Published on December 9th, 2012 | by Oliver Skjelborg0
Deep inside the city of Dunwall the rat plague is raging. You, Lord Protector Corvo, were sent out on a mission to get aid from the outside world. It is now several months later and you are returning to report back to the Empress. As you approach the majestic “Tower of Dunwall” by boat, you pass some of the gargantuan whaling trawlers that power Dishonored’s whale oil fueled industrial revolution. As soon as you get off the boat, you meet and bond with the Empress’ daughter Emily, by playing a game of hide and seek with her. This creates a more emotionally engaging story, as you care about her when five minutes later she is kidnapped and her mother is killed by a group of masked assassins. Interestingly all the guards that were absent during the confrontation return just as the assassins’ teleport away, leaving you to take the fall. Fast forward a few months and you now have to break out of prison before you are scheduled to be executed to save Emily-and stop those responsible.
The game’s freedom is on show right from the get-go, as you get out of your cell and now have to escape. Do you choose to charge the guards head on, swords swinging? A safer bet would be to stay in the shadows, dispatching only who you need to- but any method is viable. As you escape from the prison, you meet up with the “Loyalists” who orchestrated your escape. These people want Emily back on the throne and those responsible dead. The Loyalists’ make-shift base is the “Hound Pits Pub” and surrounding buildings. This area acts as a hub for you between missions. Here, you can chat with some of the characters, as well as upgrade your weapons and equipment by talking to Piero, the Loyalists’ very own whale oil enthralled Nikola Tesla. While not anywhere near necessary, these upgrades do make tasks marginally easier, with things like increased accuracy for the crossbow and zoom function embedded into Corvo’s trademark mask. Some of these upgrades are available for purchase from the onset, while others require you to find blueprints hidden throughout the missions.
Once you venture out on your first mission, the fun really begins. You have your target and it is up to you how to dispatch him, but first you have to get there. Once the mission starts, it is up to you. I could have immediately gone to the next area, bypassing all the enemies, but I chose to explore. Doing so is highly encouraged, as on top of the blueprints you can find, there are also Runes and Bone Charms. Runes are the currency used to purchase and upgrade your supernatural powers, which soon become the bread and butter of your chosen play style. Bone Charms on the other hand provide permanent boosts, such as increased health or gaining mana from kills. I opted for at least attempting to be as stealthy as possible, so I chose to spend my first runes on “Dark Vision” which allows you to see enemies and their line of sight through walls. Using this in conjunction with the first power you unlock, “Blink” allows you be to quite the master assassin.
Unfortunately, it proved that I wasn’t quite the lord of shadows that I thought I was. I managed to incapacitate three guards silently with a chokehold and hid their unconscious bodies in the classiest of places – a dumpster. Then, my luck ran out: I became quite overzealous when sneaking past 3 guards having a conversation. So much for a non-lethal approach. I decided in the heat of the moment, and drew my sword. With the first swing of my weapon, I could tell that the combat was smooth. Melee combat mainly consists of striking and blocking. A well-timed block will throw the enemy off-balance and allow you to perform a deadly counter. If you feel like mixing it up, the quick select spell wheel is a godsend, as it gives you the ability to change things up mid fight. Tired of being a gentleman? Dishonored caters to you too. “Blink” behind the enemies, then quickly select the “Bend time” ability to stop time and cut them down as they stand there helplessly.
Choosing the more violent route though, will have effects on the game and environment – so don’t think you can just carve a path straight toward your targets without consequences. The more people you kill and destruction you cause, the higher the “Chaos” in the city becomes. As this increases, rats become more abundant, as do guards and the plague infected “weepers” who make it more difficult for you to go back to sneaking once you’ve decided to murder everything with a pulse. Of course, it is possible to complete the entire game without spilling a single drop of blood. Guards can be choked out, but also shot with sleep darts or avoided. Even all of the targets themselves have an indirect way of getting disposed of, resulting in their continued – albeit painful – existence. Would death be preferred over some of these fates? Probably, but as long as the blood is not on your hands, right?
Aesthetically, the game is truly beautiful. Each character’s caricatured proportions conveys the essence of their personality at a single glance. Admiral Havelock is broad and well-built which fits his stern military personality perfectly, while Lord Penndelton’s slim build amplifies his at-times unsavory behavior. In many ways, the city of Dunwall is itself a character in the ongoing fight for the throne, changing in response to Corvo’s actions. Its varied environments are stunning at times, ranging from the cold exterior of Holger Square, to the mighty engineering masterpiece that is Kaldwin’s Bridge. Sadly, while the game is aesthetically pleasing, it does have some graphical flaws. The low-resolution textures on some objects in the world look like they came straight from the Playstation One era and Corvo’s lack of a shadow becomes extremely jarring the moment you notice it.
Overall, Dishonored is a great stealth-action game taking place in a new original setting, with great character and gameplay design. While it may have a few graphical hiccups and the story isn’t perfect, Dishonored truly is a brilliant title and one of the best new IPs released this year. No matter how you play it, it never feels like it is punishing you for not taking the route it wants you to go. Add this to the adequate level of challenge on the Normal difficulty, and you are left with a game that will cause you to quick-load rather often, but never becomes tiring or wears out its welcome.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version, with it installed on the HDD.
Summary: A great stealth-action game with a few flaws, but not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment that can be had with this game. The varied gameplay and interesting story make this a game you should play.