo’s time-manipulating power can be upgraded with a fast-forward function of sorts; players can adjust how quickly time progresses while the skill is active by applying pressure to the gamepad’s trigger. Corvo’s seamless use of the enhanced power yielded one of the most cinematic gameplay encounters in recent memory, one we’re guessing will be endlessly duplicated —and probably bested— by dedicated Twitch streamers.

Smith said he hopes that fans will experiment with Corvo’s bag of tricks to forge their own unique paths and shape their individual play-styles. “Corvo’s path [through the demo] is at breakneck speed, killing everybody, and crashing through windows, but you can choose the pace…play how you want.” For those who prefer silently sneaking in the shadows to violently gutting goons, Smith reiterated, “You can literally play the game without fighting or killing a single person.”

In other words, fans will have plenty of reason to play through Dishonored 2 again and again when it sneaks — or storms — onto PS4, Xbox One, and PC November 11.