In a year full of sequels and remakes, releasing a new IP set in a new world can be a dangerous thing. It takes a special product to stand out and Dishonored is offering you a game full of freedom, choice, and a fresh experience. Dishonored is a brand new title and is brought to you by the people behind such great games as Deux Ex and Arx Fatalis and it takes the best bits from those games and others like BioShock and Thief and mixes them together in a very tasty treat. Released by Arkane Studios, Dishonored puts us in the shoes of assassin, Corvo Attano, who’s seeking revenge for being framed for the murder of the Empress. With so much inspiration to draw upon, is the finished product worthy of a master assassin or just another plague victim?
Full review after the jump.
Dishonored is set in a 17th century Victorian Era whaling city known as Dunwall in the midst of a terrible plague. You start the game as Lord Protector to the Empress, Corvo Attano, returning home after being send out to neighboring kingdoms to search for a cure to the current plague that’s ravaging the city. It’s here you’re first given a chance to take in the beautiful and impressively crafted city. It’s also here that the plot unfolds as the Empress is assassinated in front of you and the conspirators led by the Royal Spymaster, Hiram Burrows, frames you for the murder. After months in jail, you receive a note from a mysterious person and a key to spring yourself from jail. It’s at this point, your path to getting back at those who wronged you begins.
Overall, the story I felt was just good, not great or bad. It did telegraph some elements removing some of the surprise but didn’t ruin my enjoyment. There also seems to be a lot of other tensions and issues around the city which are not explored in greater detail such as worship of The Outsider, an acted deemed to be heresy by a religious group known as the Overseers. The world blends together these tensions in an interesting way pairing up topics like Industrialization, Magic, and even Whaling but unfortunately never expands upon them. Still, the game as a whole doesn’t suffer because of it as the experience is entirely engrossing. Still, I hope that the team at Arkane takes things further in a followup because the world they created is just that good.
Made up of 9 total missions, you’ll be seeing a great amount of variety in each scenario ranging from a masquerade party, an abandoned and flooded part of town to even a brothel like location all of which helps keep things fresh. For a game based around the concept of revenge, Corvo is presented with options which do include non-lethal takedowns and being able to avoid confrontation all together. If you want, you can actually go through the entire game without killing anyone. Not good enough? There’s usually a third option which I like to call “A fate worse than death”. It’s here that instead of you doing the dirty work, there’s an option that lets you basically subject the target to something worse than being killed or being knocked out and left for dead. Take for instance the Golden Cat mission where your targets are the Pendleton Twins who control the vote in the local government. Sure, you can take them out with your sword, set it up to look like an accident, or you can do a favor for a local gang and they’ll actually kidnap the brothers, shave their head, cut out their tongue, and force them to work in their own mines. Deliciously twisted.
It’s this kind of freedom that really makes the game shine. Each person playing may have a different experience which is why Dishonored is a great “water cooler” game. The next day you just want to compare gameplay with friends which usually results in shock and awe when you learn that you’re experiences were completely different. Dishonored may not be an open world game, but once you’re brought to the mission zone, it’s pretty much completely open to explore giving you a sandbox to play around in as you want. I know I was surprised by the wealth of options and places to go. Sure, there may be some invisible walls here and there, but those seem to be few and far between. You may never notice as the gameplay zone has enough nooks and crannies to find and utilize. It’s here that the game becomes completely engaging and compelling based on the moment to moment choices you need to make. Do I avoid combat here, blink behind the guard and choke him out, or can I risk fighting him directly? It’s these little decisions which keep you coming back for more.
To help with the decision making process, Corvo has a wealth of tools at his disposal including a pistol, a crossbow, various gadgets and abilities. Some tools allow you to hack equipment like the “wall of light” making it so instead of zapping you, it’ll zap your enemies. Equipment can be upgraded from a man named Piero at your home base. For a small fee, you can gain better equipment and also upgrade it further by finding hidden blueprints scattered around the levels. How does incendiary ammo or a sticky grenade sound?
Corvo also gains access to supernatural powers from an entity known as “The Outsider”. Not much background is given on this person and he’s unique enough that it’s disappointing we’re not given more information on who he is. Finding hidden runes in each of the mission allow you to upgrade these powers ranging from the short-range teleport called Blink to being able to use Possession on animals or people, to Dark Vision which lets you see people and their vision cones through walls. There are also a few passive abilities such as increasing your health and agility. There’s plenty of options for both the stealth player and the more action hero type player. Being able to enhance your powers further makes finding these runes critical and not to mention fun. It also helps that the controls feel good and work well especially once you get comfortable with them. You can only have 4 quick items assigned to the d-pad but pressing a button will bring up a radial menu allowing you to switch on the fly.
The game can augment your abilities further by finding Bone Charms each with their own enhancements for Corvo. These are completely optional for you but provide helpful bonuses that should make finding them a priority for you. Frankly, for most of the game, I wasn’t fearful of the enemies or targets as the game empowers you to a level that the odds are stacked in your favor. This does change a bit near the back half of the game in which you start to face enemies who bring more to the table in terms of ability.
Dishonored features a more stylized look rather than ultra-realistic and it fits the world like a glove. Dunwall itself is a work of art and how can you be surprised as City 17 creator, Viktor Antonov is behind this steam punk inspired port city. The lighting, contrasts of colors, and the diversity of the buildings gives Dunwall a realistic feeling and one that’s fun to explore. It may not be as integrated as, say, Rapture was in BioShock, but Dunwall is still a finely crafted location. You can certainly tell a lot of work into creating this city and making sure it captures the player.
Special mention needs to be made for the high quality voice acting from such industry veterans like Susan Sarandon, Chloe Grace Moretz, Brad Dourif, John Slattery, and Lena Headey to name a few. Corvo is actually a silent protagonist, but it never really got in the way or bothered me. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Daniel Licht’s superb work on the game’s soundtrack. Better known for his work on the television show Dexter, Licht manages to create a subtle and atmospheric tone to the game. It may not standout on its own, but when paired with the gameplay, the two are a great fit.
If you pressured me for some negatives, it would be difficult outside of some real small items. Corvo sometimes gets confused on what dropping a body actually is. When carrying a person you’ve given the option to drop or throw the body. Many times, pressing the “drop” button resulted in Corvo tossing the body hard on the ground instead of placing them silently down. Definitely not a drop and not very silent. Also, you’ll run into some invisible walls sometimes but honestly, it’s not a huge deal as there’s still a ton of paths to explore and they probably really couldn’t help that. It’s not an open world after all. One of the more useful powers for a stealth player is “Dark Vision” which highlights enemies and lets you see their vision cones. The power stays “on” for something like 20 seconds upon which point you’d have to turn it on again. I would have liked it to remain on until I was done with it. Still, these issues are more on the nitpicking side and don’t do anything to affect the already rock solid and polished gameplay.
Considering the talent pool at Arkane, I guess you can’t really be surprised at how Dishonored came out but still, they knocked it out of the park. Sure, there are some nitpicky things I could say about it, but overall it doesn’t get much better than this for fans of this genre. Dishonored is a game you’ll be talking to your friends about and you may surprise each other with just how differently your experience has been. I really do hope we are able to make a return to Dunwall in the future whether that’s through DLC or a brand new game because it’s an interesting world and a breath of fresh air in a sea of sequels. I for one, can’t wait to see what Arkane is cooking up next.
Dishonored gets 5 stealth kills, out of 5