Dishonored Review: What Happened to the U
Dishonored is a new IP from developer Arkane Studios and Bethesda. Despite the lack of prestige that Arkane Studios possess, Dishonored had me very excited prior to its release. In a constant stream of conservative sequels towards the end of the current game cycle it really catches my eye to see a nice looking and risky new IP being released. To make things even better Dishonored looked like it had elements of Bioshock, Assassins Creed, Half Life and Hitman among others. I think most importantly, Dishonored is something different to the relatively stagnant release lineup of 2012.
The story of Dishonored introduces players to the industrialised Victorian-esque city of Dunwall, a place of crisis. A terrible rat plague has come to the city, killing a huge amount of the population and bringing society to its knees. The reigning Empress has sent the player character, her loyal bodyguard Corvo Attano, on a diplomatic mission to seek aid, but Corvo returns at the opening of the game with bad news. Just as Corvo returns the Empress is murdered before his eyes by a band of assassins and the Empress' young daughter and heir, Emily, is kidnapped. Corvo is framed for the act and imprisoned awaiting execution. From this point Corvo is aided by a band of loyalists to escape his incarceration and so begins a quest to bring down the tyrant now in control of Dunwall and find the truth of what happened to the Empress and save Emily.
Dishonored has a truly excellent setting, with a masterfully crafted presentation for the city of Dunwall. The streets are lit by whale oil lamps, and you can see the great sea animals being dragged up the river on industrial ships. The mix of the white washed trade port with steam punk technology and style is a powerful world. The city is heavily class based, with aristocratic families dominating high political and economic activity in Dunwall. The city streets are controlled by gangs and corrupt officials, all while an authoritarian religious body cracks down, the plague continues ravaging the city and a mysterious being called the Outsider stalks the streets. You get a great sense of the fear and unease in Dunwall as you travel through it and this makes Dishonored an extremely immersive game to throw yourself into.
Unfortunately there are no particularly great characters in Dishonored, despite its impressive voice cast. The narrative is not particularly strong, with predictable twists and developments, and the ending is abrupt and lacks impact. There are some despicable villains that deserve everything they get from the player, and the story does change depending on the players actions throughout the game, culminating in 2 distinct endings. I feel that the narrative lets the rich potential of the setting down a bit, but it is satisfactory for providing reasons and motivations to get Corvo out and eliminating his targets. Like Bioshock, Dishonored gives a lot of the context of its world to the player through records and books that are lying around. Corvo himself is a silent protagonist, which I felt to be a missed opportunity considering the character is already well defined at the opening of the game. Despite my disappointments with the story, I do love the world that Arkane created with Dishonored, and for that they deserve some praise.
As I already said, the art style and theme of Dishonored is incredible. The dark and grimy feel of Dunwall's choked industrial areas is contrasted with the opulent homes of the aristocratic families who rule over the city. The river dominates the place, with shipping coming and going. The entire game has a white wash look to all its buildings, which enhances the feel of the art style while also serving to lessen the poor textures of the game. The character models have exaggerated hands and facial features in a way that really fits with the Victorian steam punk nature of the game, almost like Timesplitters 2 had.
The lighting of Dishonored is great, and the game is not without a decent variety of colour that prevents it from being another "realistic" looking first person game. The design of the buildings and levels in general is excellent, with imposing fortifications for Corvo to scale and infiltrate, combining the stone and steel mix of the setting and giving it a substantial gameplay role. Enemies are predominantly human guards, but the clothing and weapon design of the enemies is fantastic and in keeping with the world. The Tallboys stand out as particularly impressive, being similar to the Striders of Half Life 2 fame.
The voice acting of Dishonored is generally solid, with characters who are largely well accented and deliver their dialogue in a direct and fitting manner. There are certainly moments of stilted dialogue, and some of the minor characters are voiced horribly, but overall its solid work in the voice department. I would have liked Corvo to be voiced but Arkane decided to have a silent main player character for whatever reason. The music track of Dishonored is a little disappointing, with very little variety and nothing that stands out to me after finishing the game. After playing the likes of Darksiders 2 and Asura's Wrath, both of which had outstanding sound tracks, I have to say that the lack of memorable music is a serious let down for a game with such a wealth of lore and imagination invested in its world.
