It’s always refreshing to see a new IP among the avalanche of sequels that smothers gamers this time of the year. While most look forward to the comfortable return of triple-A titles like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo, it’s nice when gamers can give something new a shot. It’s sad that still many people won’t experience Dishonored simply for the fact that it’s the new kid on the block when plenty of already familiar titles are in the works. The people that do play it, however, are in for one of the most progressive gaming experiences this year.
Dishonored borrows heavily from many other unique first-person shooters that came before it. The inspiration from games like Thief and Deus Ex is apparent. The dark, gloomy city of Dunwall feels a lot like the Rapture of Bioshock, torn apart by disease and poverty. The stealth mechanics play out like those in Hitman. But none of this is wrong; in the end, Dishonored stands on its own.
You play as Corvo, the Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall, a city being eaten alive by a rat plague no one knows how to stop. As you return home after months of searching the other empires for aid, you witness the Empress being killed and Emily, the young heir to the throne, being kidnapped by a group of assassins. You are framed for the Empress’ murder and Emily’s disappearance and sentenced to execution, but you manage to escape with the help of some unknown friends and begin your quest for vengeance.
The game sounds like your typical revenge story, but it actually goes much deeper than that. The emphasis behind Dishonored is the option to let the player choose how to get even with those that wronged you. There are limitless ways to tackle any situation, whether that be a fight in the street against the City Watch or the assassination of key target at a fancy party. It’s even possible to complete the entire game without killing or alerting a single person, and choosing to do so has different consequences once you beat the game.
What makes the game great is that by the end, the emotion behind the story really affects how you play. I tried my best to stay stealthy the entire game and only kill those I needed to, but by the final missions, I was so mad with the story’s turn of events that I went ballistic and took everyone head on. The game does a good job making you feel personally wronged, tempting you to unleash your fury despite your good intentions. When I eventually try to beat the game with no kills, it will be hard not to chop off a few deserving heads along the way, and that’s a testament to the game’s great narrative.
The creativity behind the game is astounding. Armed with supernatural powers given to you by a being known as the Outsider, Corvo has more than just a knife and pistol at his disposal. The player can freeze time, teleport, possess others’ minds, summon a swarm of rats to devour enemies, and more.
Abilities are unlocked by spending Runes, mysterious artifacts found in the city. Choosing different powers can lead to nasty combinations in battle. For instance, it’s possible to freeze time as an enemy fires his gun, possess his body, walk in front of his own bullet, then resume time again, effectively killing him with his own weapon. The fun of Dishonored isn’t simply running and gunning but devising unique ways to beat missions.
In the end, however, your actions only lead to two outcomes. While the details of the ending of the game can change based on minor decisions, the finale is either dark or darker. At the end of each mission you’re given a chaos rating. High chaos is the result of killing people while low chaos is the result of merely knocking enemies out or bypassing them entirely. The problem is that the player doesn’t know exactly what it takes to stay on either side of the chaos rating. How many kills does it take to pass from low to high chaos? Is the body count the only factor that affects one’s chaos rating? It’s hard to tell.
Dishonored certainly shines as a stealth-action game. Stealth is mostly consistent (only once did I have an enemy see me when he was facing the other direction) and the combat feels realistic in the sense that if you’re taking on more than just a couple guys, you feel outnumbered rather than overpowered (until you use your powers to wipe the floor with your foes).
The aesthetics of the game are great as well. While textures sometimes appear muddy, the overall look of the game fits its mood well. The steampunk- and London-inspired setting and characters are a good fit for the title. Characters’ faces and voices are distinct and recognizable, only adding to the characterization and authenticity of the world.
A minor gripe I have with the game is that once you’ve beaten it, it’s not possible to start the game over with your current powers and gear. There is a mission select option to replay chapters of the story, but it’s almost pointless to use it considering you start missions over with the equipment and abilities you had when you originally started them, meaning the only way to retry chapters with a different build of your character is to start the whole game over. I understand the developers want players to feel like their choices mean something and not give them the option to be unstoppable super heroes for early missions, but at the same time, is it worth starting the game over because you wanted to do a specific late mission with a different set of powers?
Another issue is the game’s length. While many will claim the game can take 20 hours to beat if you explore everywhere and do everything, many more could finish this title in just a few days of play. The game is meant to be beaten multiple times to see the alternate endings and try different combinations of powers, but for many, one playthrough is enough, and for a strictly single-player game, the length doesn’t necessarily justify the price.
Even with these annoyances, the game shines in its respective field. The amount of choice presented to the player is almost intimidating for those who want to see everything Dishonored has to offer. Whether you rent the game just to give it a go or buy it to explore every facet of Dunwall in your quest for revenge, this game is for everyone who not only loves a good revenge story but wants to wield the power to see how it all plays out.