Stealth games can be hit or miss (pun intended). A lot of times sneaking around maps full of guards with narrow vision cones and predictable footpaths can be tedious even for the most patient gamers, especially in a first-person perspective.
This is why so many action games have a “stealth” component that allows you to kind-of-sort-of sneak around but the moment you get caught you can turn everything into a blood orgy and move on to the next challenge. Stealth rarely accompanies consequence and, when it does, it often swings hard the other way so if a guard spots so much as a shoelace you’ve either ruined the level or you’re save scumming to save face. Rare is the game that handles stealth AND action AND consequences in an innovative, nuanced way.
And one of those rare gems is available for free, right now, on Xbox Games Pass.
Dishonored 2 arrived on Games Pass in March 2021 courtesy of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion dollar Bethesda acquisition, joining a slew of the company’s hits on the streaming service. Of course, they’re not all winners (looking at your Rage 2) but Dishonored 2 is without question at the top of the crop. Why? Because it manages to be a stealth-action game that does just about everything right.
For starters, it gives you two protagonists to choose from. Corvo, the assassin hero from the first game in the series, or his daughter Emily, both now caught up in a whole mess of royal political intrigue. No spoilers here, but the story is fantastic and merits multiple playthroughs, particularly because you can go hard on each of the two playstyles: high chaos and low chaos.
High chaos is what it sounds like, you’re killing people like crazy and leaving a bloody trail behind you. It’s a faster run, but you’ll still notice your impact on the world around you. The city streets get darker and more run down. There’s more vermin (human and otherwise) to contend with and the way people behave gets more severe.
A low chaos run revels in the “stealth” of the stealth-action setup, and the world around you responds in kind. There are branching story paths to visit and re-visit, and you’ll feel like the hard work and dedicated patience of a stealth playthrough are rewarded with more than just an S rank on a score sheet somewhere. There are multiple endings and also a host of small changes to the game that reflect your decisions that are a delight to discover.
There is a ludicrous amount of found narrative in this game too, a bonus for players who like to snoop through everything. But the detail doesn’t stop with the story writing. Dishonored 2 is host to some incredibly designed levels including one, the Clockwork Mansion, which is often hailed as one of the best levels in any game anywhere.
The gameplay itself is incredibly fun. Each character has access to a handful of magical powers that are a blast to use, and slightly different from one another. For example Corvo can use things like Bend Time to slow (and eventually stop) time, whereas Emily can use Domino to link enemies together so that if you knock out one the others will fall, too. The way these abilities upgrade and work in tandem is both untethered and well-balanced so you always have a lot of freedom in how you approach a situation. A variety of buffs in the form of equippable Bonecharms can let you min/max to some ludicrous degrees. Note: the combat can be a little basic on the default difficulty so if you plan to bloody your knuckles you might want to play on a slightly harder setting.
Dishonored 2 is arguably the best stealth-action game of the last decade and will likely hold a place in the top 3/5/10 for years to come. Even if you played it at launch in 2016 it's worth revisiting as you likely didn’t do all the things you could do, and probably forgot most of it since 2016 was actually 59,345,340 years ago.