Dishonored II having two playable protagonists was more brilliant than you think. In addition to being a fun feature, in genuinely elevated the game.
By Noah Dominguez
Published Dec 12, 2020
Dishonored II — the second full entry in Arkane Studios’?series of stealth games — launched just over four years ago in November 2016. The sequel came with a number of innovations in comparison to its predecessor, including a brand-new game engine, new gameplay mechanics and, perhaps most notably, the ability to play through the story as not one, but two protagonists. The latter was far more than just a fancy new feature to slap on the back of the box, however, as it was implemented in a way that is so incredibly clever that it elevates the Dishonored II experience as a whole.
The original Dishonored released in October of 2012. In it, players control Corvo Attano, the royal protector of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, who rules over the Empire of the Isles from its capital city of Dunwall on the island of Gristol. Corvo is also heavily implied (and later confirmed) to be the father of Jessamine’s young daughter, Emily. The game follows Corvo on his quest for revenge after the empress is murdered by an assassin named Daud, and he is framed for the crime, at which point a larger conspiracy begins to unravel. With the help of magical abilities granted to him by the mysterious deity known as the Outsider, Corvo ultimately rescues Emily from the conspirators so she can take her rightful place on the throne.
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Dishonored II takes place 15 years after the first game, with a 25-year-old Emily Kaldwin now reigning as Empress, and Corvo still serving as her royal protector. The two are faced by a new threat when Luca Abele (the Duke of Serkonos) and the witch Delilah Copperspoon (who previously appeared in the first Dishonored’s two DLC story packs, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches) stage a coup. It is at this point the player must choose between playing through the story as either Emily or Corvo. The character who is picked then embarks on a new journey on the island of Serkonos, more specifically its capital city of Karnaca, with the character who isn’t picked remaining at Dunwall Tower until the end of the game.
Right off the bat, this makes Dishonored II stand out from other installments, as its story is the only one in the series to offer this option. Dishonored is playable only as Corvo, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches are playable only as Daud, and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider — Dishonored II’s standalone expansion — is playable only as Billie Lurk (Daud’s former apprentice). While all of these games are great, Dishonored II featuring two protagonists for the same story actually makes a lot of sense, and the game itself makes great use of this idea.
For starters, the Dishonored games allow for multiple playstyles and place a great emphasis on player choice. As such, the games are designed in such a way that you really have to play through each one at least twice to truly get the full experience — something that works out rather well, as none of them are particularly long when compared to other AAA games.
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In addition to the feature obviously playing into the game’s title, Dishonored II giving players their choice of protagonist was a great way to shake things up even more when it came time for their second playthrough. After all, while the story is the same, the way you experience it is slightly different depending on who you pick thanks to alternate dialogue and the fact that the two characters have very different perspectives on their situation. Moreover, Emily has certain unique abilities at her disposal that Corvo is unable to use, and vice versa.
However, when you choose Emily for your first playthrough and save Corvo for your second, this simple feature goes from clever to absolutely brilliant. Emily is certainly no pushover, having trained extensively with her father from an early age to hone her combat and stealth skills. That being said,?Dishonored II marked the first time those skills were truly put to the test, with Emily being forced to leave her home and embark on a dangerous quest in?a different country to take back?her throne.
Similarly, when you play the game for the first time, there’s a learning curve?that involves?a fair amount of trial and error as you figure out the best way to traverse Serkonos and get a feel for your new powers. So, it only stands to reason that you should experience the story for the first time through Emily’s eyes.
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By the time you finish your first playthrough, you should be fairly adept at most of Dishonored II’s gameplay elements, which makes your second playthrough the perfect time to play as Corvo. The royal protector is more experienced than his daughter, and?Dishonored II wasn’t his first rodeo. Having a?stronger grasp on the game and knowing more or less how to approach things from the beginning of your second playthrough can be seen as a representation of Corvo’s years of wisdom.
Not only that, but whereas Emily had never been to Karnaca prior to the events of Dishonored II, the Serkonan capital is actually Corvo’s birthplace. In fact, there’s even a section of the game where you can visit his childhood home. Once again, it stands to reason that you’d already know exactly how to effectively navigate the streets of Karnaca while playing as Corvo, whereas you might?find yourself getting a bit lost every now and again as Emily. In short, playing the game in this manner is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the headspace of both protagonists.
It isn’t entirely clear if all of this was deliberate on the part of Arkane Studios, but considering how much love, care and attention the team behind Dishonored has put into crafting the franchise’s world and the characters who inhabit it, it hardly seems like a stretch. And it just goes to show how far those sort of things go with respect to creating a genuinely memorable gaming experience.
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About The Author
(2178 Articles Published)
Noah E. Dominguez is a jr. news editor at Comic Book Resources who joined the site as a writer in the summer of 2018. He has also written for sites like WhatCulture and Gaming Access Weekly (formerly Gamer Assault Weekly), and holds a degree in mass communication. What will he do next? Stay tuned. You can follow him on Twitter at @NoahDominguez_
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