In October of 2012 Arkane Studios released Dishonored into the flooded first-person game market. Relying less on huge weapon arsenals and battlefield set pieces, Dishonored gambled on a tool belt of abilities and open-ended objectives. Allowing you, the player, to pick a plethora of ways to tackle your goals as you sneak or murder a path through the game.
You play as Corvo Attano, bodyguard to Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and all-round man of mystery. After returning from a diplomatic voyage to seek help from neighbouring nations, events unfold that plummet you into the seedier world of the depraved and desperate. The pace of the story is nicely done. Revolving around Corvo on a mission to seek vengeance with the help of an assortment of eclectic and curious people, the game is not heavy on the story but you always have a sense of reason behind what and why you are doing something.
After horrifying events occur in the opening minutes, you begin the hard task of clearing your name and righting the injustice that has befallen the city of Dunwall. Ravaged by a rodent-bourne plague and an Orwellian like state, the city makes an all too compelling canvas for the story to unfold in. The tale is told through both NPCs and good old-fashioned exploration. Between missions you will interact with other characters at your hideout which acts as a central HQ. Here you will meet with your cadre of conspirators who have their own personal motivations for being there. Missions and side quests will be handed off to you, although curiosity pays off for those willing to take the time to explore – some missions are only obtained by the adventurous.
You get the basics of the story through obligatory dialogue, and can glean the finer details by listening to NPCs speaking to one another or even directly at you. Dishonored allows players to decide the depth in which they wish to delve into the world and story. