In an industry saturated by sequels and safe imitations, Dishonored is a breath of fresh air that will soon become a timeless classic talked about for generations to come. Arkane Studios has bucked the recent trend of following a proven formula to craft something unlike anything you’ve ever played.
The steampunk shooter follows bodyguard-turned-supernatural assassin Corvo Attano, as he is falsely accused of murdering the Empress and kidnapping her daughter, after a friendly game of hide and sneak. In his quest for revenge, Corvo is given a mask and imbued with supernatural powers by a mysteriously keen fellow known as the “Outsider”. At times, the overall story can be hard to follow, but it breaks down into nine very distinctive missions. Each essentially has its own plot.
Corvo can teleport short distances, body snatch anything with a pulse, command an army of blood-thirsty rats, see through walls and bring time to a grinding halt to kill a man with his own bullet. Stealth is the key to success, but brutally slaying everyone in your path is an equally viable option.
Stealth is the key to success, but brutally slaying everyone in your path is an equally viable option.
Despite my modest, non-lethal intentions, I never completed a mission without killing several armed men; there were usually a few innocent stragglers in there as well, but I can’t have some woman screaming and giving away my position. Sorry, lady.
The chain of one murder to cover-up another can tarnish 30 minutes of stealth perfection in a matter of disappointing seconds. I always felt dirty when I fired my gun and murdered a dozen men after accidentally making my position known when trying to silently dispose of a single guard. Your actions have serious ramifications to the ending, but also to the health of the environment. A dirty city becomes hell on Earth if too much blood is on your hands.
With the exception of Blink, Corvo’s teleportation ability, each supernatural power must be bought with runes found scattered through each mission. Additional runes can be exchanged to upgrade each ability, ensuring Corvo isn’t severely overpowered from the outset. However, death comes quickly, as Corvo’s health bar dwindles away faster than expected with each connecting attack. Even when you unlock the divine superpowers, it’s surprisingly easy to get yourself killed by making a small, but decisive, mistake.
Weapons can be upgraded with coins and blueprints found by scavenging throughout the intriguing world. Corvo’s handgun carries limited ammo and doesn’t conform to his stealthy origins, but is super effective in close combat. His crossbow is more subtle and can provide a non-lethal option at range. These items, as well as magical abilities, are rotated through our assassin’s left hand, whilst his right is always clutching his trusty sword, which can be used to slit throats and deflect enemy blades.
The disease-ridden city of Dunwall casts a surprisingly dark tone over proceedings in contrast to the noticeably smooth, simplistic art style used hand-in-hand with the 19th century setting. Murders are violent and gruesome, with disembowelled bodies half eaten by rats and spare limbs a common sight if you’ve taken a more forceful approach to Corvo’s new career. The art style dictates a charming environment drowning in mystery and corruption, and only occasionally let down by some shoddy textures and rough edges that look horrendously out of place when isolated outside of the big picture. As a complete package, Dishonored houses an amazing world full of intrigue and culture, made possible by creative use of colour and lighting.
After a lifetime of being groomed to follow linear paths to complete a set objective in a specific way, Dishonored opens the doors of creativity. Whilst stealth is the favourable option, Arkane Studios consciously crafted a game that doesn’t push the player to use aggressive or sneaky tactics. They can employ either, and anything in-between on the cosmic spectrum.
Dishonored allows you to play on your own terms, rather than insist you abide by its own. Almost everything I tried was possible in some sense. You can short-teleport to perilous ledges, and possess someone mid-jump just to break your fall. None of these tactics are necessary or even the best option, but they are possible. You’re not consigned to one set of right or wrong.
Of course there are limitations, mostly in the shape of questionable roadblocks to seal off a level, and invisible walls that frustrate imaginations that have gone a little too wild. If you remember that this isn’t an open world game and to keep your scope well within the confines of the level, not a loophole you can see vaguely in the distance, these moments are few and far between.
Dishonored allows you to play on your own terms, rather than insist you abide by its own
Each mission drops you into a linear, open-ended level and tasks you with a number of objectives that culminates with eliminating the target before reaching the exit point. There are no forced boss battles to signify a defining moment, because there are none at all, and there’s a clear distinction between being engrossed in a dangerous mission and relaxed within the safe confines of your hideaway.
How you achieve all of this is up to you. There are always multiple entry points to each location and a mix of lethal and more forgiving ways to eliminate the target. You can boil a man to death without a trace, or simply shoot him in the face. These options often depend on how you made your presence felt in the opening few minutes. If you slipped in through the roof, it was conceivable that you were never there and patience buys you a more stylistic kill. However, if you ran in blasting through the front door, there’s less to gain from a graceful assassination. Staying alive yourself is more of a concern.
Patience is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of Dishonored if you’re an aspiring stealth fan. I’m enthralled by the theory of stealthy gameplay, but alas failed to achieve silent perfection in a solitary mission. Even the opening prison break was riddled with a comedy of errors and piles of hapless bodies. Evidently stealth doesn’t come naturally to me, but Dishonored changed how I wanted to play. I felt a resounding sense of achievement when I successfully navigated past some guards chit-chatting in the witty environment without so much as raising an eyebrow.
Dishonored is different to anything you’ve ever played. Your experience will likely be different to mine from a game that is built around an elaborate set of player choices. Dishonored removes the shackles and allows the player to dictate their own terms. It’s most rewarding as a stealth game, but that isn’t to take anything away from the combat. A team of celebrated developers have left their mark on the stealth genre without making it mandatory. With little to complain about, Dishonored is a rare experiment and one of the most unique mainstream gaming experiences this generation. It’s an all-time classic that we will be talking about for years to come. Don’t miss out on Dishonored.