October 8, 2012, Author: Ray Willmott
The shadows remain a comfortable place for many gamers. They offer an alternative path both tense and undisturbed. Yet, while this method of exploration is prevalent in most games, it has perhaps never been so integral and significant as it is in Dishonored. Yet at the same time, so completely irrelevant.
Dishonored is one of the first games to allow the player total freedom to play how they want, when they want.
This is both its greatest strength and biggest weakness.
Corvo is the bodyguard for the Empress. His duties require him to give his life for her, and ensure that she is never put in harm’s way.
However, when he gives her a letter of national importance, this prompts a random attack from other assassins, resulting in her execution and the capture of her only daughter.
Unfortunately for Corvo, he is caught with her blood on his hands by his fellow guards-men. They arrest him on the spot and torture him for six months for the crime.
During the interrogation, one of Corvo’s torturers confesses that they are aware of the attack and that they actually want him as the fall-guy for the murder just a day before he is to be beheaded. Then, when all hope seems lost, Corvo receives a mysterious letter from some potential allies also containing the key to his cell. Corvo wastes no time in fighting his way out in a bid to find those who’ve framed him, and return the Empress’ daughter to the throne that is now hers.
Dishonored can be played and enjoyed by everyone. If your gaming bread was buttered with the likes of Thief: The Dark Project, Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed, then you’ll definitely find yourself more comfortable moving from rooftop to rooftop, smashing glass bottles as a distraction, keeping out of enemy view and occasionally dropping down to stick a knife through a rebel’s throat.
If, on the other hand, you like to go head-on into battle, using swords, guns and supernatural abilities, then Dishonored totally endorses that as well.
If you’re not averse to either play-style, then you can even merge the two, creating the ultimate assassin experience.
To explain everything that Dishonored offers a player would take all night. Suffice it to say, Arkane Studios’ debut project with Bethesda is very deep and fulfilling. The story is not the only thing rich and rewarding within the whole experience.
Corvo is thrust into various bounty-hunter style missions with set requirements. Sometimes he’ll be asked to kill a target in a certain way; sometimes he’ll be asked not to kill his target at all. As he moves throughout the world he’ll also meet a wide array of sub-characters that will offer him side-objectives, offering a reward in return. Sometimes these will tie into the main quest-line, changing your approach entirely.
Corvo dual-wields throughout the whole game, alternating between a crossbow or a gun in the left hand, and a sword or dagger in the right. He can mix out different ammunition types for his bow, using sleep darts to render opponents unconscious, incendiary bolts to burn his enemies to a crisp or something else entirely.
However, Corvo also uses supernatural abilities to make the path to his target much easier. These are powered by runes which are found scattered around in the world. Corvo’s abilities include blinking from one area to the next; impaling unsuspecting enemies and turning them into ash, meaning he won’t have to hide the body; and even sending a swarm of rats toward his enemies to devour their flesh.
Corvo can also upgrade his equipment, improving the accuracy of his aim and the power of his blade. He can even reduce the amount of damage he takes after a fall.
Dishonored is a very complex game, one that you’re not going to learn everything about in one sitting. With various styles of play and lots of ways to approach each objective, the game is far from linear. Sometimes the attention to detail will blow your mind and sometimes it will cause frustration when the game manages to confuse its own AI, making it too easy for you to just escape and pretending that’s what you were doing all along, even when you were facing an enemy head-on and tripping every alarm. Convenient, but not particularly immersive.
Regardless, Dishonored is so utterly refreshing in an increasingly stagnant genre and its faults really are few.
Freaks come out at night
Dishonored’s steampunk world offers Arkane Studios a level of creativity surely envied by other development studios. It introduces a cast of characters both outrageous and down-right weird. Through them, the story truly comes to life in an exciting, compelling way despite the actual plot being one of basic revenge.
Dunwall is based on an 1800’s Victorian London; one threatened by a swarming plague and decorated with mask and costume. Arkhane have recreated this masterfully, and introduced fascinating gadgets and gizmos that feel appropriate for the time period, but equally relevant and welcome in a 21st century game.
Arkane and Bethesda have not only got a vivid soundtrack orchestrating the action; they’ve also enlisted an AAA, all-star cast for the game, including the video-game debut of Susan Sarandon as Granny Rags. Players will also meet Emily, as acted by Chloe Moretz; Daud, voiced by Michael Madson; and hear Carrie Fisher screech over the public address system throughout the course of the game.
With such excellent script already in the game, these established, well-versed actors add credibility to Dishonored, making the story all the stronger.
Honor the fallen
As the current generation comes to a close, we expect to see established, well-loved franchises achieve their full potential and deliver the best possible experiences they can. This makes it much more of a gamble to launch a new, niche IP because the competition is so fierce.
The most incredible thing about Dishonored is that it remains unfazed and undaunted by this rule of thumb. It doesn’t pretend to be like anything else on the market. It doesn’t try to cater to what’s popular. It isn’t even attempting to set new trends.
Despite some AI uncertainty, there’s an intricate, unique experience waiting to be had in this package. While players will need to invest a bit of time into the game to understand and appreciate what it has to offer, they’ll get a non-linear world and a spellbinding narrative to accompany some of the best gameplay the genre has ever seen.
Dishonored will spin every game of the year award ceremony on its head. For those who crowed that Mass Effect 3 and Resident Evil 6 will clean up at the beginning of the year, will find themselves reconsidering everything after taking this journey.
Don’t leave Corvo sitting in the shadows. Take a chance. You won’t be sorry you did.
Want to see Dishonored’s variety in action? Why not try out our interactive video and see what it’s all about.
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 | Tagged Arkane Studios, Assassins Creed, Bethesda, Dishonored, flame, shadow, Splinter Cell, Stealth, Steampunk, thief, Victorian