It’s always nice to see a brand new game, something not backed by years of previous updates or 20 other games that do the same thing. Dishonored is exactly that, mixing some stealthy first person action with some brilliant assassination work to produce another totally brilliant, and highly original, Bethesda game.
Playing as Corvo, a royal bodyguard, you’re blamed for the death of the Empress who was actually killed by some magic disappearing assassin dudes who also stole her daughter Emily. After escaping from prison you meet up with a small group of people who have become disillusioned with the powers that be, and your quest to track down Emily and turn round the fate of the city begins. After the early stages which act as an inline tutorial you’re introduced to your first techy upgrades which allow you to pick up various magical and skilful abilities in exchange for tracking down hidden runes dotted around the city. Each ability requires a varying number of runes to unlock, and it’ll leave you with the RPGish conundrum of whether to focus on certain abilities or spreading your upgrades to make you a Jack of all trades. It also depends on how you want to approach the game, which is something pretty major to consider.
For me the biggest draw to Dishonored and the one aspect that really excited me was this very idea of being allowed to play the game exactly as you want to. Fancy killing your way through the game and cause as much chaos as possible? Well that’s fine, you can do that. It’s probably the easier way to get through the game, but the world changes around you and everything later on gets a lot darker and meaner as a result. You could, of course, sneak your way round, avoiding detection and only performing the kills that you absolutely need to. It’s a much tougher ask, but it’s a very fun challenge, and one made all the more intriguing when you find ways to complete your missions without actually having to kill your targets yourself. It certainly isn’t the first game to do this – Deus Ex did a pretty decent job – but there’s something to do with the grittier, more supernatural nature of Dishonored that really makes it stand out against the competition. This works beautifully with the upgrade system, with certain skills working much better for sneaking and exploring, and others turning you into more of a stab-happy badass – being able to turn your killed enemies into dust to avoid detection is pretty gnarly, but a handy tool if you’re taking that route.
There are a handful of main missions through the game – 9 in total – but they’re huge and are far from quick half hour fetch quests, taking a good solid 12 or 13 hours if you only focus on the main bits (add several more if you want to see and do everything). While these are kicking off you’ll be able to pick up smaller missions and objectives to meet, giving you the opportunity to enhance your skills by earning and finding more runes as well as pick up more of the side-story. It’s not on the level of Skyrim’s side-quests, and some of them will end up taking the place of what you set out to do, but that’s just the game giving you more ways to reach your goal, and the experience is all the richer for it. There’s so much to enjoy, it’s almost heart-breaking to have to admit that you’ll find one or two small frustrations along the way.
A good chunk of this frustration comes from the difficulties experienced at times, even on the lowest difficulty setting. The city’s defences, mainly Walls of Light and Arc Pylons which disintegrate you or fry you if you get too close, are hugely unforgiving and although you can reverse or disable them, they take some work to do quietly. They are easier to take out with a bit of noise, and as long as you can track down the power source you can shoot it from distance if you don’t fancy unplugging it hand (which is trickier but quieter). There are also some hefty bad guys knocking around later on which are fallible, but double-hard-bastards at the same time. It’s not an unfair challenge, but is noticeably trickier than other aspects of the game, and if you’re unlucky or careless enough to attract the attention of 5 or 6 guards you’re pretty much buggered unless you’ve unlocked the ability to freeze time for a moment. Luckily there’s a decent amount of weaponry available in addition to your special abilities, so if you’re not planning on keeping quiet round town you won’t be too lost for options. Your unlockable options are fantastic too, giving you the chance to control the mind of a nearby rat, see the enemy’s field of vision and summon hoards of plague-ridden vermin to attack your enemies. The Blink ability, which lets you dash unseen and unheard to a nearby position, is one of the best things about the game, but it’s sometimes tough to know exactly where you’ll end up, and when you’re traversing high buildings a fall to the death isn’t uncommon. That said, everything else works like a charm, and the mind-control is especially nifty when you realise its full potential. Want to strap a leg-slicing proxy mine to a rat and charge it head-long into a group of unsuspecting guards? Yeah, I did too. It was ace.
The environment itself is stunning; the city is clearly suffering from the rat plague that features heavily throughout and as it crumbles around the workers, residents and guards you start to get a real feel for just how tough the whaling community have started to find life. The sound too is awesome in its effectiveness, giving perfect silences that complement the hectic action sequences that kick off when you slip up or start causing a bit of a riot. Given how slow and quiet some of the game needs to be it would have been easy to spark things up with a soundtrack, but there’s never anything out of place. With some decent headphones it’s very easy to get engrossed.
Between the impressive storyline, fantastic environments and perfect mix of game styles Dishonored is one of those games that you play through, then realise you’re extremely pleased you got to experience it. Playing through more than once is entirely possible due to the progressive gameplay that changes depending on how you play, and even if an entire 2nd run through scares you, you can go back to each mission and play it again to try out different routes, try out another way to get past the guards or just try to collect all the little treasures that are up for the taking. Originality is rare nowadays, and often falls over when a developer tries something new, but Arkane have done something very spectacular with Dishonored, and it deserves all the praise it gets.
Reviewed on PS3