Dishonored has something to offer just about everyone. Engrossing narrative? Check. Violence? Check. Intense action? Check. Clever characters? A rich fantasy world? Superior level design? Great gameplay? Check, check, check, and check. Dishonored has all of these elements, and then some. When added up, you have the makings of a good game, but it’s the options in just about all these elements that truly makes Dishonored such a rewarding, personal experience. If you are looking for a game with a focus on stealth, then Dishonored is your game. Don’t want to waste your time hiding in shadows and would rather run around with guns blazing? Dishonored is your game. The overall blueprint–the core of Dishonored–is very strong. But the fact you can play it numerous times and get different results depending on how you play puts this title among the best of the year.
As assassin Corvo Attano, you’ll destroy enemies with a backstab from your sword, a swift shot with your crossbow, or even a shot straight to the face with your gun. Corvo can stick to the shadows or perch on ledges above enemies to minimize fight sequences. Or he can take the middle road, engage enemies, but eliminate them one-by-one without deadly force. He can navigate each level without being seen, and even eliminate final targets without spilling blood.
As is the case for just about every story, the protagonist is on a mission. For Corvo, that mission is largely driven by revenge after being falsely accused of murdering the empress. The killing of the empress should come as a big surprise for the residents of Dunwall, the industrial city marred by a deadly plague, largely because Corvo was her protector, her Kevin Costner bodyguard. While the story is worth exploring for yourself, you’ll find out early in the game that Dunwall is full of corruption, there is a secret legion that will lend a helping hand, and that you’ll be granted access to magical powers.
Each mission is essentially tied to a key assassination as you work to clear your name. You’re assigned these missions by a brilliantly voiced cast of characters, each with evolving interests and rich personalities. Missions split into side objectives, again granted by a colorful cast. Throughout each mission you’ll find notebooks, journals, books, and other literature to further expose the city’s secrets, useful information for your level objectives, and even random tidbits of useful information that grant even further options.
As you venture through each mission, you’ll have the opportunity to sneak by guards, use brute force, or put them temporarily out of commission. There are repercussions for your actions, largely geared towards the killing avenue. The more you kill, the more plague-infested rats appear throughout the level. These little buggers are a pain, and if enough swarm you, they could kill you. But eliminating enemies could also shift the story and prevent certain side objectives from opening.
You have a bit more in your arsenal than just weapons and shadows. Corvo is bestowed magical abilities by a mysterious entity. These powers start off as a basic quick teleport, but you can unleash new abilities like slowing time or seeing enemies behind walls by collecting relics in each level. This again opens a plethora of options for the player. While you can’t rely only on magic to get through a level, these abilities offer another option to your toolbelt of tricks.
Here is how a mission could play out: Corvo will get orders from his protective legion to assassinate a key enemy. He’ll then arrive at his destination, blend in with the crowd, and make his way through a specific part of the city until he reaches his mission objective indicator on the map–we’ll say it’s an office building to keep it ambiguous. But instead of walking through the front door, you could meet a resident who also has some guff with your target. This resident could offer some assistance if you rub his back, too. So, you’ll perform a task for him, and then he’ll give you a key to a side door. This allows you to avoid all those guards protecting that front door. Once inside the office building, you’ll stick to cover to listen as guards talk about your target, and learn he’s doing work in his office. You will have plenty of opportunities to either kill enemies, or use your teleport ability to evade to a higher vantage point, essentially eliminating the guards’ vision. Once in the target’s office, you could of course stab him in the throat or shoot him with a bolt from your crossbow. But how about something more sinister? You could put him to sleep with a poison bolt, pick his limp body off the ground, and throw him in nearby water, drowning him in the process. Of course, you could run through the level, stock up on bullets and crossbow bolts, and just kill everyone on site. The choice is in the player’s hands.
Just about every piece of Corvo’s arsenal, including your magic, is upgradeable through collectibles or cash. This again adds another layer to how players can customize Dishonored to fit their style. You can focus on tools, guns, magic, stealth, or even just boost your health. The customization gives you reason to play again and again to try a different approach.
The controls in Dishonored may catch you off guard at first. You dual wield weapons or magic, both tied to the left and right triggers, open a radial menu with L2, block with R2, and have hot buttons–equipment or magic–tied to the D-pad. While button mapping is pretty traditional, some of the mechanics are a bit off. For example, you can press the X button to scale objects or interact with certain objects. But, it doesn’t work so well, and on occasions you may find yourself tapping away at X to try and leap up crates as guards chase you. Otherwise, the controls are pretty tight and work as advertised.
The city of Dunwall almost serves as a character in itself. The graphic style leans heavily towards steampunk and the city feels built at the turn of the century–not this most recent century, mind you. You’ll find large pipes running throughout the city–offering layers to traverse–and there are details from newspaper clips speckled on brick buildings. The city and characters definitely feel British, but the overall presentation may turn off some gamers. That’s largely because character modeling is exaggerated, hands are way too big, and faces can look muddy. This is obviously a style Arkane Studios was looking for, but there are moments you may wish you could turn the resolution up. The story is also a bit disjointed, but it’s clear we’ll see a sequel–or, rather, we should hope–and that could give the developers further room to build out the direction.
But the game mostly hits all the right marks. If you like exploring, this is the game for you. Around every corner, hidden in every crevice, you’ll find collectibles, short cuts, and potential new information. The level designs are extremely strong, so you’ll have the chance to play Dishonored again and get a completely new experience by trying a new route.
The enemy’s artificial intelligence is generally strong. If you are being chased and run between zones (this includes clicking on an area that brings you to a loading screen), those baddies will track you down and go into the new zone. They have a tendency to give up, though. If you lose them for more than a few seconds, they stop looking in your general area and instead start the perimeter check. Once you actually engage enemies, they can be tough opponents, blocking your sword hacks, or charging as you reload.
There are a lot of save slots for a good reason; you’ll want to save frequently. Since you’ll have several options per level, per encounter, you may want to load an old save and change your decision. Then again, the game can be difficult, so if you run into a situation where you get killed immediately after the start of a recent save and are without health potions, you’ll need to find an old save (or even past auto-save) to give yourself another shot.
Dishonored is a game that deserves multiple playthroughs, and luckily the core mechanics are solid enough to provide unique experiences every time you play. It may not have that same magic as big brothers like BioShock, but it’s more than worth your time and money. You can choose to play as a stealth master, a murdering hooligan, or a magic assassin. Or, you can mix it all together until you find your perfect blend. However you play, you’ll be rewarded with an interesting story, solid gameplay, a clever art style, great characters, and more options than a Sunday buffet. Dishonored may be a new IP, but it’s here to stay and a welcome addition as one of our absolute favorites of the year.