Giant Bomb Review


Dishonored Review

  • X360
  • PS3

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+
135 Comments Refresh
Posted by andrewf87462

Excellent review Patrick, I look forward to playing this game.

Edited by durden77

I appreciate the effort Patrick put into this, but I'm just not sure he should be writing reviews. This is a pretty possessive and comparison-driven review, that doesn't sum up what the game actually is to any given person very well. Well, in my opinion anyway.

It's pretty good writing, just not as an official review. I'm glad that he's enjoying the game though, it looks interesting. I'll be grabbing XCOM this week, I'll grab this a little later.

Posted by mrsmiley

Wasn't even considering buying this game until watching your QL and reading your review. Dammit, Patrick, I have enough games to play! ;)

Posted by sarahsdad

@Askherserenity: Depends on what sort of replay you're after, I guess? I've always liked games where the story remains pretty much the same, but the character can change. Dishonored seems to be that sort of game; the plot, settings, etc. remain basically the same, and the big variable is your playing of the game. Maybe not the best examples but it's why I did at least partial replays of Mass Effect and Borderlands; I love the ability to change up skills, and see how having different ones can effect the the world around me when the rest of the story stays the same.

That said, I am also really fond of turn-based games; being able to think, plan and then execute on that plan is really satisfying to me, which seems to be one of the backbones of X-Com.

Not really an answer to which one you should choose, but I can promise at least you're not the only one trying to figure out what to play.

Posted by justinsimonin

Day 1! This, walking dead, and xcom on the same day? Jesus

Posted by michaelfossbakk

@NTM: I was referring to the original, but more importantly, I'm referring to the fact that this review is not as helpful without the comparison that is drawn to Deus Ex.

Posted by Gildermershina

There's something about the visual style I don't like. It reminds me of the look of Bioshock, only everything's not wet. Hard to put my finger on it exactly.


Good review Patrick. I'm pretty excited about this game but I'll be picking it up after XCOM. I like all the commenters going "does this look like BioShock or is it just me?" It's not just you! Yes, it does look like BioShock. Same... uh... mannequin style of art work? Cartoon proportions too. Bums me out to hear the story breaks downs at the end, but this seems par for the course in this generation (or is it just me?). Developers have trouble ending games.

Posted by Samitoo

Great review Patrick! The game looks really promising. It's preloaded and I can't wait to try it!

Posted by MeatSim

This and XCOM is gonna make for a great week for me in games.

Posted by rcpaskus

This review is poorly written.

Posted by Tarsier

combinations are worthless to me if theres no challenge. this game has always looked like "heres 1000 ways to kill every enemy on the screen in about 3 seconds without even having to try!" thats not fun to me

Posted by mrcraggle

@jorojoserojas: I played the demo at Eurogamer and so much of the game just completely struck me as Bioshock. The way it looks it very similar and so are some of the mechanics much more so than Deus Ex.

Posted by Mister_V

Looking forward to playing this. the visual style looks like Bioshock meets Victorian London. can't wait!

Posted by X19

I love Deus Ex style games so I'm looking forward to playing this.

Will wait till the price drops a bit first though.

Posted by Roger778

That was a great review, Patrick.

I'm going to buy this next month, because I've already done a pre-order for Assassins' Creed 3.

Posted by Napalm

@Goldanas said:

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.

Bitching about syntax, nice. Patrick was using shorthand, "reload," for, "replaying a section because you fucked it up". Bored on Monday, eh?

Posted by LiQuid3600

Deus Ex is one of my favorite video games ever made but I think this looks like hot trash. Bunch of dummied down elements stolen from better games and a color palette swiped from a gravel yard. I can't help but feel like the vast majority of this game's hype spawns from the fact that a game like this hasn't existed in years, and that's sad.

Edited by laserbolts

Nice review Patrick but I'd have to disagree with out about Metal Gear. Why would you restart for alerting a guard in those games? All you have to do is evade them for a little while and continue on. It makes me wonder if you have ever played a Metal Gear Solid game.

Posted by liako21

patrick u need a cartoon photo of yourself.

5 stars transforming into a dinosaur?

