Despite all the hype surrounding the latest title out of the Bethesda stable, we must admit that we were less than impressed on the couple of occasions we got our hands on the title earlier this year. Not because of any glaring issues with the game, more so that we simply didn’t have enough time to immerse ourselves in the game world. Dishonored, you see, is not a title that lends itself to the jump in nature of hands-on time; it’s a game that needs to be started right at the beginning, and then played through meticulously, paying attention to literally everything you happen upon, lest you miss out on something important to help you on your quest. Once you fulfil those criteria, however, it’s as rewarding a gaming experience as we have encountered this year, full of action, a great storyline, some A list stars and the kind of varied gameplay that other titles can only dream of. Suffice it to say, we are very, very impressed.
In Dishonored you play the role of Corvo, former bodyguard to the Empress, who has been framed for her murder in a far reaching conspiracy to wrestle command of Dunwall for those with ulterior motives. On top of the murder of his former charge, her daughter and heiress to her legacy Emily has been kidnapped, meaning that no bloodline successor can rise to the throne. With a deadly plague wreaking havoc in within the city walls, and streets ruled by gangs and thugs, the once prosperous city has descended into anarchy and Corvo and a group of loyalists intent on seeing the region returned to its former glories are the only ones who can put a stop to the disarray.
Dunwall is a living, breathing cyber punk wet dream, with an array of medieval looking buildings mixed with quasi-modern technology. The city is patrolled by guards and Tallboys, giant stilt-like mechanical contraptions, making outdoor exploration tricky, particularly later on in the game, so you’re going to need to rely on plenty of cunning, stealth and powers imbibed in you thanks to The Outsider, a being whose existence is outside our world who is universally despised by Dunwall’s religious zealots. These abilities are split into two main categories; those that require mana, such as Blink, Dark Vision and Bend Time, among others, and those that do not, such as Agility, Vitality and Shadow Kill.
Blink is destined to go down in gaming folklore due to its wonderful implementation. When armed, a touch of the left trigger will see Corbo teleport short distances, making it possible to reach areas that would otherwise remain unexplored. As the first power gained in Dishonored, it quickly becomes one of the most important tools in your arsenal, allowing you to teleport close enough to cut an enemy’s throat before disappearing back into the shadows. Like most of the powers in the game, it’s a flexible and well rounded tool that will serve the intelligent wielder well throughout the course of the story.
As with all the best designed games, these abilities never tip the scales too far in favour of the player, rather they present options which the player can then use to play the game as they see fit. It’s not wholly outlandish to compare the way Dishonored plays to classic titles like Deus Ex or Thief. Everything is focused around player choice; it’s completely up to you how you want to approach each mission, and you’re never judged for your decisions. There’s no black and white morality meter here, so slashing your way through the game from start to finish won’t result in an evil version of Corvo gradually making his way to the surface, but there are consequence for your actions.
The more bodies you leave strewn around Dunwall, the more rats will take to the streets, spreading the virus that has allowed the corrupt government to do as they please further into the region, creating more Weepers (diseased and highly aggressive wretches who spew blood and attack anything that moves) walking the streets. It’s a trade-off that works quite well, even though it’s obviously desirable to make navigation as safe as possible, there are times where the sword, gun or crossbow will represent your only way out of a situation.
For the pacifists among you though, it’s entirely possible to take a non-lethal approach to gameplay, even when it comes to assassination targets. The most appealing thing about Dishonored is that there’s so much choice – few missions or side quests will require you to act in a predetermined way to succeed, and there’s a real beauty in that.
Not quite so beautiful are the game’s visuals, however. They’re not bad by any stretch, but they’re far from cutting edge, feeling distinctly lacking when put up against most of its contemporaries. Lip synching may as well not exist in the game world, and the textures used are dull and unimaginative for the most part. That’s something that can be looked past thanks to the strong art direction overall though, with the city really setting a tone and having its own distinct feeling that draws you in and ramps up the atmosphere the further you progress.
The game features a total of nine distinct story missions, with plenty of optional quests on offer for those who like to take their time and try to see it all. Thankfully, each of the missions are quite varied, putting Corvo in a number of situations which usually culminate in the assassination of a powerful or high ranking enemy. In that respect it’s quite similar to the Assassin’s Creed series, but with its first person viewpoint, unique setting and much darker storyline, it’s not a similarity that runs too deeply.
With each mission comprising of numerous sub-missions, there’s plenty of scope for exploration, and it’s something that’s certainly worth your while. Stalking around in the shadows searching for hidden runes and bone charms might sound like it would get boring after a while, but somehow it only serves to increase the tension and authenticity of the game world. We often find sandbox games lacking direction when you veer too far from the beaten track, but that’s really not the case here. It’s a game that’s to be played for the joy of playing; for the experience of becoming Corvo and seeking out your vengeance, be it bloody or not.
With a cast that includes household names like Susan Sarandon, Chloe Moretz, Lena Headey, Michael Madsen and Carrie Fisher, the scripting is unsurprisingly high in quality, but there is the feeling that several moments could have been expanded upon greatly, taking the game in a whole new direction and introducing even more to the Dunwall mythology. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be, and in many cases things feel more like teaser of what could be on the way in the future than a fully fleshed out universe, but despite that it still works – mainly due to the overall richness of the experience.
Unlike most games in the genre, Dishonored will reward those who play through multiple times. There’s always something that you could have done a little differently, and there’s a real sense of reward for those who are willing to experiment with their powers, and regardless of how well you know each area, you’re still going to be looking at between 8-10 hours for each play through with moderate exploration.
Direct comparison with other titles will always be inevitable, particularly anything that boasted the involvement of Warren Spector, but Dishonored needs to be held up for its many, many accomplishments. It has managed to take a potentially repetitive genre and breathe some serious variety into it, encouraging players to fully immerse themselves in the game world in order to reap the rewards of their choices.
It’s a thoughtful, lovingly crafted example of how games should be made, and it deserves to be a huge seller this holiday period.