Like so many missions in Dishonored, our hands-off demo starts on a boat, but as the camera pans out we realise we're not on a small paddle boat outside Dunwall, but on a more mechanical contraption. Steam-powered-punk, whales float up to the surface of the water, and there's a thin layer of grime across the whole picture; this is distinctly Dishonored.
Except so much is different, because we're not in Dunwall this time around. In Arkane's sequel we once again find tall buildings and an imposing cityscape, but this time the design is more continental, less British. And it's not just a different type of architecture, the mood has changed. We see the blood of whales pool into macabre streams, although the contrast between the haves and the have nots is once again up front and centre.
We've once again privy to a hands-off demo. This time, instead of the stealthier gameplay with Emily (that you can see above, with more deadly Emily gameplay below), we're back behind the mask of Corvo. Where we last saw new tricks and sneaky workarounds, this time we got to see Dishonored 2 at its most destructive and violent. There was little subtly about what we were shown, although for all his bluntness, our returning assassin still looked clinical.
We're in the Dust District, which director Harvey Smith tells us more about when we talk with him after the demo: "The Dust district is interesting because it has the random dynamic storms that hit. The dust storms change the visibility and stealth." There's also two targets, Vice Overseer Burn and Paolo, the leader of the Howlers. It up to the player to go after one, both, or even neither, with Smith assuring us that "there are many ways to solve the mission." It all depends on how we play, and who we play with.
"Everybody is excited about Emily because she's the new thing, the new protagonist with all the new powers, but Corvo is the old thing," Smith explained, "the nostalgic protagonist with the classic powers from Dishonored all brought back and revisited. It's exciting to inhabit Emily but it's also comfortable to inhabit Corvo and to hear them both voiced, with their own commentary on the world changes things a bit too when they're going through it."
A touch of the familiar to get us started. We see Corvo blinking around the environment, positioning himself on higher ground with enough overview and strategic advantage so that when it comes to the eventual strike, the result is a foregone conclusion. He skips around the periphery of a courtyard while the people underneath are unaware of their immediate fate. Ignorance is bliss.
If you're among those who don't mind a bit of violence in your Dishonored play throughs, there's no doubt that Arkane has got you covered in this sequel. But, if you're one who likes stealth, who employs patience like a weapon, you're equally well catered for. It's that duality, that ability to so comfortably accommodate all play styles, that made the first game a classic. That defining choice looks like it's set to make a return.
The multitude of options open to the player is defined by the tools at their disposal, as well as opportunities that arise from the world. In the demo we got to take a look at a swarm of bloodflies; environmental insects more than happy to sting you if you get too angry in your play. We even saw Corvo possess one of them, using another old favourite trick to remove himself from the scene of a crime just committed.
Whether or not you choose to play things violently or not, or even if you decide to ignore the magic element, the one thing that you always have is choice. More deadly than pinging sleeping darts from his crossbow, we saw the now-voiced assassin firing off incendiary bolts from an elevated position. This after hitting the band that were playing music in the courtyard with tranqs. Later we witnessed Corvo using his knife, picking up dead bodies and throwing them, firing off pistols, all sorts of stuff.
The real crowd pleaser, though, was when his target (who he was extracting and had snatched earlier during the demo) was thrown from a second story window. Corvo then froze time, landed on the ground beneath, and then plucked him out of the air and safely carried him off once the action had resumed (all of which, if memory serves, took place before another knife fight and the mission's end).
"It's the perspective of the character, it's the path you choose, high chaos or low chaos. It's which powers you choose to invest in, your play style whether it violent or not," Smith told us when discussing the variety of play-styles supported by Dishonored 2.
"This time we've added more non-lethal options, so in the middle of combat you can choke someone out, you can drop attack someone without killing them. We've also added a no powers play through, where you can literally say no to the outsider and play the entire game without blink or possession or domino or mesmerise, far reach that sort of thing. There is just so many different ways to play the game."
It was a bit disappointing not to get our hands on Dishonored 2 and put some of these powers to the test ourselves, and so there's still a slight question mark hanging overhead, what with its launch edging ever closer. On the bright side at least we got to see some meaningful variation in the gameplay.
Does it look good? Yes. Does it present choice to the player? Yes. Has Arkane crafted another imposing and enticing world for us to explore? It sure looks like it. Are we really looking forward to Dishonored 2 when it lands on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 11? Yes we are.