Trying to think of a solid opening line for this Dishonored
review is a daunting task. Do I immediately dive into how great the gameplay feels? Do I talk about the unique visual style that feels as though you're playing through a living painting? Perhaps I should jump head first into gushing about the Dystopian steampunk world? It's a difficult task in deciding what to talk about first here.
If you dare call yourself a "gamer", Dishonored is a game that should be on your most wanted list. It is a near-perfect blend of stealth, action, stylized visuals, and a plot that will keep you guessing. To put it simply, Dishonored is a damn good game.
One of the first things you'll notice when you begin playing Dishonored are the visuals. Built upon Unreal Engine 3, you would never really know this is the case if they didn't say as much. The NPC figures resemble caricatures of real humans. The exaggerated features fit in perfectly with the rest of the unique visuals. It honestly feels as though you're walking through a painting. Textures are not hyper-detailed as you are probably used to seeing in a modern game. Instead, they are more muted and more subtle. No, this is not just a way of saying they are low resolution. Bringing it back to the idea of playing inside of a painting, the world feels as though it were crafted using pastels, utilizing a more muted and bright color scheme than other titles.
The next thing you'll notice in Dishonored is the fact that it reminds you of games you've played in the past. While playing, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to games like Thief, Mirror's Edge, BioShock, Hitman, and even Half-Life 2. The Thief and Hitman comparisons should be obvious. This is, after all, a game about killing and doing it as stealthly as possible. However, there is also a lot of free-running type movement that finds you scaling walls and discovering areas that will aid you in your climb up to the rooftops. Therein lies the comparison to Mirror's Edge.
The player has the opportunity to dual-wield in this game. Hold a blade in one hand and a mystical ability in the other, and you can see where the BioShock inspiration comes from. The comparison to Half-Life 2 lies more in the fact that they are both set in a dystopian world. Large, formidable towers built out of metal plates are found in every nook and cranny of the city. The sentries and defensive barriers set up by your enemies in Dishonored would also feel at home in the Half-Life 2 world. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that the designer of City 17 from Half-Life 2, Viktor Antonov, worked as the Visual Design Director for Dishonored.
The game takes place in Dunwall, a fictional city modeled after 17th-century London. It is a city that has been hit with a surge in the rat population and thus a surge in the plague. You play as Corvo, a highly skilled bodyguard tasked with protecting the Empress of Dunwall. Without giving away too much, let's just say that a series of unfortunate events take place leaving the Empress dead, Corvo on the run after being framed for the murder, and the daughter of the Empress being kidnapped. In to replace the Empress is an unjust ruler, the Lord Regent. Needless to say, with the help of a small group of resistance fighters and the mysterious Outsider, Corvo must carry out his revenge against those who framed him and rescue the rightful ruler of the city.
With an already impressive set of skills up his sleeve, Corvo will learn new abilities and unlock new upgrades throughout the course of the game. Weapons such as Corvo's crossbow and pistol can be upgraded by finding and purchasing blueprints. His supernatural abilities can be refined, unlocked, and upgraded by finding hidden Runes and bone charms in each area of the game. These Runes can be spent to unlock unique abilities such as "Blink" which allows you to traverse across short distances instantly. A few other skills include the ability to possess living creatures, the ability to stop time, and the ability to summon a pack of rats to distract and kill your foes. Bone charms are used to unlock various passive abilities. For example, one bone charm will allow Corvo to regain more health each time he finds and eats a piece of food.
Perhaps the most useful ability, Dark Vision, allows you to spot enemies, items, and traps through walls. Corvo still needs to be near enough to them in order for the enemies to show up, but this is perhaps the most useful ability in the game. Time limited, each use of Dark Vision will make all NPC characters glow with a yellow highlight through walls and floors. It also allows Corvo to see what their line of sight is, which is an insanely useful ability for anyone looking to stealth their way through the entire game.
Dishonored is a brilliant title that really shines when it comes to letting a player play how they want to. It works incredibly well as either a full-on action title or a stealth only experience. It's up to you to determine how you want to approach a situation. After the early levels are taken care of, the level design begins to really open up. This provides for a huge number of pathways and options for how you can approach a situation. Again, this is where the obvious Thief and Hitman comparisons come into play. True to those games, Dishonored rewards players who keep the killing to a minimum with a "Chaos" rating at the end of each level. Your Chaos level can be thought of as sort of a notoriety system. Your Chaos level will have an impact on how people perceive you and it will impact the endings to the game. Keep things quiet if you want to keep your Chaos to a minimum, or just stab everybody in the neck if you want to be a ruthless killing machine hell bent on revenge.
Keep in mind that as with everything else in the game, the people you kill can actually impact things later on. Should you return to an area you've already cleared out, a number of things could happen. First off, the security presence in the area may be increased. This means more sentry towers, more foot soldiers, and the possibility of more alarms and more "Tall Boys". Tall Boys are humans that walk around on thin, mechanical legs which allow them to stand at a height roughly two stories tall. They are rather difficult to deal with, unless you get the drop on them from above. Two other huge changes that will occur if you leave a high body count is the fact that the area will now be infected with even more plague carrying rats and the number of "Weepers" will increase. The rats are a problem because they will often attack indiscriminately. They will bite, they will kill, and they will rip the flesh from your bones. This is good for when itís your enemies they attack, not so much when it's you. Weepers are humans that are in the late stages of plague infection. They will vomit on you and they love to attack in packs.
It would be easy to go on and on about the freedom of choice presented in this game but I will stop right there. It can almost be said that no one mission will ever play out quite the same way twice. Dishonored is one of those rare titles that really pull you into the role. I started out wanting to stealth my way through the game but there are just some acts that cannot go unpunished, and punished they were. Brutal and unrelenting, Dishonored is an exceptional title.
Continue on to page 2 for our list of Dishonored pros...