Many developers have tried to take their protagonist, shroud them in a veil of mystery and make him conquer the lands from the shadows with an arsenal of weapons and skills at his disposal. The formula itself is nothing new, the story behind it and the character’s motivation are nothing you haven’t played before, but Dishonored – the new Intellectual Property developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda - does everything that makes a stealth assassin game so right meaning you just don’t care that you’ve seen all of it before.
In a world full of sequels and cash cows, it is refreshing to see a new IP on the market that hits the ground running – through soft souled shoes so as not to raise suspicion. Dishonored comes to gamers at a time when everyone expects big title releases of franchises we’ve all played over and over again and amidst criticism that new IPs just don’t make sales anymore because they’re too much of a gamble. This is one gamble that has paid off in spades. The combination of an intriguing world, brutal stealth kills and tight intuitive controls means Dishonored needs to be on or near the top of everyone’s wish list this year.
Set in a world that melds old-time feel with a bit of steampunk and a dash of future dystopian forecast, Dishonored follows the life of the bodyguard to the Empress, Corvo, who becomes shamed when he’s framed for her murder. Before his execution, Corvo is met by a strange visitor who grants him unique abilities and helps him escape his captors to exact his revenge and rescue a little girl for whom he cared for very much. So he’s cast out among a world that suffers from a rat plague and has fallen under a martial dictatorship that isolates the infected poor from the rich and disease free.
As I mentioned before, the story isn’t unique and throughout the game it was rather predictable in its writing, but that doesn’t detract from the fascination of the world you’re allowed to explore. Every crusty tome you find throughout the world weaves intricate backstory about the world that makes it incredibly engrossing to discover. I found myself searching every book and note that I came across to see what new nugget of information it would reveal about this strange fantasy world I was skulking around.
That, in itself, is the crux of the game… you sneak through the shadows to obtain your goal in each mission. Given immense scale of the maps, you’re free to choose exactly how you wish to accomplish your tasks at hand. Will you slink through the dark and dispatch your foes with cruel determination, or will you simply incapacitate them and take mercy on their poor souls as you slither through one doorway to the next? The game offers rewarding gameplay for whichever play style you decide to choose in the form of mission achievements at the end of each one that tally whether or not you were seen or how much chaos was raised during your mission. The amount of overall chaos determines which type of ending you’ll see when you finally beat the game. Finish with a low chaos rating and you’ll be treated with the “good” ending, while a high chaos rating will make you succumb to the game’s “bad” ending.
The gameplay is intuitive and works really well for what you want to do. Some may say that it is over simplified and some of the powers make the game a cakewalk, but I beg to differ. When trying to play the Ghost playthrough by not being seen by anyone on your way to your objective, you’re forced to make very difficult decisions that may raise alarms and make you have to start through a past save to ensure that your own personal goal through the level isn’t tarnished. Speaking of saves, that is one point of contention in the game. Early on you will see in the loading screens that it is suggested you save often. This is absolutely true as before I finally got it through my thick skull, I’d die due to a misstep and be forced back to a beginning part of the level to do it all over again. The autosave feature in the game isn’t very forgiving in its waypoints, but to the game’s credit it does warn you of this ahead of time.
Corvo meets a dark stranger and is given a mark. This mark allows him to find runes and gain supernatural powers that really flesh out the gameplay nicely. Traversing the world, dispatching foes, combat and just about everything in the game is centered around the first ability: Blink – a teleport power that allows you to reach areas that normal humans cant instantly. A nice little detail that I found rather impressive is the reaction to NPC characters when you use Blink around them. In a world where dark magic isn’t supposed to exist, hearing a passerby exclaim “That’s impossible!” when you Blink past is an appreciated touch that really drives home the fact that you’re a supernatural badass.
Aside from a wide assortment of powers that you’ll discover through the rune currency system, you can also spend the coins you find on upgrades to your more normal weapons. Corvo’s default weapon is his dirk that can be used to quickly dispatch enemies from behind silently and stands its own against people in hand-to-hand combat, but its his secondary weapons that really took center stage in my playthrough. On his off-hand, you either equip a power, a pistol that was made in the fiery pits of some evil gunsmithing shop because the kick on this monster is very fulfilling, or the silent crossbow which when paired with the Shadow Kill ability allows for silent death that turns your enemies to ash so they cannot be discovered by other guards. All in all, the stealth is visceral and the combat is fulfilling. Once you get the hang of how all the mechanics work in tandem, it’s quite easy to play and feel like there is nothing that could ever stand in your way.
The sounds in the game are ambient and fitting. Music ramps up at appropriate times of tension and sudden chimes do a good job of alerting you when an enemy spots you and it’s time for fight or flight. The voice acting in the game is top notch and when you get a glimpse at the credits, you learn why. Several very big names voice some of the more prominent characters in the game and it really makes the game feel like a project of passion where every detail was taken into consideration. Nothing can ruin the atmosphere like a badly placed sound clip, and Arkane ensured that their project had life behind the characters.
All in all, I can’t recommend Dishonored enough. It is a title that begs to be played over and over again. While you can blaze through the game in an uncomfortably short amount of time, to do so would be a massive injustice to the time and dedication the team put into fleshing out the world for you. With so many nooks and crannies to discover, and so many paths to take to reach your objective, it would be a bad decision to just rush your way through this masterpiece. My first playthrough clocked in at 20 hours and there were still runes untouched and other places that I know I didn’t fully research. Luckily the game is brilliant enough to make me want to dive right back in and continue my path of slaughter from the shadows.