These days, developing a new IP is a big risk, especially when creating something as different as Dishonored. Arkane Studios decided to take on the challenge of creating an experience that the gaming world has never seen, but is it one worth experiencing?
Dishonored takes place in the fictional city of Dunwall, the capital of Gristol. It is a city plagued by disease and street gangs, where political corruption runs rampant. You take on the role of Corvo, master assassin and protector of the Empress. Moments after returning home from a mission for the Empress, Corvo witnesses his beloved Empress being assassinated, and is subsequently framed for her death. With the help of a mysterious friend, he escapes prison, and is tasked with avenging the Empress and clearing his name.
Each mission involves eliminating a target, but Dishonored gives players access to a number of different supernatural powers and methods to complete the objective. If you fancy a bit of action, you can simply run through each mission killing all who oppose you, but this type of gameplay will have drastic consequences, such as a more prominent plague of rats and a darker ending. The more action-oriented approach will significantly shorten the length of the game as well. Corvo is an assassin, after all, and Dishonored urges players to use the more stealthy approach. The Blink ability, which is one of the coolest video game abilities of all-time, allows you to climb to the rooftops and quickly move from cover to cover without being seen. The Possession ability allows you to take control of a rat or a fish to get into a building through small openings. Upgrade the ability, and you can even possess humans and use them to safely pass through areas undetected. For those who do prefer the action, combat is fun and exciting, and Corvo has many tools at his disposal, such as mines, grenades, and a pistol.
Unfortunately, while Arkane Studios promised endless freedom in the way players can complete objectives, they didn’t quite deliver. While their are multiple ways to complete objectives and to sneak around, the methods are ultimately the same for every mission. Rooftops. Possessing an animal to sneak in. Shutting down defenses. These are really the only options for staying undetected. When it comes to eliminating your target, however, there are usually a number of different ways to do so. Sure, you can sneak in and make the kill, but there are non-lethal methods that are usually far more interesting. Branding someone a heretic or doing a side mission for a crime boss in exchange for his help offers much more in the way of story than just simply stabbing someone, even if it is satisfying.
If you are the type of player that hates waiting patiently for the right opportunity to strike, or prefer to head straight to your target and ignore exploration, it is best that you stay away from Dishonored altogether. Exploration is key to finding runes and bonecharms, which are used for upgrading your powers and stats, respectively, or discovering new ways to complete missions. It is also the only way you will receive bits of story, as the game only presents it through dialog and reading books or notes found throughout the world. Everything is seen directly through Corvo’s eyes, and as such, players who explore will be rewarded with an incredible amount of interesting backstory, and will be immersed in the atmosphere of Dunwall.
Graphically, Dishonored is beautiful. The rippling water is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game, and the textures make everything have the look and feel of a bright, colorful oil painting. In my experience, there were no issues with texture pop-in or any other technical flaws to speak of.
The real question is whether or not the game offers any replayability. Completionists will have their hands full trying to receive the “No Kill” and “Ghost” ranks in every mission, which involves never killing anyone and never being detected, and their are plenty of collectibles to search for. However, replaying a mission in a different way doesn’t always feel different. That being said, the initial playthrough is thrilling, and completing a complicated mission without being seen give you an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Dishonored a rare sort of game, something that is wholly unique, not just in gameplay but in setting and atmosphere as well. Arkane Studios has created a world that feels like a living, breathing place, one that any gamer who can stomach patient stealth should experience. While the “endless freedom” is rather limited, this is one game that will be remembered for years to come.