Developer: Arkane Studios
Release Date: October 9, 2012
This busy Fall season–not to mention, most of 2012–has been rather marked by sequels to extremely popular series, from Mass Effect to Far Cry, so it’s extremely refreshing when a new IP crops up amongst the mix. When the new IP is actually good, it’s called a bonus. Dishonored had this potential from its unveiling at E3 this year. From its gameplay to the story to the art style, Dishonored had plenty going for it upon first glance. Even though the story didn’t hold up well in the end, Arkane Studios and Bethesda have created a masterpiece with this original title, and if you’re a fan of stealth gameplay in the slightest, you would be greatly remiss to not pick this one up.
The game’s protagonist, Corvo, was the Empress of Dunwall’s esteemed bodyguard, who unfortunately was present when assassins ambushed her and killed her. Since Corvo was found at the scene of the crime, and the only living witness — the Empress’s daughter, was taken by the assassins — he was consequently arrested and condemned to death for murdering his charge. In other words, Corvo was … dishonored. Since the ruler is dead and the only rightful heir is missing, Dunwall is in a time of upheaval, and the rampant rat plague that is killing most of Dunwall’s citizens isn’t making the place any cheerier to live. Fortunately for both Corvo and Dunwall, a team of Loyalists have conspired together to break Corvo out of prison and set him upon the Empress’s murderers. All he has to do is take down those who killed the Empress and set him up, one target mission at a time. And Corvo can do this in whatever manner he wishes.
This notion of exacting revenge in whatever manner the player wants is where the beauty of Dishonored really shines through. Players have complete control over however they want to play, whether it’s stealthy or murdery (to borrow a phrase from Bulletstorm). In addition, every target Corvo is sent after has a lethal and a nonlethal option. For example, with Corvo’s first target, High Overseer Campbell, Corvo can either kill him or brand him as a heretic, thereby expelling him from power and ruining him in public eye. The choices you make in how you play and how you opt to take care of your targets affects the ending, the vitality of Dunwall, and how your allies treat you.
In other words, many parts of Dishonored are completely up to you, the player, and this includes Corvo’s weaponry and the paths he takes to complete a mission as well.
In Corvo’s arsenal, he has both weapons and magic (literally magic). Players can unlock additional powers or upgrade their powers by finding Runes hidden all over Dunwall. Players who want to cut through their targets will most likely focus on purchasing the powers that create whirlwinds, summon hordes of rats (all infested the plague), and adrenaline enhancements for brutal melee kills. Those who have a more stealthy playstyle will focus on the powers that bend/stop time, grant the ability to possess animals and humans, and teleport Corvo across the room. By combining the powers, players can kill or sneak even more creatively than the powers by themselves produce. Summoning a rat horde and then possessing one of the rats to run away is just one example–and is more fun than it should be.
The world of Dunwall itself opens up the player’s choices even further. The world isn’t exactly open, but it’s open enough to allow for numerous methods of getting a particular job done. With many stealth games, players are almost forced down a set path in order to get from A to B. With Dishonored, the ways a player can take to get to point B are almost limitless. Do you go straight to your target, killing or sneaking the whole way, or do you explore the back alleys and find the roads less traveled? Do you see what side quests can do to help you with this mission, or do you take care of everything yourself?
It’s a good thing that the art of choice that Dishonored presents to the player is so overwhelmingly great, because sadly, the game falls short in other areas. Visually, the game is absolutely stunning with its oil painting-like cel-shading and how well the colors depict the feeling that Dunwall is indeed an 18th-19th century whaling town going through horrendous, despairing times. So when you catch graphical glitches such as the lip-synching not matching up or NPCs going through walls, you can’t help but be disappointed since everything else looks so great. At one point when I was playing, I tried to stash a sleeping soldier underneath a staircase. Since Corvo doesn’t put bodies down gently, he hurled the soldier down, and the soldier ended up going through the staircase. His head was above the stairs, his lower half was below, there was blood everywhere, and yet somehow, the soldier snoozed on.
The NPCs also had a nasty habit of saying the same thing over and over and over ad infinitum. I heard one soldier tell another how he needed to “write her again” so she could “listen to reason” or one ask another if he would get a promotion for his work last night so often, I was close to screaming from insanity. Record some more chatter, please, or just have them whistle or be quiet while on patrol. I kept thinking surely I’ll hear something else eventually, but it was always one of three different sets of dialogue. I even heard it during the final mission, which at that point, was beyond ridiculous.
The overall story was also gravely disappointing. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was incredibly predictable, especially the “twist” near the end. I was so let down by it, it was extremely hard for me to keep going. I did so for this review (obviously) and I had hopes that maybe it would redeem itself in the end (it didn’t). Those who can overlook a weak story due to fantastic gameplay, this will hardly be an issue, but for someone like me, who values story almost above everything else, it was nearly a deal-breaker.
Story problems and environmental glitches aside, Dishonored‘s innovation leaves it a must-play game for everyone who enjoys action and stealth games. Its integration between action and stealth, open game world, gorgeous visuals, and player choice will leave an enjoyable mark on anyone. If only all new IPs had this much innovation.