Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Coming off of some E3 and trade show buzz, Dishonored, a new stealth focused, first person title from developer Arkane Studios (Dark Messiah of Might and Magic), hits store shelves this week. And to say that it offers up a pretty unique experience for console and PC gamers in comparison to the rest of the releases so far this year is putting things lightly. Dishonored certainly bears some resemblance to a handful of games, and I’m sure you’ve heard comparisons to titles like Bioshock and the recent revival of Deus Ex. But those comparisons aren’t entirely apt, and Dishonored does a fantastic job of introducing a viable new IP with a pretty fresh take on stealth oriented gameplay.
In Dishonored you’ll play as Corvo Attano, the personal bodyguard of the Empress, ruling over the fictional city of Dunwall set in an alternate historical setting modeled after 17th century London. Dishonored kicks off with Corvo being imprisoned for the assassination of the Empress he was assigned to protect, and he’s promptly scheduled for execution to cover up the conspiracy surrounding her death. Corvo’s escape from prison serves as the first of nine individual missions that make up the majority of Dishonored’s plot, and also serves as a quick tutorial for the base mechanics that’ll allow him to sneak about the sewers, broken buildings, and other areas that make up the whole of Dunwall. As far as openings go, and tutorials for that matter, Dishonored gets it right from the start, by not holding the player’s hand too much, and allowing you a nice set of options from the onset of the game to familiarize yourself with Corvo’s unique traversal and stealth abilities.
Corvo doesn’t have a lot of weapons or skills at his disposal to begin with, but by the end of the game you’ll be swimming in options that are sure to make other, prominent video game assassins pretty jealous. Corvo’s primary weapon is his blade, used for both stealth assassinations and hand to hand combat. Trying to go toe to toe with most foes in Dishonored can be pretty tough, but so much that you’ll get stomped if you try your hand at a sword fight or two. However, sword fighting is one of the few disappointing aspects of Dishonored, not elevating much further than hand to hand melee combat in titles like Condemned or Bethesda’s own Elder Scrolls series.
But the lackluster melee combat just gives you another excuse to stick to the shadows, which really makes for a better experience overall. Outside of his weapons, which include not only the aforementioned blade but also a pistol and crossbow, Corvo has access to a number of traps and magical abilities that’ll be unlocked as you progress through the story. Corvo’s biggest selling point, and the thing that really starts to set this apart from other like-minded games like Deus Ex and Riddick, is his ability to teleport short distances. This is introduced as your initial magic ability, and becomes incredibly useful throughout the entire campaign. And the cool factor of using it never really gets old, you’ll continually be surprised by how useful this particular function is, so much so that you’ll miss its absence in other first person games.
Later abilities, like possession, the ability to stop time, and the option to call forth a swarm of ravenous rats, just ups the ante when it comes to either being the world’s greatest assassin, of the sneakiest protagonist this side of Thief. Both options are completely viable in Dishonored, and there’s a background morality system in play that’ll influence the overall ending of the game based on how violent you are, or whether you can sneak through each stage without murdering a single individual. It’s rare that a game like Dishonored offers up that particular opportunity, for non-violence, but you’ll find that there are multiple solutions to every scenario in Dishonored, provided you speak to the right NPC’s, engage in optional side-quests, and listen in on conversations from afar.
To assist you in exploring these options, developer Arkane Studios has crafted 9 individual stages that offer up a sandbox style approach to gameplay that’s rarely seen in a first person action/stealth game. Each of the 9 stages is comprised of a number of different sections, which do require a bit of loading in between, but each section gives you a really wide-open approach to accomplishing your goals. There are multiple pathways to just about every area you need to get to, and there’s enough variety to those paths that each one will be totally viable if you’re willing to put in a little work. It’s also worth noting that this sandbox approach to the level design really makes Dishonored a game that’s worth playing over and over again, and while it might not offer up any sort of new game plus mode, you can thankfully jump back into any mission that you’ve previously completed, at the expense of your last auto-save and gained weapons or powers up to that point. I’d love to have the ability to retry older missions with my new skills intact, but sadly that option is missing here.
Corvo’s environment traversal abilities are one of the things that I enjoyed the most about Dishonored, allowing the varied stage design for each mission to really shine. I’m not entirely sold on the way climbing works, as sometimes it leads to this weird double jump effect that has me leaping way too far over bannisters and railings, but squeezing into small crawlspaces, finding optional paths, and using your teleport function to reach previously unattainable heights is a lot of fun. There’s very little you’ll see in a stage that you can’t reach if you search hard enough, and there’s some payoff in exploring not only for finding new, optional side quests, but also for consumables, and for collectible runes and bone charms that are tied into Corvo’s personal upgrades.
There’s certainly not a lot of faults I can level at Dishonored, and even less so when it comes to the actual gameplay. Most of my complaints stem from the characters and the world, which I feel are poorly fleshed out via a whole lot of optional text, and not a lot of time spent with the supporting cast to really sell you on this alternate historical period. I have no problem reading through text logs and optional audio files, considering it’s a crutch featured in the majority of video games that want to give you some backstory, but Dishonored feels a little too light on plot. And my connection to characters feels so fleeing and tenuous, that when certain events occur at the midpoint they don’t feel all that surprising or interesting.
Also, I wasn’t too impressed by the voice over work provided from the cast, which features a number of Hollywood names of varying degree, like Susan Sarandon, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Brad Dourif. A few do a pretty standout job, the younger Moretz for example who provides the voice for the Empress’ daughter, but there’s definitely some inconsistency in quality. Brad Dourif is a guy who I like in a number of movies, but his voice work as the inventor and shop owner feels really stilted and awkward more often than not.
Worth noting, especially for those burned by the performance issues of The Elder Scrolls V from Bethesda on PS3, is that the PS3 version of Dishonored provided for this review holds up pretty damn well from a technical standpoint. No weird or outlandish bugs occurred during my time spent with the campaign, outside of a couple annoying checkpoints that saw me respawning in mid fall, leading to an immediate death. But the auto-save system actually gives you a couple of points to load up as back-ups, and you can also save anywhere you choose. The framerate stayed solid throughout, outside of some slight slowdown during explosions and encounters with multiple (6 plus) enemies at once. Even then, the drops were never that severe. And there seems to be little to no screen tearing, which is a definite plus.
Overall, Dishonored is absolutely worth your time, and provides an excellent stealth focused game that’s actually fun to play, as opposed to feeling like a punishing chore. The sheer variety in the way you can tackle each mission in Dishonored makes the game accessible for a number of player types, and the lack of handholding and scripted events makes for a far more interesting experience than that found in numerous AAA blockbuster titles over the past couple of years. If you’re in the mood for something fresh and unique, and legitimately fun to play, then Dishonored definitely fits that bill.