Giant Bomb Review


Dishonored Review

  • PS3
  • X360

If you love yourself some Deus Ex, you're going to really like Dishonored, and if you've found the genre impenetrable in the past, I've got some good news for you.

Unlike other games of its type, Dishonored gives you countless options in the middle of combat.
Unlike other games of its type, Dishonored gives you countless options in the middle of combat.

Countless creators have chased the phantoms of Deus Ex since its release in 2000, and most fail. That includes Deus Ex and Dishonored co-designer Harvey Smith, who himself stumbled with Deus Ex: Invisible War. Smith still doggedly pursues this very specific type of experience, long after Warren Spector paired up with a mouse. Dishonored is not the groundbreaking achievement Deus Ex was, but that would be asking too much. It is, however, a meaningful and successful reinvention of the core ideas behind Deus Ex with a singular focus on making this dense style of game more accessible.

You need a reason for the killing, and Dishonored wastes little time giving a reason to be vengeful. Corvo Attano’s primary task in life is protecting the Empress of Dunwall, a trade city (imagine a steampunk City 17) wrecked by an awful plague transferred by an ever-growing population of rats. Corvo was sent abroad to seek help from the nearby lands, only to return with word that Dunwall will soon be locked away to rot. It is dire times for Dunwall, and the city is ripe for revolution. Magical assassins appear, kill the Empress, and kidnap her daughter and successor to the throne, Emily. You’re framed for the murder, and are sent to prison. Corvo is eventually freed by a group called The Loyalists, Dunwall insiders who know the truth. If he helps take down the tyrannical leader now ruling Dunwall, they will clear his name. And so establishes the general structure of Dishonored. The Loyalists are holed up at a tiny pub in Dunwall, which acts as a moment to catch your breath between missions, learn about the next target, purchase upgrades, and interact with the various characters.

Though presented in the first-person, this style of game has never really been about shooting. It’s always been about expansive player agency by way of interacting with a complex series of layered AI systems, and manipulating that with your toolset. This approach makes for an experience where every player comes away with a different story, and crystalized the idea of emergent gameplay before that became a buzz word. The lack of mechanical proficiency has been a problem, though, a stumbling block for anyone who wasn’t around for the Deus Ex zeitgeist, and can’t understand tolerating a game where one of the player’s primary abilities just isn’t very fun. Dishonored addresses this, from top to bottom. Everything about the combat feels good, from basic shooting to swordfights. An easy-to-use counterattack system makes it effortless to take on five or six enemies at once, and feel in complete control. Besides making Dishonored a more competent, accessible game, it simultaneously solves another design issue found in both this and more stealth-focused games like Metal Gear Solid. Getting caught no longer means you’re immediately reaching for the quick load button, and can instead choose to tackle the enemies with your array of combat options, or quickly skitter away with a little dose of magic.

There is no hub world, but you will sometimes revisit old locations.
There is no hub world, but you will sometimes revisit old locations.

Corvo is one of the few chosen by a mysterious force known as The Outsider, a supernatural being who exists both in and outside of reality, and has the ability to imbue people with a special mark. This mark gives them access to a range of special powers, and these help Dishonored break from its Deus Ex lineage, and establish its own identity. It’s not just Deus Ex set in a different city. Though it shares DNA, the few but vital powers Arkane Studios has created are revelatory. Blink, the first power, is also the most important one. Blink allows the player to instantly transport to wherever the reticule is pointed at, and if pointed at the top of a structure, it’ll even automatically climb it for you. Suddenly, the reason the buildings are so damn tall in Dishonored make sense. Blink means gameplay is no longer just horizontal but vertical, which exponentially multiplies your options in any given scenario. And blink is just the start. Other powers allow you to take control of people and animals, another one stops time and can eventually be used to have someone kill themselves with their own bullet. How? Pause time when the shot is fired, possess them, and place them in front of where you just were. Combined with a proper combat system, Dishonored encourages rampant experimentation.

