When Dishonored was announced I sat back and thought “looks nice”, then we had trailers which made me think “this game’s a bit like Assassins Creed and possibly Deus EX”, but its not. To complete this game you don’t have to kill anybody. When confronting enemies you will have to quickly decide to either take out the enemy or just go around them, if you can’t go around them then maybe shoot a sleeping dart at them (or wrap your hand around his neck) then hide the body so that the others don’t find it. Or perhaps you like the thrill of actually killing the bad guys so you attach a sticky grenade to a rat, stop time, possess the rat, run it to the “choffer”, bail out of the possession, hide around the corner, restart time, and listen as all Hell breaks loose.
The path you choose to solve the problem is about more than how creative or sadistic you’re feeling at the time. It’s about how you feel about the beautiful, corrupt world in which the game is based.
You play as Corvo Attano, a powerful noble who has been framed for the worst crime and then jailed. Rescued from prison by a group of rebels, Corvo becomes an assassin in an attempt to reclaim his empire, exact revenge on the people who wronged him, or both. Along the way, he attracts the attention of the mysterious Outsider, a powerful otherworldly being who finds him fascinating and grants him supernatural powers.
Although the entirety of Dishonored takes place in the city of Dunwall, material that the player finds throughout the game paints a picture of a fascinating world experiencing an alternative Industrial Revolution powered by whale oil. Dunwall itself is a great setting, and Corvo will explore its both above and underground during his quest. Not only is there the contrast of the opulent rich and the miserable poor, Corvo has the ever-increasing totalitarian government crackdown, supported by oil-powered mechanical monstrosities, to contend with.
The player has the opportunity to uncover many secrets about Dunwall and the larger empire of which it is a part during the game, but many mysteries remain unsolved, leaving you wanting more. The developers/publisher clearly know this and will probably release some DLC.
It doesn’t hurt that Dunwall is beautifully realized, with graphics that evoke dark industrial realism while also possessing a distinctive style. The use of colour in the game is brilliant, as the game avoids both garishness and the dull monochrome look found in many so-called “dark” settings. Instead, a true-to-life palette allows the player to move seamlessly between industrial warehouses, opulent mansions, and grimy sewers, all the while admiring the meticulous work put into establishing the setting and bringing the world to life. The in-game dialogue between NPC’s gets repetitive and boring and sometimes makes no sense at all but the sounds cans sometimes assist the player in staying hidden and tracking targets.
I could rave about Dishonored’s setting for ages, but let’s get down to the gameplay. Corvo starts off the game with a blade in his right hand and a pistol in his left. As he befriends one of Dunwall’s foremost natural philosophers and grows closer to the Outsider, Corvo will gain a wide variety of gadgets and powers that he’s able to equip in his left hand. From a crossbow with various kinds of darts to the ability to possess animals and even people, Corvo’s powers and contraptions offer plenty of lethal and non-lethal ways to traverse levels and dispatch his foes. This is important, since direct combat is quite simplistic and would be quite boring to use throughout the game. While it’s possible for a skilled player to treat Dishonored like a pure action game, attacking everything with sword and pistol brandished, that would be missing most of the fun.
Combining contraptions and powers rewards inventive players with even more options. The blink and time-stop powers are particularly useful for setting up kills as well as for avoiding enemies without being seen. Experimentation is encouraged, especially with various ways to use the game’s environment and with the fact that whale oil is highly explosive. With guards and crazy security devices everywhere, getting through the levels is a fun puzzle, especially if the player hopes to do so largely undetected (something the game rewards). Corvo may be powerful, but discretion is quite satisfying, peeling away at security layers like an onion while working toward the goal at the center of the level.
Corvo’s ultimate goal in most of the game’s missions is to dispatch a particular assassination target. How Corvo reaches the target and whether to use lethal force are completely up to the player. The city of Dunwall is a virtual playground for a powerful assassin like Corvo, with multiple paths available everywhere in a relatively free-form design. Exploring the levels carefully generally results in side quests that can give the player more options or information, as well as lots of treasure that is immediately converted to gold, which can be used back at the rebel base in order to purchase equipment and upgrades. The game’s tooltips constantly remind players to play their own way, and a two trips through a single mission can be vastly different depending on the route that the player takes.
With Corvo’s impressive arsenal, it’s quite tempting to go to town on Dunwall’s citizenry, especially when so many of those fine citizens are determined to slice, dice, explode, or even gnaw him to death. Early on, though, the game warns the player that a high body count will lead to a larger number of plague rats, deranged plague victims (known as Weepers for the blood that leaks from their eyes), and a darker outcome to the story. Dishonored offers a great deal of freedom of choice without having freedom from consequence, a system I personally find brilliant.
There is no real goody-two-shoes approach to Dishonored, however. A player determined to keep Corvo from descending into rage and corruption will still need to work with various unsavoury characters, and will also discover that many non-lethal methods of neutralizing a target are even more cruel than a simple death might have been. It doesn’t help that one of his major tools, a “gift” from the Outsider, is a beating semi-clockwork human heart that shows him the way to the Outsider’s runes and bone charms, along with whispering secrets to him when pointed at another character or at the environment, which seems tb the same dialogue again so this little feature will go unused.
You will also that your character is completely unvoiced he does occasionally have some dialogue choices, but you won’t hear him speak at all. It’s quite disconcerting at first, but soon it simply feels like Corvo is keeping his own counsel, expressing himself through the things he does rather than wasting words during a time when urgent action is required.
For those worried about Dishonored’s open-ended level design combined with Bethesda’s reputation for releasing buggy games, fear not. Playing Dishonored owas almost bug-free. The only bug I really encountered was one relating to saves but at the time of the release there will be a patch which will fix it. I did contact support over an issue that I thought I had. I was playing the game with stealth and noticed people were being killed on the mission stats screen and this was explained to me via Technical Support who said:
Not hiding bodies well enough after choking them out or sleep darting them can sometimes lead to other characters finding them, or worse, may lead to nearby rats cleaning them up, counting as a kill towards your character’s stats.
Unconscious characters also won’t survive a fall from a great height, or a slip into the water which will also result in a kill towards your character stats.
I did throw a few bodies around such as on to a bed and their head would go through the one above and stretch their neck, sometimes faces would be forced into walls as they slumped to the floor but I never crashed, or fell through a level or got stuck some place I couldn’t get out of. So the graphical glitches can be lived with I suppose. A patch would probably fix this if many people complained about it.
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