You may have heard Dishonored being compared with Assassin’s Creed and Bioshock,and we must now ask you to put those out of your mind because those comparisons just won’t do. You might as well compare ice cream to chocolate, or an orgasm to having a really good dump.
What you’ll love it for
- Versatile, phenomenal gameplay
- Fascinating world
- Instantly replayable
What you’ll sell it for
- Guard dialogue is sparse
- No fear of getting caught
- It ends too soon
It’s a little tricky to compare Dishonored to anything in particular; even the Thief series, which is probably the closest point of reference for its first-person sneaking attributes, doesn’t quite encapsulate what it’s all about, though Thief fans will notice Arkane Studios have quietly placed one or two references in there…
Dishonored sets things up in the plagued city of Dunwall, a sprawling capital that evokes the murkiness and industrial saturation of Victorian London with a twist of occult practices thrown in. The policemen still wear silly hats and the aristocracy still shit on the poor from on high. Corvo Atano, the Empress’ bodyguard, stands accused of treason and he is approached by allies both political and supernatural who offer him the means to clear his name.
The prime mechanic at work here is stealth. Everything depends on your ability to hide, regardless of whether you’re the kind of player who will sneak around enemies and avoid lethal techniques, or the kind who’ll happily decapitate any NPCs who get in the way.
It’s true that enemies are easier to sneak past on lesser difficulties, but Dishonored never lets you take the piss. If you’re out in the open, you’ll get spotted. Leave bodies behind in patrolled areas, they’ll be found. And on that note it is worth mentioning that the enemy AI is very clever. Some patrol routes are fixed, yes, but many other characters such as servants and officers can float from one area to another, hence why the results of your handiwork are discovered if not hidden carefully enough.
What gives you cause to respect Dishonored is how it encourages you to do things the hard way. By avoiding conflict with random guards and finding more creative means to dispose of your target, you keep your ‘chaos level’ low. A low or high chaos level causes small mutations in the storyline or gameplay; some characters will react to you differently, you may or may not find more enemies in the next mission, and certain outcomes of missions will vary as well.
Corvo is given a set of supernatural powers he can tap into through the use of whalebone runes. These powers are as varied as Corvo’s own skill set and are similarly able to aid you in sneaking around or in killing your enemies, depending on your preferences. Learn how to teleport in an instant from one cover spot to another, summon a swarm of bloodthirsty rats, or hitch a ride in the body of a living creature for a few moments.
You’re armed with a blade for close-quarters, a crossbow for stealth, and a gun for when the need to be quiet is outweighed by the need for something to die fast. Other tricks include rewiring tools, a neat little item for those who favour stealth killing above overt courses of action, and these allow you to switch security systems to target enemies instead of you. You can also carry traps, grenades, and a variety of crossbow bolts and bullets to get different jobs done.
Absolutely everything can be upgraded using different means. Stealing valuable items by looting or pick-pocketing throughout missions gives you a bankroll to enhance Corvo’s equipment and carrying capacity. Runes can upgrade powers, while your basic attributes can be augmented with bone charms which add bonuses to health, energy, and your abilities as an assassin.
The overall point is that Arkane Studios has recognised the importance of catering to the player, and Dishonored certainly achieves that.
If you want to be the most savage, cunning, predatory cunt the world has ever known, the game builds that experience around you. If you want to be an instrument of precision, striking only where you need to strike and keeping your presence to a bare minimum, you can do that as well and have an entirely different experience.
The consequences for each scenario have been carefully thought out and you know after your first proper mission that Dishonored won’t hold you back. Optional objectives relating to the main mission are more numerous than compulsory ones. It opens out before you; here is the target, here are your obstacles, now get on with it.
Dishonored’s level structure amplifies this core principle of choice, with two, sometimes three, separate sections to work through – each with giddying openness and verticality, stuffed with little details – and forges a sharp contrast between the plague-ridden ruins and opulent townhouses of Dunwall.
There are buildings and urban landscapes in the missions that you simply will not find unless you play the game multiple ways. You can infiltrate a fancy townhouse to reach a mark, negotiating guard routes and secret inner passageways, or you could zip along the rooftops and bypass those sections entirely. The urge to replay the game after you’re done the first time is undeniable.
But this being a review we have to consider the weaknesses.
A major point of concern is the fear factor. In stealth games, you’re supposed to fear getting caught. Guards, creatures, whatever, should be able to both scare and kick the shit out of you if you’re found, and this is something the Thief games managed to achieve in spite of their ‘save anywhere’ mechanic. Dishonored is not so successful in this regard. A more immersive save system would have been a good idea, as this would have offset the lack of impact Guard Clone no. #105 had on the player who alerted them.
The other faults are minor. Occasional glitches with character models during in-game cutscenes, not enough visual or audio variety in the enemies you face, and you tend to view the dark world of Dunwall and its plague problems with fascination more than fear, but now I’m basically nit-picking.
Arkane Studios has created a world gamers will want to get lost in and will be eager to hear more about. There are huge swathes of side plot that we never fully understand, such as Corvo’s mysterious supernatural benefactor, or what’s happening in the rest of the Empire, and to the writing team’s credit they never lose sight of the main quest for the sake of intrigue. Corvo’s focus is on clearing his name and so that’s where the game takes him, leaving the player to uncover as much or as little lore as they want to in order to piece together facets of the bigger picture.
Dishonored is a stealth-based diamond of such shininess and purity that when you think about its future as a franchise you should consider wearing sunglasses, because it’s just bright enough to be blinding. If people aren’t talking about it yet, they will be very soon.
Dishonored is available for release on Friday 12th October in the U.K. and Tuesday 9th in the U.S. and can be pre ordered or purchased from our preferred retail partner www.thatgameshop.com