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Dishonored Review

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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.

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.

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.

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 Comments
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Posted by theoracleofgame

@ patrickklepek

I don't mean to be THAT guy, but --

There is a typo in the third paragraph: "Dishonored address this, from top to bottom."

Posted by Giantstalker

Eh, I think I'll just wait for a Human Revolution sequel all the same.

Posted by Cybexx

Well I do like Deus Ex and the feel of this game reminds me of Thief. I should probably go buy this on Steam even though I'm fairly sure that XCOM is going to devour my free time.

Posted by Funkydupe

I do love myself some Deus Ex, as a matter of fact.

Posted by DoctorWelch

If the stupid story is really the only downside to this game than that's awesome. Can't wait to play it, if only I wasn't a poor college student :(

Posted by Itwastuesday

It sounds like a good version of E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy in some ways.

(when the text editor gave Cybermancy a red underline I right clicked it like "I'm pretty sure I spelled that right," then I went "Oh, I'm stupid")

Posted by digitaldiatribe

Well I'm sold. Probably gonna get this pretty quick even though I'll be playing XCOM.

Posted by spazmaster666

Ah damn it, another game I have to play in a week with so little time to play games. Damn it, I should have thought things through beforehand . . . <_<

Posted by michaelfossbakk

If Deus Ex hadn't existed and this game was just the same as it is, I wonder how this review would read.

Posted by Tennmuerti

Heh totally expected Patrick to make the Deus Ex comparisons (having made similar observations myself) and was not disappointed. :)

Posted by Askherserenity

Ugh, having such a difficult decision trying to decide on this or X-Com. Dishonored just seems REALLY short and I doubt it has much replay value at all :[ It's the only thing holding me back spending $60 on it. Anyone else having this problem?

Posted by FoolishChaos

I like the idea of vertical gameplay, however I don't know if I agree with blink as a solution. It seems like it should be bound to its own button, seeing as it is such an integral part of the movement. In alot of ways, it seems like putting jump on a radial menu.

Posted by PandaBear

@michaelfossbakk said:

If Deus Ex hadn't existed and this game was just the same as it is, I wonder how this review would read.

If The Beatles never existed how would The Munkees be remembered? One exists because of the other, it's an impossible question.

Posted by SwaBxTHExDeck

Found this review hard to read, didn't understand the Deus Ex comparisons (never played) or maybe I just can't comprehend Patrick's writing style. "Though presented in the first-person" just felt unnatural. However, sounds like this game has multiple solutions to missions and intriguing combat, although lacking in story and stealth. I think I'll pass.

Posted by Vinny_Says

I effin loved Deus EX. I Played the whole of human revolution without a single kill. I also loved Hitman a whole lot. I can't wait for Tuesday.

Posted by altairre

This game gets better reviews than I expected. Well, there goes my money since I'm a sucker for stealth games. I'm a bit bummed out that there is no NG+ but on the PC there will probably be a way to just give you all the skills for a second playthrough.

Posted by gel

Stop letting Patrick write reviews. Every one is a pain to read. He's a news monkey. He's good at reporting news. The more Patrick writes reviews, the less interesting GiantBomb becomes.

Posted by honkyjesus

Still renting!

The game looks like BioShock mixed with some crazy elements. Everything I see and hear about it hammers that down, and I encourage any new IP that tries and stand on its own without crappy coop or multiplayer. The game length sounds good to me, I got tired of Borderlands 2 as a rental before I finished the main story and may never go back.

I'm going to play it naked eating sunflower seeds.

Posted by Shaanyboi

@sofakingcool said:

Patrick needs a avatar!

New site design is getting rid of Avatars altogether

Posted by Tukenstein

I thought this was an excellent review! I'd definitely love to see more from Patrick.

Posted by jamesisaacs

Yeah, i can't shake the Bioshock outta this game at all, i love Bioshock but i thought this would have it's own charms and charisma, alas that doesn't seem to be the case. I will buy if it goes down to £25 for Christmas.

Posted by granderojo

@PandaBear said:

@michaelfossbakk said:

If Deus Ex hadn't existed and this game was just the same as it is, I wonder how this review would read.

If The Beatles never existed how would The Munkees be remembered? One exists because of the other, it's an impossible question.

I think he means Human Revolution, not the original, but I could be wrong. That said, this game seems to be pulling from a lot more sources than just Deus Ex so the comparison seems a unfair with The Monkees being such a one note band.

Posted by NTM

@thabigred said:

@PandaBear said:

@michaelfossbakk said:

If Deus Ex hadn't existed and this game was just the same as it is, I wonder how this review would read.

If The Beatles never existed how would The Munkees be remembered? One exists because of the other, it's an impossible question.

I think he means Human Revolution, not the original, but I could be wrong. That said, this game seems to be pulling from a lot more sources than just Deus Ex so the comparison seems a unfair with The Monkees being such a one note band.

No, if you read the review, as I'm sure you did, you can definitely tell it's the original. How can you think he's referring to Human Revolution?

Posted by NTM

This is one of those games that I thought to myself "Yeah, looks like one of those games that critics and some consumers are going to like; it's unfortunate that I'm just not that interested, although it does look interesting."

Posted by Soap

Brilliant review Patrick, as someone who has kept Dishonoured at arms length up until a few days ago (If only so I wouldn't have any more games to buy this season) I've got to say you pushed me over the edge to buy it.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

I should play this game.