Despite all the games that I mentioned Dishonored seeming to have elements of, it definitely plays most like Deus Ex. While Dishonored is a first person game, it definitely provides players with a plethora of options on how to approach any given situation or problem. Broadly speaking, Dishonored can be played from a stealth or action mindset, and both are equally valid and rewarding. The game uses a system called chaos, which results in the player having a high or low chaos rating. This means that each level is different depending on your chaos level, different numbers and placement of enemies, darker or more cheerful environments and so on. If the player is being stealthy and not killing people then the chaos rating will be low, and vice versa. Dishonored actually strikes the balance between the two playstyles right in a way that Deus Ex Human Revolution did not, and that is a great achievement for Arkane Studios to have attained on their first attempt with a game like this.
The combat of Dishonored is a lot of fun and feels great to participate in. Sword fights are intuitive and control nicely, and the player has a gun that can do a huge amount of damage. Crossbows are also available for ranged combat and an excellent counter attack system is present, allowing players to dictate the pace of combat. Players also have access to upgradable magic abilities that can be used for escape and environmental traversal or to kill your enemies. You can use blink to teleport away from trouble or unleash a ravenous swarm of rats upon your enemies, the choice is in the players hands, and this is what Dishonored is all about in its gameplay, player choice.
It is possible to complete Dishonored without killing a single foe, and in stealth mode you can choke out enemies, hide their unconscious bodies and try to get through levels without alerting anyone to your presence. Its player agency and interaction at its finest, and it is truly sweet to play a game like this in a world where the scripted nature of Call of Duty is seeping into multiple other games and franchises. Dishonored even lets you eliminate the games main story targets in non lethal ways, and allows exploration thanks to radiant AI behaviour and optional objactives, as well as a lot of collectibles that can be used to increase Corvo's powers and reward the players diligence and attention to detail. Dishonored is a damn fun game to play, and its amazing to see the different ways to approach a mission objective and how they change the outcome of things, right down to the selection of what gadgets to use.
The level of player freedom and choice that Arkane have fused into the fabric of Dishonored is shocking, and truly impressive. The balance between the different playstyles is near perfect, and adds huge replayability to Dishonored. The game is broken up into 9 chapters and a prologue, taking roughly 8 hours to complete on normal difficulty, but the player freedom means that there is a lot of replayability in this package, not to mention the collectibles and multiple difficulties. Dishonored manages to integrate a strong selection of powers into its gameplay and weave the use of these with its conventional equipment nicely. The enemy AI behaviour is another major technical strength of the title, with foes that react appropriately to your actions against them, and overall are just a joy to fight against, whether stealthily or directly.
The technical blemishes in Dishonored would mainly be the consistently poor textures and the sparse menu design. The water board style of the game does go some way towards alleviating the obviously muddled texture quality, but it cannot hide the sheer lack of detail that many of them are plagued by. The hair of characters like Emily look like a rag just sitting on their heads, and this is disappointing for a game that clearly had so much love poured into its development and conception. The menu system also feels extremely empty throughout, lacking anything beyond the most minimalistic options and lacking any real individualistic stylistic touches to make them stand out like Deus Ex HR or Bioshock did. Occasional frame rate drops during moments of high action are also present, but not serious enough to cause any real problems. The real design strength of Dishonored is the outstanding level design which allows multiple approaches to completing objectives in an organic and accessible fashion.
Dishonored is a great game thanks to the depth and variety of its gameplay. It is rare that a game comes along and truly lets you "play" it the way you want to, but Dishonored is certainly one of this rare breed. The strength of artistic vision that went into this game is also apparent, and I feel that it really pays of as you get lost in this fantastic world for the duration of Corvo's quest. The incredible quest design and level layouts, with their multiple ways to achieve objectives and approaches to goals are truly extraordinary, and the enemy AI is nothing to sniff at either. Having said all that, Dishonored does lack the level of polish that I would expect from a top tier game in 2012. The graphics are not quite there in terms of fidelity and the dissonance between the game mechanics and narrative is damaging to the overall synergy of the title. While the story is a let down in the end, Dishonored will be remembered for its elaborate gameplay and network of real player choice. This is a weaving game that you will want to play at least twice, and while it is not the groundbreaking title that some are claiming, Dishonored is certainly one of the best games of 2012 and is a game that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys legitimate choice in games, and I really hope that Arkane and Bethesda continue this series into the future.
- Brilliant art style and aesthetic design
- Lavish level design with multiple pathways and secrets to uncover
- Great powers and items
- True player freedom and choice
- Great balance of stealth and action
- No really strong characters and an abrupt ending lacking impact
- Ugly textures and some frame rate slowdown
- Weak soundtrack
- Frequent load times and lacking polish
- Rat swarms are unreal
- 8/10 - Great