Developer – Arkane Studios
Publisher – Bethesda Softworks
Platforms – PC, PS3, X360
[Quick Note: This being the first video game review I wrote about 6 months ago, the layout is a little different than it will be in future reviews.]
Dishonored is set in the industrial city of Dunwall. The city is overrun by rats and the plague, and prides itself on its fishing and whaling enterprises. The city’s inhabitants have developed methods to harness the power of whale oil much like we use electricity today, with a number of alternate technologies to go along with it. You play as Corvo Attano, the personal bodyguard of Dunwall’s empress, who you are framed for murdering minutes into the game. Naturally, you escape from prison with the help of ‘The Loyalists’, a resistance group, and attempt to break the tyrannical grip Dunwall’s new rulers have on the city and its people in order to place the empress’ daughter, Emily, on the throne where she belongs. There’s also a smidge of revenge in there too.
While the story itself is fairly run-of-the-mill, with the gameplay being the major draw, the fictional world created by Arkane Studios is excellent. You can tell that a great deal of effort has gone into creating the background of the city and the world it is set in, which is revealed to you predominantly by the books you can find laying around on your travels. While the information provided paints an interesting picture, I would have liked for there to be more of it, though one could argue that it was adequate for the length of the game. It is unfortunate that the story the player actively participates in just isn’t as interesting.
During the course of the game the player interacts with a being known as “The Outsider”, who imbues Corvo with a number of supernatural powers. Though there is some mention of the outsider in books that you find I was disappointed that he didn’t play a bigger part in the story. I would have been interested to know what his goals were, and what he gained from giving Corvo his abilities. Fleshing out The Outsider’s role in the story was a missed opportunity to add another layer of depth.
The story itself would merit a 6 or a 7 on a normal scale. While there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with it, a little more work could have made it that much better. What really makes Dunwall shine is the background behind the city and its people, glimpsed from time to time in the books scattered throughout the world.
The characters in Dishonored are all well made. They each have a very strong sense of self that remains consistent throughout the game. Having said that though, there are a few characters that are sort of just there without having any actual purpose. Also, there weren’t any characters that really stood out. Corvo himself is silent and even wears a mask for most of the game. While he does look very cool in that mask, I remember being surprised at how he looked without it…he wasn’t badly designed by any means, but he certainly didn’t fit the bodyguard image I had built up in my mind.
The bond between Emily and Corvo is strong and plain for all to see, with Corvo’s role as a pseudo-father being portrayed well despite his lack of speech. While I wouldn’t quite say that I came to care for Emily by the end of the game, I could tell that Corvo did and that was enough for me. Given the length of the game and degree of active participation the player has in the story, the amount of character development is adequate. As with the plot, the characters would have seemed more alive with a longer game.
Up till this point I’ve been painting Dishonored as a fairly average game (on the good side of average, mind) which could have been improved upon simply be having a longer game with more opportunities to develop both the story and characters, but Dishonored really isn’t a game that you should pick out for either of those aspects.
You can choose to play through the game stealthily or to brazenly waltz through each level, indiscriminately killing as you go – or some mix of the two. While I personally chose the stealth route, I was still exposed to the combat whenever I was spotted and proceeded to hunt down the spotter, his brother and their two best friends. While fairly basic the combat is a lot of fun and, let’s be honest, that’s really all a combat system needs to be. You have a sword as your basic melee weapon, with various blocking and parrying techniques at your disposal, as well as a choice of crossbow or pistol for your ranged weapon. It is immensely satisfying to finish off one enemy with your sword while eliminating the other one closing in on you with a crossbow bolt to the face. There are also things like spike traps to catch out patrolling enemies and incendiary ammo for your crossbow.
Added to his normal arsenal, Corvo also has access to a number of supernatural abilities. These range from active abilities – such as summoning a swarm of plague-ridden rats to devour your opponents or bending time to dodge projectiles and close in on the enemy – to more passives ones like increased health or speed. You can be incredibly inventive in how you utilise these abilities, with many of them being useful no matter how you choose to play. You can do things like slowing time before a bullet hits you, then possessing an enemy and running in front of said bullet, forcing his ally to experience incredible guilt for the rest of his life (all five seconds of it, anyway). I was actually quite impressed by the number of ways you can use your powers, while at the same time wishing there were more of them.
For those choosing the stealth route, prepare to spend a lot of time waiting for patrolling enemies. You have sleeping darts for your crossbow to help you out, as well as my personal favourite power – Blink. Blink allows you to practically teleport through space, whether that be behind, above or simply past an enemy in your path – and it’s a lot of fun to use. The Dark Vision power allows you to see enemies through walls, which is incredibly useful as well. The stealth route was fun to play, but it took a lot of saving and restarting, and the last level was rather anticlimactic without any “final battle” occurring.
I can’t finish talking about the gameplay without discussing Dishonored’s take on the token morality system many games have nowadays. This is how it goes: for every person you kill Dunwall’s chaos level rises. As the chaos level rises so too do the numbers of rats and weepers (late-stage plague victims) scattered throughout Dunwall. There are two endings you can view based on your chaos level (I only experienced the low chaos ending). While those of you more open to slaughtering Dunwall’s inhabitants will wind up with the high chaos ending, the stealthy player can choose to either kill or knock out their enemies.
I really enjoyed Dishonored’s gameplay. While the game has been likened to Bioshock by others, I find that the two aren’t really all that similar. Both stealth and combat aspects have been well done – I can’t find any faults in them. If I really had to pick something to ask for it would be a greater variety of weapons and powers, but I feel that would be far too greedy. The only complaint I have is about the lack of excitement in the final level for stealth users, though I can’t think of a way to fix that which didn’t involve forcing the player into combat.
Dishonored looked nice, I suppose. It wasn’t breaking any records graphics-wise, but the style was consistent and very much suited the world Arkane Studios wanted to create. The characters were expressive and easily identified visually, and the environments were probably as varied as they could be while staying within the city of Dunwall. There weren’t any scenes that made me go “wow”, but I did enjoy some of the weapon effects, such as Corvo’s foldable blade and self-loading crossbow. As far as the sound goes…I honestly can’t remember it. I wasn’t playing the game with the intention of reviewing it, so I didn’t pay close attention. The least I can say is that, while it wasn’t bad enough to leave an impression, it wasn’t good enough to leave one either.
Summary – Dishonored was a lot of fun to play and it was the gameplay that made it that way. Arkane Studios has created a world that is really quite interesting but they really could have done more with the story they have presented – maybe in the form of a longer game. Many of the aspects of the game are good, rather than great, but you will not regret playing Dishonored.
Plot/Characters – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Audio/Visual – 8/10
OVERALL SCORE: 8.5/10 – Good
And finally, a trailer for those interested in the game: