Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Preview: Dishonored 2 is shaping up to be a violent steampunk riot

Will Dishonored 2 become the sequel of the year? Chris Schulz gets some hands-on time - and likes what he sees.
Emily Kaldwin sizes up a Clockwork Soldier in the Clockwork Mansion in a scene from Dishonored 2.
Emily Kaldwin sizes up a Clockwork Soldier in the Clockwork Mansion in a scene from Dishonored 2.

It should be a moment of serenity. I'm standing on a balcony at the Clockwork Mansion, snacking on sourdough bread and fresh figs while taking in the stunning views that stretch all the way to the horizon.

But the vistas are being somewhat ruined by the dissected body of a guard lying on the floor below. Chopped cleanly in half, his upper torso has made one hell of a mess on the buffed wooden floors. His severed legs probably are too - if only I could find them.

Making the scenario even more sinister is the clockwork soldier standing motionless in the corner. Once I finish my fig, I'll make female assassin Emily Kaldwin sneak over, jam her knife into its knee, slash deep into its pterodactyl-like face and make it collapse into a puddle of nuts and bolts before it wakes up and starts swinging those swords her way.

A clockwork soldier stands on guard in the Clockwork Mansion.
A clockwork soldier stands on guard in the Clockwork Mansion.

Welcome to the twisted world of Dishonored 2, the sequel to the 2012 out-of-nowhere hit that's promising to be the most ambitious video game among the many contenders - think Battlefield 1, The Last Guardian and Titanfall 2 - due out before Christmas.

It's certainly shaping up as the year's best sequel. Judging by two hours of impressive gameplay unveiled recently in Sydney, Dishonored 2 will be an ultraviolent riot filled with deadly assassins, cyborg battles, steampunk weaponry and sweet supernatural elements. Oh, and a few figs to snack on along the way.

Set 15 years after Dishonored, the sequel ramps things up with a ridiculous amount of options that begin before you press play. That's when you'll need to make your biggest decision: choosing between playing as Empress Kaldwin, or her bodyguard dad, Corvo Attano.

Once you've done that, your mission is to reclaim the throne of Karnaca, but in the level based in the Clockwork Mansion, you have two goals: killing evil inventor Kirin Jindosh, and rescuing elder Anton Sokolov. Getting in your way are armed guards, sword-swinging cyborgs, elaborate traps and a house that moves around you.

You can complete your goals, and take out enemies, in a variety of ways. In my first run through as Kaldwin, I used her stealth abilities - Far Reach and Shadow Walk - to catch them off guard. Far Reach is particularly impressive, pulling guards towards you Spider-Man-style so you can easily slice them in half. That's how the guard on the balcony lost his legs.

A Dishonored 2 guard gets ready to meet his fate.
A Dishonored 2 guard gets ready to meet his fate.

But on the second run through the level as Attano, I went in guns blazing, firing crossbows, sleep darts and explosive pistols at anything that moved. It's bloody and brutal but didn't always pay off, as once you've alerted one guard, more show up, proving stealth might be a better way to tackle Dishonored 2's more challenging moments.

It sounds like it's all action, but Dishonored 2 really impresses with its intricate level design that rewards exploring all of its dark, mysterious corners. You can manipulate the Clockwork Mansion to your advantage: pull a lever and staircases flatten into hallways, walls come down, shelves do the old switcharoo and voila, you have access to previously uncharted territory.

My favourite part was finding my way in behind those walls, sneaking around the Clockwork Mansion through its back alleys and past all the pulleys and levers that make the house move. Not only can you explore without being interrupted by those pesky guards, you can see exactly how much thought Arkane Studios has put into its mind-boggling level design.

Like those ripe figs lying around the Clockwork Mansion, it's shaping up to be a fleshy experience. Just don't hang around too long taking in Dishonored 2's views, or you might end up looking for your legs.

• Dishonored 2 is released for Xbox One and Playstation 4 on November 11.

- NZ Herald

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