Whether you are stabbing or sneaking, Dishonored is a joy to play
Very few games have ever made me immediately hit new game right after finishing them, or have even given me the desire to replay them at all. Dishonored however is one of those rare games where as soon as the credits finished rolling I wanted to jump back in and see more. Whether you choose to murder everyone in your path or sneak from roof top to roof top, Dishonored provides plenty of player creativity and satisfying moments to keep you entertained from start to finish.
You play as Corvo Attano, royal protector to the Empress Jessamine and her daughter Emily. The city of Dunwall is falling apart as the rat infestation has caused a plague, killing thousands of the citizens. With Dunwall in desperate need of help, the Empress sends Corvo to foreign lands, asking for help to deal with the plague. Upon his return to the castle, Corvo brings news that Dunwall is to be blockaded and left to rot. Then magical assassin's appear, murdering the Empress and kidnapping Emily, leaving Corvo to be blamed. Sent to prison to be executed, Corvo is freed by a group called The Loyalists who want Corvo to help them stop the corrupt politicians who took over the city and to put Emily, the rightful heir, on the throne. As Corvo, you embark on various missions to take out the corrupt officials, returning to The Loyalists secret hideout in between assignments to learn about your next target, buy upgrades, and interact with other characters.
Though it is played in first-person, Dishonored has many more options than just shooting and sword fighting. Corvo is approached in his dreams by The Outsider, a mystical being who is worshiped and studied by people within the city of Dunwall. The Outsider has the power to grant people who he is interested in with special powers, and selects Corvo to receive his mark. These powers are the core of what makes Dishonored so interesting, fun, and different from other games. The first power you receive called blink, allows you to teleport around the environment. Not only can you blink from cover to cover, but you can go on top of light posts, roof tops, into windows, and so on. Basically, if you can see it you can probably get to it, which just increases the options the player has. Combine this with the ability to possess another human, freeze time, knock a projectile back at the shooter in mid air, and summon a swarm of rats and the possibilities of how you approach any given situation are endless.
If freezing time, and possessing fish aren't your thing, then you can make use of the various weapons Corvo has. You can use the sword to counter enemy attacks, which stuns them giving you a one shot kill. You also have a gun and a crossbow, which can be equipped with regular bolts, sleeping darts, or explosive darts. There are also grenades and traps, which when stepped on cuts the enemy to pieces. All these tools give the player even more options about how they want to enter or avoid combat.
For example, let's say you are sneaking on a roof top but want to get down to the street below, but there are 3 guards in the area. You can jump down off the roof, perform an air assassination on one guard, blink behind the second guard and slit his throat, then pull out your pistol and shoot the third before he can even draw his sword. If you are being chased by five guards at once you can freeze time, and shoot each one of them with your crossbow, unfreeze time and get 5 kills instantly. Or you could summon a swarm of rats and while they are eating your enemies, possess one of them and scurry away through a vent in the wall. Or you could avoid all these situations and stay hidden in the shadows, blinking around the environment undetected. This is what makes Dishonored so great. The choice is always yours and every choice is a viable way to complete the task at hand.
All the powers are easy to use and work really well, and the melee combat is very responsive and demanding. You can not just hack and slash your way through enemies, you need to counter attacks, block and use your tools appropriately or else you will die fairly easily. The stealth mechanics also work really well thanks to the blink and dark vision powers. While it can be hard to fully see your environment and the enemy patrols while in first person, blink makes you extremely mobile, while dark vision allows you to see enemies through walls and their vision cone. The game also lets you lean in and out of cover to check out your surroundings.
Corvo can also enhance his powers and upgrade his weapons. This is another way Dishonored sets itself apart from most games. Rather than giving you xp from taking out a target, or completing a side quest, Dishonored encourages the player to explore to gain upgrades. Runes, which are stone items of The Outsider's symbol, are hidden across the map and allow you to upgrade your powers. Bone charms are also scattered about and add passive bonuses such as more health, faster movement when your weapons are out, air assassinations that recover your mana and more. You can upgrade to equipping up to six of these at once. The Outsider gives you an item that shows you where each rune and bone charm is on the map, but not how to get it, so they aren't impossible to find. You can buy upgrades for weapons and gear at the hideout with money, which is found by picking up coins, pick pocketing guards, or finding various items within the environment. Finding all of these things requires exploration and each discovery of an new rune or bone charm is always satisfying.
Overall, the story told in Dishonored is mostly about what you choose to do as the player. Each main target does not have to be assassinated at all, but can be dealt with in nonlethal ways. The different choices you make will change certain aspects of the city. The more people you kill the more rats will show up. Depending on whether or not you kill a certain target the announcement on the intercom will change, describing the events that have transpired over the last few days. The game keeps track of the "choas" level in the city. Meaning if you murder lots of people and leave dead bodies lying around choas will be high, and if you stick to the shadows and don't murder to many people than choas will be low. Your final choas rating effects which ending you will get, and although they are both pretty different, neither of them are that thrilling in the way they are told. The very ending of the game sets itself up for some really awesome moments and in some ways it is quite enjoyable, but overall it feels rushed and leaves you wanting a bit more, or at least to have it be told in a different way.
The city and characters in the world itself though are extremely well realized. There are tons of books describing various cultural aspects of the world, from poems, to how the city uses whale oil as its source of power. Then their are notes scattered about, which can give clues on how to complete your objective, or just give insight into the characters that are walking around the world. While reading most of these things isn't necessary, it is nice that Arkane put in plenty of back story into the world so players who are interested for this kind of information can find it. While the graphics aren't anything special, the world itself is designed uniquely and is just plain awesome to look at. You can really get a good feel for the world and what is going on by just staring down one of the city streets. Crumbling buildings, sewers, algae green water, flies covering corpses, flooded streets, and huge buildings over looking the ocean all just are well put together and make you want to continue exploring every nook and cranny.
Not everything in Dishonored works perfectly though. The story feels rushed toward the end and definitely could have used some more detail and even more emotional pieces along the way. Certain things are not explained as well as they probably should have been such as the magical assassins and The Outsider. Also, The Outsider seems like he should be a more important character than he is, and is mostly just annoying to listen to. Whenever he appears it seems his sole purpose is to just recap what you have done and tell you a bunch of things you already know. During gameplay I only ran into a few problems. Sometimes I would blink behind an enemy but it wouldn't let me choke them out, causing me to get caught. Sometimes after blink I would get stuck in the environment and couldn't walk forward, though blinking again would fix the issue. Also, length could be an issue for some players. My initial play through was pretty stealth based, I did the side quests and explored a fair amount and the game took about 13 hours to finish. On my second play through I began killing everyone in my path and the game moved a lot quicker. Since you can go back and play any mission from the main menu and since there are so many different ways to complete each mission there is plenty of replay value. But, if you are someone who wants to play it like an action game and isn't looking for a game where part of the appeal is replaying the missions, than the game is definitely on the shorter side. I personally wish there was at least a few more missions, but only because the game is so much fun I wanted to see what other scenarios you could get into.
I had been looking forward to Dishonored for quite a while and I am happy to say it is a great experience. The developers have found a perfect way to make player choice and exploration the most important game mechanic, and have also provided a great system of powers and melee combat. The game gives you all the tools you need to play out your adventure in your own way, which constantly provided moments of me thinking "wow that was awesome!" not because the game had set me up to do something cool, but because I had engineered the moment myself. With tons of options about where to go and how you get there, you won't want to stop playing until you have seen it all.