My first visit to Karnaca was a quiet and very disciplined affair. Playing as the usurped Empress Emily Kaldwin, I skulked in the shadows and eschewed lethal force altogether, choking out the odd treasonous guardsman only when left with no other choice. And I cleaned up after myself, too, dragging snoozing sentries into shady corners and cupboards to avoid detection.
Playing through the game for a second time, however, I fancied something completely different. Fortunately, the addition of a New Game Plus mode – added via a patch – enables me to indulge that desire, starting the campaign over without losing access to any of my hard-won upgrade runes. So, once I’ve dashed through the prologue I’m free to embark on a rune-based spending spree, upgrading Emily’s Far Reach ability to the point where I can fling enemies around with casual ease. And since Dishonored 2’s New Game Plus removes all restrictions on your choice of powers, I’m able to take my pick from Corvo’s slate of spells and sorcery. It’s a stroke of permissive brilliance, and I buy a fully-upgraded version of Attano’s Devouring Swarm power to celebrate. Now I can summon a ravenous horde of rats.
Naturally, I set them loose on the first guard I encounter, and observe with the detached interest of a clinical researcher as they swarm over the screaming man, nipping and scratching as he collapses to his knees. After a moment of quiet consideration, I decide that I’m fully on board with Emily Kaldwin, Rat Queen.
From here, I stride the bloody streets of Karnaca like a murderous Pied Piper, and I’m filled with fuzzy pride as my industrious vermin army successfully slaughters enemies many times their size. And while it might be a little stomach churning to watch them greedily chomp at the cadaver of each fallen foe, these toothy little guys have earned it as far as I’m concerned. I still have a war chest of runes burning a hole in my pocket, so I splash out on the Shadow Kill ability, a grisly power that turns unaware enemies into piles of ash upon death.
Not content with its insistence on stealth, I splash out on two upgrades, altering the ability so that every enemy I kill in combat will disintegrate into a cloud of vicious Bloodflies. I immediately try it out on a nearby officer, parrying the pompous lawman’s strike and performing a follow-up execution. I don’t even see the body hit the floor – it’s already exploded into a swarm of vicious parasitic insects.
My sweet little Bloodfly brood and adorable retinue of rats look to me, expectantly, as if awaiting orders. Yes, I decide. I shall become the beastmaster. I realise now that I have always been the beastmaster. To celebrate, I summon a bunch more rats and jump up and down on the spot. Nearby, my Bloodfly swarm seems to buzz a happy melody, and it’s like they’re voicing their approval of my everlasting reign.
Army in tow, my rampage across the Aventa District begins in earnest, as I pluck an enemy off his patrol path with Far Reach, and skewer him on the tip of my blade, only to see him transform into a buzzing swarm. As his city watch comrades rush in, my venomous allies lash out with painful stings before filling each fresh corpse with additional Bloodfly eggs. I guess that makes these tender hatchlings my grandchildren. I feel like I’m about to well up.
It isn’t long until the district is home only to insects, vermin and the sound of the beastmaster’s (read: my) cackles. Returning to Dishonored 2 has only proven the game’s tremendous adaptability, and its capacity to accommodate a multitude of approaches and play styles. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Pets At Home. I may not have any real-life upgrade runes, but I do have precisely one credit card’s worth of rat-purchasing power.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.