October 9, 2012
As the name suggests, Dishonored is a game that's all about regaining what has been taken from you. You play Corvo Attano, the personal bodyguard of the Empress, in a time of need for the city of Dunwall. A terrible plague has swept across the city and you've been tasked with helping to find a solution. However, before you can even think about it, the Empress of Dunwall is killed, her daughter is kidnapped and by a wicked turn of fate, you're accused of doing both.
Knowing of what took place, a group of rebels help to free you from prison just before your public execution and from here, it's all about re-writing the wrongs that have taken place. The catch, is that you have to do it all from behind the cover of a mask - they must not know who is trying to bring back order to Dunwall.
Rescuing Emily, the Empress' daughter is the overall objective, but there are plenty of tasks to keep you occupied as you strive to achieve this. Things start off quite quickly, your first mission is to take down one of the people who framed you - High Overseer Campbell.
The complexion of the story is good, which is surprising given the mission-based structure that is imposed. However, some of the plot points are rather predictable towards the end of the game and while there's nothing inherently wrong with this, the ending does come across as rather flat as a result.
Things do start off well though, and after you're given your first mission, you're introduced to Samuel. He then becomes your go-to man for getting to and from missions and after you set sail for central Dunwall the fun begins.
Dishonored is a game that's all about choice. From the outset you're warned that how you choose to accomplish your objectives can have a positive or negative effect on the city of Dunwall. Such a system enables the game to strike a nice balance and while the premise isn't that new, it's rare to see an implementation that comes across as smooth.
Going in all guns blazing is the much easier option in theory. After all, you're given plenty of tools to take down scores of guards. And with Corvo's talents, it's not that difficult either. Playing the stealthier option is more tricky - your only option for taking out guards is a small supply of sleep darts and sneak attacks. But that's the beauty of the system. What might be easier early on can become quite the opposite later down the line.
That's just one of the many choices you have while playing through Dishonored. In this Steampunk world, there are plenty of places to climb and evade the authorities. There is no right or wrong way to complete any mission or side-quest. One person might choose to smash down the front door, another might choose to sneak in via an open window. The end result of the mission might also be different. For example, it's possible to spare High Overseer Campbell, but brand him as a heretic. Equally, you could choose to kill him for his treachery. These choices are present throughout the entire experience, so the game lends itself rather well to multiple play-throughs.
Aside from the basic array of weapons (a crossbow, sword and pistol), one of the core components of Dishonored is the introduction of magic. This itself comes with a mysterious storyline and it changes the dynamic of the entire experience. Which magic you choose to level up can affect everything. If you choose to upgrade possession, getting through security checkpoints is a snip. But if you choose to upgrade Blink (a teleportation spell), going around it becomes a much more viable prospect. Again, the theme of choice comes up - you could choose to use no magic at all and still complete the game just fine.
On your travels, you will also find odd things called Bone Charms. You can only equip a finite number, but they will augment your character in certain ways. One Bone Charm allows for quicker movement while in stealth mode, another allows you to regain health from drinking out of taps. They can be picked up throughout levels, and you're given a rather conspicuous looking heart to help you track them down, as well as runes (to improve magic).
As soon as the game's visuals come into view, it's clear to see what the team has worked on in the past. The graphics aren't show-stopping, but the team at Arkane Studios has been able to create a fine looking city in Dunwall that's complete with its quirks. The locations you visit are ironically, full of life. You feel that the city has been lived in, and that every corner has a story to tell - it's an impressive feat. The characters present, while not the most memorable, are also helped by a good voice cast. In short, Dishonored is a game that features presentation that doesn't really stand out in any way, but comes together to form a rather nice complete package.
It's been said that games can't survive without multiplayer offerings any more, especially not those in the first-person shooter genre. Dishonored takes that notion and strikes in down. With the vast replay value available in each and every mission, and with the intriguing world of Dunwall at your fingertips, there is just something there urging you to enter the realm once again. Sure, the glossy feel will wear off, but it might take a while. Dishonored constantly asks the question - what if? Could that section have been navigated with more stealth, did you manage your resources correctly, did a guard survive? The only way to find out is to do it all again.
The ending might not be the best around, and some of the plot points may be a little predictable, but everything else about Dishonored entices you to keep playing and that's a trait that's hard to find. The combination of Steampunk, magic, stealth and intrigue make it a package that's well worth a look. The degree of choice offered up to players is also commendable, as it's something that unlike others, Arkane Studios was able to deliver with great success. Dishonored, at least with its quality, shows that new intellectual properties can still come out this late in a console cycle and succeed.
Dishonored was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.