Dishonored is the latest offering from Arkane Studios and Bethesda. It takes place in a time of plague and a once great city is suffering. As often happens during crisis, ambitious men have seen an opportunity to grab power and oppress the populace through stifling rules disguised as religion. History teaches us that men like this never go unopposed, even if the opposition has to stay hidden. Such is the case in Dishonored.
You play as Corvo Attano. Once the respected and trusted bodyguard of the Empress, Corvo is framed for murder and imprisoned. But Corvo has friends, or at least people who claim to be friends, that help him escape. Free again, Corvo must go from protecting lives to taking them as he becomes an assassin in an effort to restore order and the throne.
The story of Dishonored is rich with characters, history and plot. Like in the Elder Scrolls titles, the game is littered with books with snippets of back-story that flesh out the world around you. And what a world it is.
To say that Dishonored is set in a steam punk world does it an injustice. It isn’t steam punk, although there are elements of that. It’s different, lavish and beautiful. The artists and designers have done a fantastic job of creating a world that seems real and internally consistent. It’s the kind of world you dream about when you stop playing for the day. It’s that rich. And even though there are the standard inordinate number of things to hide behind in a typical game designed around stealth, the designers have done a good job of making the cover seem reasonable and part of the landscape of the game rather than just random cover to make it from point A to point B.
So what about that stealth? Is sneaking around the only way to play? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that you’re rewarded for stealth and for not killing people who aren’t your specific target. Why? Because extra killing leads to extra chaos, which makes sense in a real world way. If bodies start suddenly piling up in town and a masked killer is seen slaughtering guards in public, that’s going to lead to unease. Also, leaving all those bodies lying around is going to increase the rat population, which is going to make the plague worse, and then you’re going to have all those plague victims walking around being all zombie-like and attacking you. Who needs that? No one. So stealth is best. Plus there are plenty of storm sewers, moonlit rooftops and hidden alleyways for just that purpose. Some of them have cool unofficial side quests too.
In terms of stealth, it should come as no surprise that the design team for Dishonored has had their hands in other stealthy games, like Deus Ex and Thief. Dishonored trends more towards Thief of course, but with a much bigger world to sneak around in, and cool magic powers so you can teleport up to high ledges or possess a rat’s body and sneak through a tiny crack in the wall of a fortress. Stealth and thinking are definitely rewarded.
Unless you don’t want to play that way. If you like to go in guns, crossbow and sword blazing and with grenades flying and razor traps shredding whoever wanders by, then by all means have at it. Personally, I try to be stealthy, but I don’t always have the patience for it, or sometimes I hear a guard say something that sets my blood boiling and then it’s on like Donkey Kong. I do at least try to clean up my mess by piling the bodies into trash bins when they’re convenient. But picking up bodies takes time and well, did I mention the impatient part, so my game style probably splits the middle of stealthy and blood-thirsty.
Speaking of game play, you might be reading this and thinking Dishonored sounds too complex and you couldn’t possibly have the time to sink into a game like that. Never fear, the controls for this game are remarkably easy to learn and very user friendly. Beyond that there are settings for easy, normal and difficult, so if you don’t have hours and hours to play the same scene over and over again, set it on easy and have at it. On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore stealth player and haven’t been seen by an NPC in the last decade, set it on difficult and enjoy yourself. There’s something for everyone here.
Magic is also part of the game in case you were worried that all you go to do was shoot people. No, you can bend time, possess animals and people, teleport short distances, and those are just some of the powers available. Powers are acquired through the use of runes and there are also bone charms that can enhance certain qualities. Runes and bone charms are found throughout the game and you even get this disgusting disembodied heart to help you find them. It’s gross and useful.
The disembodied heart has a sound that tells you when a rune or a bone charm is near. It’s just one of many sounds that make up the rich audio tapestry of Dishonored. The game world is full of the sounds of water, rats, flies, electrical buzzing and other ambient noises. There are also conversations to overhear and audio files to be played. Occasionally an NPC hums as he goes about his business and the words to the song he’s humming can be found in one of the books strewn throughout the game. The audio adds to the immersive experience.
So is Dishonored perfect? No. The seams of the world show more often than I’d like, especially when viewed up close, but it’s not all the time, and it’s a big game, so some of that is forgivable. There are some highly frustrating aspects to the game too, River Krusts, are just obnoxious, but they are also an opportunity for some seriously creative thinking, because there isn’t an easy work around for dealing with them. I also don’t think the game auto-saves enough, so I have to keep remembering to do it myself, which is annoying. On the other hand, the game is so responsive to any change in play, that replaying a section isn’t really that tiresome, which is why I gave Dishonored five GiN gems for value.
The replay value of this game is enormous, which makes it well worth the money in my book. Yes, you can blow through it quickly if you want to, but what a waste that would be. Take your time. Savor this one. You won’t be sorry.