Also, good review Patrick.

Moderator
Posted by xAbleAssassinx

@SwaBxTHExDeck said:

Found this review hard to read, didn't understand the Deus Ex comparisons (never played) or maybe I just can't comprehend Patrick's writing style. "Though presented in the first-person" just felt unnatural. However, sounds like this game has multiple solutions to missions and intriguing combat, although lacking in story and stealth. I think I'll pass.

Hey, don't sweat it, English tends not to feel natural for people who are unfamiliar with it. "Though presented in first person", makes perfect sense.

Posted by kalmis

Somehow managed to miss all the hype and previews of this game. Glad that game turned out fine. Need to pick this up one day.

Posted by Vitor

@gel said:

Stop letting Patrick write reviews. Every one is a pain to read. He's a news monkey. He's good at reporting news. The more Patrick writes reviews, the less interesting GiantBomb becomes.

What? His news articles are of a high quality not just because of the research he does but because of his writing style and his reviews benefit from that as well.

The only issue I have is the lack of any real negatives that would explain why this is only 4 stars instead of 5. An underwhelming story isn't quite enough to justify that (although maybe the lack of real innovation is?).

Posted by Bones8677

@SwaBxTHExDeck said:

Found this review hard to read, didn't understand the Deus Ex comparisons (never played) or maybe I just can't comprehend Patrick's writing style. "Though presented in the first-person" just felt unnatural. However, sounds like this game has multiple solutions to missions and intriguing combat, although lacking in story and stealth. I think I'll pass.

If you played a Deus Ex game, then you would understand. There's a particular way that those games play that most stealth action games don't. So when someone compares a game to Deus Ex, I know exactly what they mean. I highly recommend you play Deus Ex Human Revolution. It's a really good game.

Posted by pyruvate

Patrick doesn't have a review portrait? :(

Posted by Metal_Mills

 If you love yourself some Deus Ex, you're going to really like Dishonored


 
This sold me.
Posted by Enigma777

Shame the ending is a let-down. I'm still looking forward to playing this since I love Deus Ex but I had to choose between this and Xcom and I had to go with Xcom. If both had come out during different times, I would have gladly bought both, but I just don't have that kind of time on my hands...

Posted by ComradeCrash

Great review! Will have to pick this up after I am done with XCOM.

Posted by djaoni

You probably shouldn't compare games to games you haven't played, Klepek.

Posted by iAmJohn

So Dishonored's story doesn't quite deliver, but what about the atmosphere and Dunwall in general? Does the world feel well-realized even if the story they choose to tell in it is kind of a non-starter? I really love that Steampunk City 17 aesthetic, and this strikes me as the kind of game where I can let the uninteresting story slide if they nail the sense of place.

Posted by Crab_Slayer

Excellent review Patrick. So looking foreword to this game. With all the overtime I have been working lately I should be able to pick this up next paycheck.

Posted by Marz

damnit... can't decide between xcom and this....

Posted by Tesla

Nice review Patrick, but where the hell is your character art? Even Vinny has some and all he ever reviewed was Ratchet and Clank. Step ya game up!

Posted by Humanity

@Vitor: I've talked to people who played and beat the review advance copies of this game and I've heard the story is fine.

Posted by eoin248

yes

Posted by StriderNo9

Awesome review, I plan to get this, but I'll be waiting for the holidays.

Posted by BaconGames

Great! Deus Ex without all the stuff that left me wanting about the series? Sign me up!

Posted by jorojoserojas

I get a BioShock vibe from looking at this game. Am I the only one?

Posted by BBQBram

Alright, the game is shaping up to be just up my alley.

It's cool to see Patrick doing more reviews. Give the man an avatar!

Posted by ReaganStein

"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."

This tagline is absolutely terrible. Talk about using far too many words to express nothing.

Posted by HellBrendy

I see every review of this game pulls out Deus Ex. Never played it, but I loved Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Is it comparable to that?

Posted by Video_Game_King

Every time I see that empty space, I feel Patrick should just fill it with 's cartoons already.

Posted by Cramjomlin

Great review, Patrick. I have to choose between this and Dead or Alive 5 now...

Edited by Goldanas

This game never looked good to me, and in the QL it still didn't look very good, and I very much enjoy stealth games and games like Human Revolution. Even reading through this review I find remarks that I then say to myself, "Yeah, nah, I personally wouldn't enjoy this." or "I'm already tired of this in games".

Also, if you don't mind me saying, Patrick, you are way off-base in your remarks about other stealth games. Saying that stealth games often make you feel like it's time to reload when you fail and then citing the Metal Gear Solid series as an example is outright trash and bunk. There is no reload button in those games. They purposely make saving a bit of a chore in those titles to increase the tension of being caught, and if you are caught, you don't "reload" because your save was a bit of a ways back and because there is no quick reload in those titles. Even if you are caught, the game goes to good lengths to make your "hiding under an object" interesting by loading up a Picture-in-Picture of the bad guys clearing a room. You could also take down an isolated enemy or simply take them all down to defeat the alarm.

If you don't like any of that, that's totally fine and justified, but don't say the games are one thing when they are the complete opposite.

If you were to say the Hitman series instead of Metal Gear Solid, then you would be totally justified. It just sounds to me that you've convinced yourself that all stealth games are Hitman games because that's what you'd been playing recently.

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