Author: Lydia Sung
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/dishonored/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
For long-time gamers, Dishonored will feel familiar in so many ways, because the game draws some clear inspirations from several of the industry’s most celebrated series. Certainly this can raise alarms, because many games have attempted to and failed at assimilating elements from successful titles to create something totally new. Fortunately, Dishonored is an example of the opposite, a graceful amalgamation of influences plucked from Deus Ex, Half-Life, BioShock, and so many others. The result is a completely new identity that Dishonored can claim as its own.
I have to confess, I’m not too much of a stealth fan. Yet every now and then, a game like Dishonored comes along and makes me forget this personal preference. Now, if you know anything about Arkane Studios’ new IP, you’re probably aware of the developer’s commitment to creating an open player experience. Here is an assassin game where killing is made entirely optional, and you, the player, take the roles of judge and jury. Executioner too, should you be so inclined.
Well, actually, you’ll be playing as Corvo, a loyal soldier and royal bodyguard who winds up framed for the murder of his Empress. Before long, our silent protagonist is given the opportunity to strike back at his enemies, but how he goes about this is wholly up to you. Does he kill to sate his thirst for revenge, or will Corvo choose truth over the assassin’s blade? There is always a choice.
Dishonored is a first-person game, and yes, pistols and grenades do exist in this industrial dystopia of neo-Victorian fashion. Even so, don’t expect this game to play like a shooter, though the combat is smooth enough regardless of what weapons you prefer. What it comes down to is how many people you’re willing to kill. The game, for its part, provides the proper tools for all play styles. Of course, being the good guy is never easy.
Sticking with stealth and subterfuge means lots of waiting. You’ll sit behind cover, watching patrol routes and assessing the various avenues of escape, planning your next move, calculating the risks in your head. Saving and reloading became a ritual for me, one I partook in every few minutes after several painful lessons early on. A momentary lapse in judgment, a mistimed Blink could completely ruin Corvo’s day and send an entire fortress of hostile guards down on him. Then reload and try again. What offsets the inevitable frustration is the indescribable satisfaction felt after every mission, when I saw my stats and could pat myself on the back for avoiding the bloodier (and easier) alternatives. If a dagger to the neck is more your style, however, you’re always free go that route.
To help Corvo along his quest of self-discovery are numerous tools, both conventional and supernatural. Dishonored is by no means a complex game, but the limited skillset yields infinite possibilities. Our man keeps a dagger as his primary weapon at all times, while his offhand can carry a pistol, crossbow, or any number of magic abilities, granted to him by means I’ll not spoil. Although six powers may not sound like much, they can be upgraded at the cost of Runes, and they’re an absolute pleasure to experiment with. Basic abilities allow Corvo to teleport short distances in any direction and see enemies through walls, while more advanced ones can turn our protagonist into a terrifying avatar of vengeance and death, granting him the power to summon whirlwinds and swarms of flesh-eating rats. Part of the fun is figuring out how every move and ability can be chained together, like possessing a guard, walking him into a corner, and then knocking him unconscious from behind while he’s still reeling.
Dishonored makes a clear effort to step out of your way when it comes down to morality, leaving all the decisions – big or small – entirely to your discretion, without any sort of morality meter or NPC guilt trips hovering over your shoulder. Corvo has every right to go on a bloody rampage through the city of Dunwall after what he goes through, but remember that all actions come with consequences. An excessively high body count, for instance, will result in more enemies and rats appearing in later missions. Helping out NPCs with their personal quests might pay off way down the road, as late as endgame.
Based on Corvo’s actions, the city and its denizens will change accordingly to fit the sort of person he becomes. Rather than measure his deeds by Light and Dark points (or some equivalent of such), the game uses Chaos, and every mission ends with a vague assessment along the lines of “low” or “high,” instead of hard numbers and the like. Corvo’s allies react differently to him too, just as the city does, and the epilogue you see will be determined by how you play the hero.
Dunwall is a wonderfully dynamic place, dark as it may be, and I never get tired of seeing how we, as players, can change the course of an entire game. That said, Dishonored does falter toward in its final moments, namely because the ending comes so abruptly, and the resolution leaves several major questions unanswered. That’s not to say I didn’t find the ending satisfying, but it does fail to address certain key characters and events, leaving me wondering, “Hey, what happened to that guy?”
With so much left up to the player, what you get out of Dishonored is really going to vary based on how you approach the game. If rushing is your preferred style, then Arkane’s masterful IP won’t last you but a handful of hours, beatable with an afternoon of binge gaming. Otherwise, get ready for a hefty 10 to 20 hours, possibly more if you’re serious about the game’s “no killing” Achievement. Either way, this isn’t a game you ought to rush through, not if you want to fully appreciate its worth.
Despite its apparent simplicity, the complete lack of any online social features or some such fodder, Dishonored delivers wonderfully on many fronts. The gameplay is immersive and polished, and even with its narrative shortcomings, the story doesn’t disappoint, no matter how your Corvo turns out. For all its source material, the obvious ways which it resembles other games, Dishonored is an undeniably unique experience that stands well above the competition.
Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.