Here’s just one example. Three guards line a river, each of them patrolling in different directions. Flip on dark vision to study their route, which creates vision cones for the enemies. You could take each of them out from a distance with your crossbow. You could possess the first one, have him commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, and sneak around the other two. You could stop time and just run right through them, and they won’t have enough time to react. You could summon a swarm of rats, which distracts them to another side of the map. You could rewire the nearby security system to attack everyone but you. You could possess a nearby fish, and swim underneath the river. The possibilities aren’t endless, but there are enough to make you feel right dizzy, and each is personally rewarding in different ways. You’ll want to invest in the base version of each power, unlocked by collecting runes in each level, just for variety’s sake. You can’t get everything your first time through the game, and you won’t want to. Eventually, you’ll settle into a rhythm, and find what works for you. I never invested runes into an ability that turned enemies to ash when killed because I was always avoiding killing anyone.

It’s important players are able to tell their own gameplay story in Dishonored, since the story the game is trying to tell isn’t great. Every beat is predictable, twists and all, and the few noteworthy mysteries, like the Outsider, are never satisfyingly explained. In retrospect, Deus Ex’s story was pretty silly, too, but it worked at the time. Standards have changed. Much of what you will learn about the broader world comes from books scattered about, but not every book is unique. The passages begin repeating pretty quickly, which meant I usually stopped trying to find them at all. There are similar storytelling missteps throughout Dishonored. Graffiti repeats ad nauseum, as does idle dialogue. The line “think you’ll get your own squad after what happened last night?” comes up again and again, and does a terrific job of breaking any sense of immersion. For a world otherwise superbly realized, these moments prompted me to tune out. Some characters show promise, but besides Pendleton, whose brothers are part of one of the better missions, none are woven into story enough to be memorable. And I can’t tell if it’s a good thing I didn’t realize Susan Sarandon voiced one of the characters or not. While the voice acting isn’t bad, the celebrities didn't seem necessary. I suppose the story disappointment wouldn’t sting so much if it didn’t come hand-in-hand with the climax playing out poorly as gameplay, too. For a game full of memorable missions, the final outing, where skills honed over the previous 10-to-15 hours should be pushed to the max, is mostly boring. Dishonored also commits the frustrating storytelling sin of ending out of nowhere and without enough resolution.

Some of the most memorable moments don't involve combat.
Some of the most memorable moments don't involve combat.

Fortunately, what comes before is so, so good. Each mission has a pretty similar setup, with players being dropped off outside of a new location by boat, and asked to eliminate one or more targets. How you choose to do that is completely up to you. Stabbing them in the back is an old standby, but there far more creative ways to take care of your enemies in Dishonored. Why not possess them and toss them off a balcony? Maybe think about turning on a nearby steamer and burning them alive? If you’re patient, too, there is always an option that won’t require killing them. It usually requires coming across a document in the world or overhearing a specific line of dialogue, but it comes with a worthwhile payoff. The Pendleton brothers, for example, can be kidnapped, stripped of their tongues, and sent to work in their own underground mines, unable to tell anyone how they’ve been wronged. Deliciously evil, right? I won’t spoil the others; discovery is half the fun. And do yourself a favor and don’t watch any of the mission walkthrough videos that are floating around the Internet. Some of them spoil terrific moments best experienced yourself. But, yes, the mission set in a masked party is as good as it looks and sounds, and the sheer variety of ways to complete it will prompt you to load it over and over again. Interesting mission setups, constantly changing locations, and always diverse moment-to-moment interactions with the game’s enemies is Dishonored’s killer combination.

It’s a good thing, too, since Dishonored is an excellent game, and one worthy of your attention. Dishonored’s greatest contribution to the genre games like Deus Ex helped establish will be best appreciated by those who’ve been with it from the start, but Arkane has made a game rooted in manipulating artificial intelligence that plays just as well to the guy or gal who wants to shoot stuff. That’s impressive.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
136 CommentsRefresh
Avatar image for mastertarvin
Posted By Mastertarvin


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Edited By cityfires

Oh jeeze, this looks great. I was on the fence until now.

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Posted By havelava

Excited for this

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Posted By BlackSymbiote

Sweet. Gonna get it

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Posted By Milkman

I do love myself some Deus Ex! I'm all over this.

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Posted By SlightConfuse

cant wait this sounds like its right up my alley

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Posted By sofakingcool

Patrick needs a avatar!

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Posted By kollay

Can't. Wait. For. This.

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Posted By Aronleon

This game sounds exactly like something I will greatly enjoy, now time to see the quick look.

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Posted By wumbo3000

Whoa. This game has been kinda off my radar but after reading this review, this game suddenly sounds awesome. Great review Patrick!

