I begin this review with an apology – it is to my own regret that it took me so long to sufficiently play this game before I was capable of writing this review. I have always prided myself on never writing a review until I have at least completed the game a satisfactory number of times. I feel that only then can I put a reasonable perspective and objective view to a title. The only exception to this is when a game is crap and a second or third play through is unwarranted. However, with Dishonoured I felt like it was too much of a good thing, like going into a sweet shop as a child, being told that I could have everything I wanted and then being perplexed by nothing other than abundance of choice.
Choice in itself is one of the main appealing factors of Dishonoured; a game which isn’t afraid to demand that you think for yourself, that you make choices and reap either the rewards or consequences. In a world of FPS (First Person Shooters), Open world sandbox games, linear game plays, and storylines that essentially make choices for you it is refreshingly different. But this is not entirely not to be expected, its creative team includes alumni from PC favourites System Shock, Deus Ex, Half-Life 2 and Arx Fatalis; games that prided themselves on open world exploration.
For those unaware of the concept behind Dishonored, it’s a first-person stealth and/or action title. But to merit the game solely on this premise takes away from Dishonoured’s real pleasure which is providing the player with a dynamic open world experience. Taking place in the noir-esque plague ridden city of Dunwall, you take on the role of Corvo Attano, a former bodyguard of the Empress – a woman who is desperately trying to save a ruined city from further destruction. Finding yourself wrongly framed for her murder, Corvo is given to opportunity to take revenge on the corrupt officials who were behind her death.
The game kicks off with a short level swiftly introducing you to the basic controls as Corvo is accused of the Empress’ murder and linked with the disappearance of her daughter Emily. Jailed, tortured and with an execution on the horizon, it’s at this point that an ally offers you the chance to make an escape. From here on in Dishonoured is all about thinking on your feet, choice, variety and surviving. To give you an example of what this means in actual play there are no maps, no objective markers and to pick up food or items you have to actually look at it with your reticule and press the ‘take’ button. For some this might be a tad bit overwhelming; after all for many of us we are used to simply ‘stepping on’ food to pick it up and replenish our health – not so here; in a fight scenario you will have to consistently turn to face your enemy even if there is more than one of them. What’s more you will be required to both block and defend before attacking if you want to survive.
Cast as part-assassin, part supernatural superhero, Dishonored’s levels sets up an undesirable target of wealth of power before allowing you to go about executing them in whatever way you are able or your health and / or supernatural abilities will allow. Even though you are blessed with special abilities the enemies are powerful and numerous enough to warrant the need for stealth for most situations. The AI (artificial intelligence) used in the game is clever; Dunwall’s guards are far from stupid and can be ruthless – they will find bodies, call for reinforcements, send in dogs to sniff you out and once they have you in their sights they have no hesitation in taking you on. This means that you will have to resort to tactics such as creeping across the rooftops, squeezing underneath dilapidated constructions or rewiring security mechanisms.
Corvo’s abilities are split between his left and right hand, allowing you to either dual-wield a sword and crossbow or pistol, or to use a supernatural ability. This is all accessed via a radial menu, and your skills are upgraded by finding runes found in secret places dotted around each level.
Weaponry is a crucial part of Dishonored and is once again, all about choice. There’s a range of weapons that suit your playing style. Sleep darts are great if you want a non-lethal approach as is ‘Blink’ a nifty teleporting ability. But hey, if you’re not too fussed use your gun, sword or grenades; just be ready to take on the enemies as they come to investigate the ensuing noise. It has to be said that the voice acting in this game is truly superb and helps bring the game to life.
When it comes to supernatural abilities, Corvo has a basic arsenal for which more can be accessed in exchange for artefacts known as Runes which are scattered throughout the city. Each have their uses for example ‘Dark Vision’ shows enemies and their fields of vision through walls. ‘Devouring Swarm’ summons a pack of rats to devour enemies whereas ‘Possession’ allows you to take control of animals and people for a short duration; useful for getting into hidden areas or sneaking into rooms unseen.
At the end of each mission an overview will reveal your ‘Chaos Level’ which ranks you on the amount of times you were spotted, amount of times alarms raised and amount of dead bodies found. A ‘High’ level will result not only in fewer points but in raised defences by that city, more advanced level security systems implemented, a higher number of rats and plagues and an overall darker ending for the city. I’m not going to lie, the first time I played Dishonored I was like ‘whatever’ as I brutally took on guards left and right, however it was just a matter of time before that attitude faded as I realised my actions always had consequences especially towards the end of the game.
There are some areas Dishonoured falls short. The difficulty seems to jump from low to high and back again very quickly. Saving also seems to be sporadic when left to its own devices so I wholeheartedly recommend players to save whenever they can. Graphically Dishonoured does not disappoint but is far from what I was expecting. When you hear some reviewers saying that ‘it looks like a painting…only it moves’ and ‘Graphics that will make your eyes cry…’ one cannot help but build up expectations which lead to let down. I came away thinking these are reviews written by individuals that have been locked under the stairs for far too long. I’m sorry but no, the graphics are nothing special. Granted, they may look nice and moody and there is little in terms of gaudy shading that you tend to see in open world titles but no, my eyes did not cry and no, it did not look like any piece of artwork I have ever seen. I would say that graphically the game is both great and functional but not of a higher finesse than say Uncharted 3. Finally my last gripe is that there is no online multiplayer options which would have taken this game to the next level, it would have been incredible to play with or against friends in teams or even as part of the story – it is a huge shame that this is missing from the game.
Dishonored has one of those rare things in a game and that is choice, repercussions and consequences. Developer Arkane Studios had a tough order but they delivered with a game that is great fun and that rightfully deserves all the awards it has merited. Whilst the game is not without issues, it is a title I definitely think of as one of the best of the year – an enjoyable free roam experience that players can visit and revisit over and over again.