Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, Dishonored is a first person action/stealth game which takes place in the steampunk industrial city of Dunwall, modelled closely around the architecture of Victorian London, Dunwall’s main source of power comes from an extract of Whale Oil which is used much like we would use Paraffin except it powers everything, lights, machinery and even security gates dubbed ‘Walls of Light’ which separate Dunwall into different sections and will disintegrate anyone who touches them.
After a mysterious and deadly plague begins to develop in Dunwall those infected become known as Weepers – for their tendency to bleed from their eyes. The plague overruns the city and threatens to infect every living inhabitant and beyond. Our hero – Corvo Attano – returns to Dunwall from a mission as the Empresses legendary bodyguard at the moment of a great spoiler-heavy tragedy, it is this tragedy that will spur you into the world of whale oil, dark magic, political plots and a shadowy ground of assassins. Welcome to Dishonored.
Dishonored is undoubtedly a linear game but it’s not without its degree of choice. This is not a game that will give you two clearly defined roads labelled ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ it’s entirely up to you to make that distinction. And there is usually no definition between normal NPC guards, Unarmed NPC’s who don’t care about your presence and NPC’s that will run screaming to the nearest guard which means that on more than one occasion I’ve incapacitated a civilian which could have potentially helped me or sold me Health Elixiars.
You’re popped at the start of each level usually with a single mission – Kill Mr X – but how will you accomplish this? Will you run in, all pistols and rat swarms like something terrible vision from HP Lovecraft? Or will you notice that open window, or that selection of low roofs and choose a less direct approach? Maybe picking up some valuables along the way to help pay for upgrades to your equipment like Garrett from the legendary Thief series? What about the deed itself? Will you kill your target or employ other means to dispose of them? will you stumble across someone who will help you? And what of your actions afterwards? How will you get to your extraction? These options aren’t easily signposted throughout the levels and it’s very easy to miss some potentially useful pathways but discovering them leaves you with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
One mission sticks out which best illustrates my point and it’s not spoiler filled. I had to kidnap someone, a Physician – and in doing this I had to get around the guards outside his house, make my way through his house (still avoiding guards) kidnap the target and then make my way to another part of the city for extraction. I played this mission a number of times and each time decided to take a different approach. My ‘all-guns-blazing’ approach never ended too well as the presence of Tall Boys (heavily armoured guards who are essentially on stilts wielding explosive arrows who better resembled the walking machines from War of the Worlds) ensured that my direct assault almost always ended in failure. My silent ‘through the front door’ approach worked but took significantly longer than I imagined and even afterwards I had to carry my target through the streets to my extraction boat which caused some issues (Corvo is not exactly gentle when putting bodies down and the realistic physics dynamic caused my dear doctor friend to go tumbling off of ledges more than once in some classic Weekend At Bernies moments. Though this aspect does work in Dishonored’s favour as when you find yourself being attacked near a stairwell there is a chance you will tumble head over heels down the stairs in a very disorientating and realistic rolling motion.
One of my playthrough with the good doctor offered me another way to complete my mission, I found a way to use my Blink power (a short teleport) to reach the roof of my targets house, break in, kidnap him and then reach my boat within record time – essentially bypassing the entire level. Now, I’m unsure if Arcane meant to put this path into the game but it goes to show the level of diversity in Dishonored level design, almost creating sandbox levels in which you can carve your own path.
Whilst playing Dishonored I also found it a genuine surprise and delight that the music would usually react to my characters situation. being spotted by a guard would summon a sudden strike of a classical instrument whereas if I were performing a takedown and an enemy were close to me the music would stir up sudden feeling of anxiousness and concern as I struggled to slink away as quickly as possible. Arkane have subtly turned Dishonoreds music into almost Corvo’s Spidey-Sence which personally is wonderful and a great highlight of their design.
As I mentioned, the game also features special powers which Corvo can employ in his missions. Roughly halfway through the prologue Corvo is visited by The Outsider, a mysterious figure who some revere as The Boogeyman of Dunwall. This spiritual being bestows dark powers unto Corvo such as the ability to slow and stop time, summon swarms of rats at will and teleport short distances in an instant. These powers are almost essential for the missions ahead and I found myself using Dark Vision (whereby you can see enemies line of sight and their locations through walls) more often than I care to admit – although the over-dependency on Dark Vision is slightly reminiscent of Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode which detracted from the otherwise excellent graphics. These powers can be upgraded with collectable runes and special Bone Charms can also be found throughout the game which bestow a smaller, permanent character bonus (Health potions healing slightly more HP for example)
I think my only criticism with Dishonored would be the complete lack of character innovation. Of the myriad of instruction giving characters and emotionless, dead-eyed NPCs I only really felt affinity with Emily, the Empresses young daughter and then you start feeling like a Big Daddy from Bioshock with ridiculous brute strength and special abilities protecting a seemingly helpless little girl from plague crazed, plague ridden lunatics.
Dishonored isn’t a great reflection of current global instabilities and turmoil or even a fantastically original story but it is a great game, you’ll play it, you’ll enjoy it, you’ll even start setting yourself challenges (playing on Hard with no Powers and trying to not be spotted is my favourite) You’ll probably end up playing it a second time, I know I will to unlock the 2nd ending – yes, a 2nd ending depending on your overall actions throughout the game. Dishonored is the most original IP that gaming has had is a while and it should be remembered as a step into unfamiliar territory that was 100% successful.
This review was made possible through Slimgamer.com’s flagship gaming PC, the BeastRig Z77