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Posted By mrfluke

aw, the story isnt great? as a story first guy, this is disappointing to hear,

but ill still check it out to the very least

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Posted By Lothars

@mrfluke: I was really tempted before but I am going to take advantage of the trade in deal and pick it up.

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Posted By dungbootle

I have to admit, I thought the hype for this was a bit much, but I'm glad it turned out well.

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Posted By Phatmac

Sweet! I'll be playing it for sure.

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Posted By pyromagnestir
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Posted By Fluttercry

Awesome. I'm probably going to wait until Christmas to pick it up though. I already have my money set aside for XCOM. Lord knows I loves me some Deus Ex though.

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Posted By ArbitraryWater

Alright, guess it's a worthy purchase during the holiday steam sale.

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Posted By glitznglam_style

And...... bought! Woohoo, so glad this turned out well.

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Posted By habster3

Great review, Klepek.

Although this is a very minor point in the review, how did the Metal Gear Solid games not give you enough tools to take down/evade enemies after detection? Just wondering.

Avatar image for patrickklepek
Posted By patrickklepek

@habster3 said:

Great review, Klepek.

Although this is a very minor point in the review, how did the Metal Gear Solid games not give you enough tools to take down/evade enemies after detection? Just wondering.

Your tool was waiting a few minutes underneath an object, and I always found that infuriating.

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Posted By tsiro

Oh man, I really hope this does well. I'm still not even sure if I'm going to end up playing it (spoiler: I probably will), but this seems to be an underrepresented genre that people love. Glad to see that it's being well received!

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Posted By JusticeJanitor

Looks like a holiday steam sell purchase for me.

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Edited By myketuna

@pyromagnestir said:

4 stars.

Why they don't just up and use this is beyond me. Must be legal issues. But in my mind... Patrick is hootin' and hollerin' right next to those 4 stars.

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Posted By Barrabas

@myketuna: All of those will probably be obsolete when the new website launches. They've talked about getting rid of them before. There's probably no point in updating them here when they're just going to go away.

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Posted By TheHT

Deus Ex you say? Fucking hell. I was just about to preorder XCOM.

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Posted By Toxin066

Pity, I'm still playing through BL2. After that though, I'll definitely give this a look-see.

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Posted By mrfluke

i feel like in terms of stories in games, thats gonna be a bit more subjective (as in Patrick may not like the story, but a other reviewer might like it a lot, cause it seems there are other reviews that apparently praise the story, and were apparently emotionally invested), glad to hear the game behind it is cool though.

also i highly think this will be going on sale on black Friday,

no disrespect to the game,but like last year, arkham city came out around this time, and i was able to score it for 28 bucks on black Friday during a amazon lightning deal, so i think this and xcom might be one of those lightning deals on black friday

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Posted By ArchTeckGuru8

All this mentioning of Deus Ex and no mentioning of Thief, does this mean that you cannot play it like a Thief game?

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Posted By patrickklepek

@ArchTeckGuru8 said:

All this mentioning of Deus Ex and no mentioning of Thief, does this mean that you cannot play it like a Thief game?

No, you totally can, I just have more of a history with Deus Ex and its ilk. Played Thief 2, but not to completion.

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Posted By scaramoosh


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Posted By PokeIkzai

Good review and makes me excited for the game. Deus Ex did have a silly story at times but its world was very well thought out, over all. I mean some of the predictions that game has made and the way some of it has come to pass is really interesting.

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Posted By TheSouthernDandy

Really really glad this game turned out great. Great review Patrick.

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Posted By Gunharp

@patrickklepek said:

@ArchTeckGuru8 said:

All this mentioning of Deus Ex and no mentioning of Thief, does this mean that you cannot play it like a Thief game?

No, you totally can, I just have more of a history with Deus Ex and its ilk. Played Thief 2, but not to completion.

When you threw out the MGS reference, of being able to switch to combat. I immediately thought about Thief.

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Posted By TheMathlete

Going to pick this up on Tuesday. Thanks for the review, Patrick.

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Posted By Winsord

Not a game for me, but glad this seems to have turned out alright.

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Edited By jakkblades

Getting it from Gamefly and stoked to play it. Sad to hear the story flops. From afar it looked like it could have Bioshock-esque aspirations.

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Posted By DougCL

oh thank god. i have this all pre-ordered and the lack of buzz around it had me worried that maybe it was a stinker. i totally cant wait for tuesday now.

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Posted By JakeLogan

@sofakingcool said:

Patrick needs a avatar!

I second that motion

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Posted By mrfluke

@JakeLogan said:

@sofakingcool said:

Patrick needs a avatar!

I second that motion

i third this motion, hell just strip out the one from the bombcast poster and use that as a placeholder

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Posted By TheCrimsonKing

I'll definitely pick this up now that it is known that this isn't a glitchy, bug-ridden mess like some of Arkane's previous work has been. I just hope that the level design doesn't rely too much on vent systems like Deus Ex or Mark of the Ninja. It's an easy copout to link areas while staying undetected where the level designers couldn't come up with something clever. They were kinda silly in their volume but ended up being tolerable overall in Deus Ex because there were always other options to use. With Mark of the Ninja, the vent was a crutch that was used constantly as the solution to all problems in that game. The level design was incredibly underwhelming in MotN, in large part because the omnipresent vents were always the best solution to a problem rather than an option to be used in lieu of better solutions. I was hopeful that MotN would fill my need for a quality stealth game after all the praise it got here, but the routinely poor level design really dragged down what could have been a quality title otherwise. (Maybe the level design is better in the second half of the game; I got bored of it around Chapter 5 and decided instead to play through MGS4 again. Worth it!) I'm hoping that Dishonored will fill my need of a quality stealth game this year, but it is good to know that it works as an action game too. I just want this game to sell well to prove to publishers that immersive sims with systems-based gameplay can sell well if they aren't called Deus Ex. This kind of game is a prime example of what games can do that film cannot, and a game where you have choices, freedom of exploration, and consequences is much more intriguing (and uniquely possible only through gaming) than the linear Hollywood-esque thrill ride that dominates the shooters of the day.

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Posted By Zepeleptic

Enjoyed watching the quick look, it looks (as Ryan said) like it has a tone of very dense environments. Can't wait to try it out!

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Posted By Space_Sandwich

I'm so incredibly psyched that these guys pulled it off and made a great game. Can't wait to get my hands on it, though I'm bummed to hear the conclusion's boring. I was hoping for a Mark of the Ninja-like finale when I was reading about this game's blink ability -- super agile first person stealth that doesn't feel like the weird cousin of Breakdown might be my dream game -- but I'm glad to hear it keeps up on the crazy level of assassin improv they promised back in E3.

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Posted By ArtisanBreads

Glad this game seems to have delivered. I'm very glad to hear the levels are open and offer tons of options most of all. That's what soured me on Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Perhaps this will be more of the Deus Ex successor I'm looking for.

Can't wait! Between 2k now, and then picking up XCOM and this... I'll be very busy.

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Posted By probablytuna

I'm glad it's getting some good reception. I was afraid all the hype and excitement masks a mediocre game. Can't wait to get my hands on it.

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Posted By myketuna

@Barrabas said:

@myketuna: All of those will probably be obsolete when the new website launches. They've talked about getting rid of them before. There's probably no point in updating them here when they're just going to go away.

Oh, I know. I'm sure they have some type of automated function that links the proper picture according to the star rating, so they'd have to go back and add all the Patrick and Alex pictures for them to show up or something. I'm just saying. It would be nice.

I can't wait for the new site btw. Then we don't have to worry about such things.

Avatar image for archteckguru8
Edited By ArchTeckGuru8

@patrickklepek said:

@ArchTeckGuru8 said:

All this mentioning of Deus Ex and no mentioning of Thief, does this mean that you cannot play it like a Thief game?

No, you totally can, I just have more of a history with Deus Ex and its ilk. Played Thief 2, but not to completion.

Sweet, i am glad to hear that.

On that subject, and ancient at this point, but someone made a mod to thief 2 much akin to the current Black Mesa HL2 mod. I think it was called Shadows of the Metal Age. Complete with a new female protagonist and a whole new plot. I think i'll dig that up and play it while i wait for Dishonored.

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Posted By Gantrathor

I want to know what the PC version is like. The system requirements are kind of weird.

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Posted By Mumrik

Another review with 7568×4224 screenshots. How is it this happens? Weird issues with capture? Giantbomb using bullshots from PR?

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Posted By JSwan13

Man, I gotta find $60 before Tuesday

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Posted By CrossTheAtlantic

So pumped to see this getting good reviews. Can't wait to get a new tv and then I'll seek this out.