Posted by Bandit_Fox

Man... I've been pumped about 3 games this fall - Dishonored, X-Com, and AC:3. I preordered this and X-com on Steam and figured I'd just start X-Com tonight, no questions. But after this review and the quicklook... it's going to kill me when these both unlock at midnight.

I'll probably just end up flipping a coin.

Posted by JesterPC238

I really feel like this needed a bump to early 2013. Game looks fantastic, but I gotta have Xcom and Assassins Creed. I'm just worried it won't sell to its potential given the stacked month ahead of us, especially considering that the same people interested in it are probably the same people buying the two aforementioned games.

Posted by Goldanas

@Napalm said:

Bitching about syntax, nice. Patrick was using shorthand, "reload," for, "replaying a section because you fucked it up". Bored on Monday, eh?

I believe if he wanted to say replay he would have said replay. Regardless, you don't replay sections in Metal Gear Solid, you just keep going. That was my whole point, which has nothing to do with typographical or syntactical errors.

Edited by HerbieBug

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

Hrmmm... yeah, you can't just toss that out without providing examples, Patrick. Which games don't provide options in combat? 'Stealth' games? What kind of stealth games? I ask because the games that I think you are referring to when you say "other games of its [Dishonoured's] type" do provide a plethora of options. I am having difficulty thinking of examples that do not.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

Sounds hella good. 

Posted by yesac2004

I cannot trust this review as there is no cartoon picture at the top.

Posted by RVonE

Good review, Patrick, but you're wrong about Metal Gear.

Posted by dvorak

@rcpaskus said:

This review is poorly written.

This review is extremely poorly written. The last paragraph barely even makes any sense.

Posted by ashton

think i might return my unopened copy of NHL 13 for this...or xcom... or this. Dammit I don't know I want both but can't afford.

Posted by ptc

This is one of the most informative, well written reviews of a video game I've ever read. On any site. Well done Patrick, and keep 'em coming!

Posted by KamasamaK

@myketuna said:

@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.

Enjoy it while it lasts

Edited by mdnthrvst

So a six hour game that's padded out by unnecessarily crouch-walking to twelve hours.

That's not a good investment of my money.

Also, Patrick's disdain for classic stealth games reveals more than his raving rhetoric ever can - he doesn't like consequence or permanence for fucking up, and instead of recognizing it as a matter of taste, pegs them as 'flaws' and chalks it up to 'trial and error'. The first Splinter Cell game took me twenty hours when I was a kid, and I loved every second of it, because it was asshole hard, and if I failed, I'd fucking die. There was no inane and pointless morality scale judging me for having to kill people, I straight-up couldn't take soldiers in a firefight, and that forced me to master the game. There was no safety net to fall back on.

In Dishonored, the only thing keeping me from shooting everybody in the face - which IS the simplest, fastest, and most optimal solution - is... well, nothing. Look at the Quick Look, where Patrick iced three guards in that mine cart because he felt like it. You're given carte blanche to do whatever you feel like, and the response is "make it challenging for yourself! Oh, you COULD just shoot everybody, but then it's not very fun at all! " Well, game, you let me. You give me an easy out, and it cheapens you. And the worst part is that this generation has dumbed down to a point where journalists and fans alike see that as a good thing. It's disgusting.

I for one enjoy a serious, uncompromising challenge, and I'll be waiting for the mod that removes Blink, guns, and crossbows before picking this up for twenty bucks on Steam.

Posted by TheWesman

Yeah people HATED Metal Gear. Those games were never popular at ALL. They were so flawed in every way.

And on a side note, I'm so sick of every game being boiled down to "mechanics." I'm hearing a lot of games being pigeonholed on GB lately because they share a "mechanic" that Patrick either loves or hates. If all you can see in a game are the "mechanics" involved, then maybe the video game industry isn't for you.

Edited by myketuna

@KamasamaK said:

@myketuna said:

@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.

Enjoy it while it lasts

I am going to install GreaseMonkey just for this thing.

EDIT: This is glorious.

You're doing God's work, .

Posted by derpflo

Thanks for the review, interesting!