Game Name: Dishonored
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Now that the dust is slowly settling after the feeding frenzy that is the Steam Summer Sale, let’s take a look at what our nets hauled in, shall we?
Early in the sale I picked up a game that I originally had quite a few reservations about playing: Dishonored. When it came out in October of 2012 I didn’t much care for the look of it. It was developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, which has its own share of worries. Now, I like Bethesda just fine for most of their games. And by most of their games, I mean anything with Fallout or Elder Scrolls in the title. But they also tend to give hype to games that don’t quite deliver (Brink and Hunted being prime examples).
Now I won’t say they have accumulated the level of notoriety that Peter Molyneux has in the gaming industry. But the hit or miss on these games has given me my share of, what I consider legitimate, skepticism. There is also the fact that it’s a single player, railed story (good guy track or evil guy track), with a silent protagonist. Honestly it looked like a COD clone in a Victorian England setting with a dash of magic thrown in for flavoring. But after seeing positive review after positive review and a criminally low price on Steam I figured I would give it a shot.
Dishonored is a first person stealth and action game. Think somewhere along the lines of a mix of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Bioshock: Infinite. You play as Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the empress who is framed for her murder. Corvo turns to the path of an assassin as he struggles to clear his name, or possibly just to wreak a bloody vengeance upon those who wronged him. He doesn’t have much say in the matter. So it’s all up for you to decide.
Along the way you’re backed by a group intent on pulling the current ruler off the throne and a mysterious Outsider who “blesses” you with a host of magical abilities. His reason for doing this? He finds you so very…interesting (like an ant that’s learned a neat little trick.)
One of the great things about the game is that it doesn’t pigeonhole you into a single option when you try and complete a mission. You can use your odd-gotten powers to slink past your enemies, summon swarms of rats to feast on their soft bits, or just plain shoot them in their faces (or back of their faces, this is a stealth game after all). Theoretically you could play through the entire game without using any of your powers, aside from a few instances where you will be forced to use the power you were initially given by the Outsider.
My favorite of the mechanics introduced in the game is another gift given to you by the Outsider: a heart. This heart, which he lovingly crafted for you out of things he found laying around, will locate nearby bone charms (which can be equipped to boost skills) or runes (used to upgrade your powers). But the most fun ability is that you can use it to listen to the secrets that lay in the hearts of the people around you. There’s no real use for doing this aside from getting some backstory on characters. It’s just really creepy and fun and it definitely helps set the overall tone for the game: grim and full of people that require a good stabbing.
The movement is incredibly tight as you leap and climb from rooftop to rooftop, letting you snag edges at the last second before tumbling to a sticky end. When coupled with the Blink ability that allows you to teleport short distances you have the potential for incredibly fast-paced, fun freerunning. Though I felt the swimming aspect was a bit clunky. More than a few times I would swim to a ledge and fruitlessly spam the climb button as a school of fish tore important pieces off of me. The inner explorer in me was also disappointed in the invisible walls erected off the shore. Not that I have any real need to swim out and be eaten by the leviathans from the deep, but I didn’t appreciate being force pushed and nearly drowned when I tried.
Dishonored’s combat is quite well done. Similar to Skyrim’s new dual-wielding system, you’re given a sword in your right hand and then are left free to choose between secondary weapons (gun, crossbow, etc.) or any of your special abilities to wield in your left. This opens up a variety of fighting styles for you to implement or kindly ignore as you sneak about in your sneakers (designed for the sole purpose of sneaking).
The story twists depending on which path you take. Killing people and getting spotted doing so increases your chaos meter which further destabilizes the world and throws it further and further into turmoil and darkness. Now that might be just hunky dory for you and to that I say good on you and have fun. But being sneaky and reigning in your murderous proclivities has its own list of rewards.
Now, if you have a fickle heart and halfway through the game decide that you don’t particularly enjoy bathing in the blood of your enemies, you can replay missions from the beginning. This also allows you to go back through and collect any trinkets you might have missed. A word of warning though the missions can be quite lengthy and often you won’t know until the very end that some lucky guard managed to spot you and thus ruin your otherwise perfect sneaking. The reasonable response of course is to replay the mission, find said guard, and do innovative things with his spleen.
Graphically the game is quite sleek and well-done. Dishonored focuses more on an artistically pleasing animation that helps set the tone as opposed to harsh realistic qualities. The things you see won’t be pretty, but they damn sure will be well-rendered.
Audio-wise Dishonored does its job well. The music that plays in the background helps set the tone (creepy with a side of eerie) beautifully and the sound effects are viscerally rewarding (knife goes in, guts come out).
Fans of the Bioshock games (particularly Infinite) might find a bevy of similarities as they play Dishonored. Playing through I was constantly reminded in everything from art-style, general setting, combat, and overall tone. This is hardly a mark against Dishonored. If I was a game I would hardly scoff at being compared to the Bioshock games. I would hazard that fans of one might well find some definite joy in the other. Neither game is inherently better than the other, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. When boiled down I would have to say the major differences are a much more intense and engaging story for Bioshock while Dishonored contains an incredibly fun and rewarding action system.
If there was one thing I wish Dishonored had taken from Bioshock Infinite it’s the inclusion of a protagonist who ACTUALLY TALKS. Without a voice to speak, the character Corvo Attano is reduced to a blank-stared knife in a creepy mask. I can understand the draw of this implementation from the developer’s point of view. With a silent character the player is free to insert his own voice and identity, further solidifying the roleplaying experience. Which works just fine…in open-world games. When you’re put on a track that has limited definite endings you need that character so that you can feel an emotional tie when things go well, or horribly horribly wrong. But this is really more of a rant at the game industry in general who have made this design choice popular.
Dishonored was a pleasant surprise for me. Going in, I had low expectations, but Dishonored blew past them and rewarded my curmudgeon-ing with a solid gameplay experience and an entertaining game. There aren’t too many games in this field that inspire additional playthroughs after beating it initially, but with Dishonored I think I’ll make an exception.
Dishonored for the PC I give 5/6
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