Stealth and Action in One Game? Count Me In!
Getting revenge is a tricky business. Do you serve it bloody and cold regardless of who gets in your way, or in the sneakiest undercover way possible? In Dishonored, the choice is yours. This original action-stealth game IP from Arkane Studios is something fantastic to behold. Sure, not everything can be perfect (it’s their first game), but the end product is definitely something not to pass up. From its great gameplay to the incredible art design, Dishonored makes a name for itself in more ways than one.
The story follows Corvo Attano, bodyguard for the Empress of the fictional city of Dunwall. He was sent by the Empress to find a cure for a rat plague that has stricken the lands and is slowly ruining Dunwall. Shortly after his return, the Empress is assassinated, her daughter gets kidnapped, and Corvo is blamed for the entire mess. After escaping from jail, he joins up with a loyalist group that aims to take down those responsible for the Empress’s death, along with saving Emily, the true heir to the Dunwall throne. It’s a revenge story with both heart and good writing, and really builds up the political tension surrounding the city, barring a few “it happened off-screen” moments and supernatural elements that aren’t explained .
The cast of characters is memorable for the most part, featuring the voices of a few notable actors like Brad Dourif, Carrie Fischer, and Susan Sarandon. Though the dialogue doesn’t make full use of their talents, they play their parts very well, giving life to some of the great character designs that recalls Bioshock in its most basic form. Corvo himself is rarely seen and never heard, as he’s the silent protagonist in the game. This trope is used well, though it’s kind of disappointing that his awesome mask is rarely seen outside of the game box and whenever he goes off on another mission. This is a nit-pick, however, and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
The city of Dunwall is also memorable. Not only is the city beautiful, but it’s incredibly well designed. It combines a Victorian era architecture model with many steampunk elements thrown in, such as robots, electricity, and streetcars. Every level is designed so that Corvo can maneuver through the buildings, streets, and sewers with ease, each place leading to so many new areas that you’ll never be able to find them all in one playthrough. The only downside to this design is that the textures do appear muddy on all versions of the game, with many instances of pop-in and screen-tearing on the console versions especially. If possible, get the PC version if you want most of these issues resolved, though the muddiness won’t go away.
So how does Corvo manage to get around? The game is played in first-person. Corvo can climb surfaces easily and quickly in chain movements. Most surfaces can be climbed, and many areas can be explored easily and quickly, especially with some of the supernatural powers that Corvo can obtain throughout the game, such as a quick dash, heightened jumping capabilities, and running at faster speeds. You can cover tons of ground on buildings, through the streets, and even some of the underground areas of Dunwall in a matter of seconds due to the ease of this mechanic. Your abilities are dictated by a magic meter that depletes the more you use a power. You can use potions to refill your meter, similar to how you can replenish your health.
The stealth feature is the most unique part of the game. The game is played in the first-person perspective, recalling the original Thief series almost identically, but with noticeable changes. You view the game as you would view it in real life, which calls for more strategic approaches to getting through well-guarded rooms. You can crouch to sneak past guards, as your footsteps are quieter and you can hide behind more areas. A leaning system is also there for whenever you need to see if a guard is idle or moving, so you can plan accordingly. The entire game can be played without being detected or killing anyone, so mastering this feature is pretty damn useful, even if sometimes the game doesn’t register that you’re trying to knock a guard unconscious at times, or that you’re trying to learn and not move from cover. Even some of the guards seem blind on occasion, with kills happening from the side without their peripheral vision sensing that something’s amiss. None of these happen too often, so the game isn’t broken due to this.
If, however, you do find yourself in a combat situation, you have a handy sword, crossbow, and gun in order to dispatch your enemies. Guards and other assassins are especially tough to fight, so making use of the handy guard button is the key to winning battles, since you can do an insta-kill move if your guard staggers an enemy. Using your crossbow and gun is also very useful, but these items are more useful in stealth situations, as their damage increases if the enemy is unaware. You can even use supernatural abilities such as slowing down time to make it through a massive amount of guards, or summon a rat swarm to devour the enemies. Even in combat, the game gives you options on how to dispatch your foes.
Your supernatural abilities are unlocked with collectables called runes. You eventually gain an item that allows you to find these runes, which are scattered all throughout the game. The more you collect, the better the powers you can get. These even allow abilities to be upgraded to become more powerful. Along with these runes, items called bone charms can also be found, allowing for perks such as increased rat possession time or resistance to certain attacks to be readily used. You’re limited to six active powers and four passive enhancements at a time, which you can quickly change at any time. There are over forty bone charm perks total in the game, though you’re limited up to five at a time, which again increases strategy for getting through most areas. A monetary system also allows you to buy items as well, such as bolts, bullets, and weapons upgrades.
The game doesn’t have a traditional moral choice system as seen in many other games. Instead, your actions are tracked by a “chaos” system, which records and keeps track of how much violence you cause throughout the entire game. Friendly fire, getting into fights, and killing enemies contributes to a higher chaos level, which ultimately makes the game harder by adding more guards and more rats as you progress. This chaos level contributes to how the story moves on as well. Characters will change their reactions to you depending on the amount of chaos you cause, and the ending will also change accordingly. Both endings of the game are rather abrupt for the most part, but only one seems to be the most satisfying. Seeing as how the game punishes you for causing too much chaos, it’s easy to see which one I’m talking about.
The sound design in Dishonored is nothing short of great. You hear citizens conversing about the condition of the city, as guards chatter away about criminals and the like. Every sword clash, gun fired, and rat squeak is executed excellently, with very few noticeable hiccups (they’re still present, mind you). All of this is topped off with an ambient soundtrack that serves only as a mood setter and nothing more. It’s unmemorable in the traditional sense, as certain tracks can’t be discerned from one another on occasion, but it still manages to capture the feel of a beat-down empire. It immerses you, being both haunting and strangely inviting all at once.
I found myself enjoying Dishonored more than I thought I would. Its great narrative, tight and responsive gameplay, satisfying combat, and amazing amounts of exploration make for one hell of a thrill ride. Even with the muddy textures, abrupt story ending, and some AI and stealth inconsistencies, I would still recommend that you play Dishonored. Even its replay value is high, since you can try and see if you can complete the game quietly or go all-swords-clashing. This is one action game you shouldn’t miss.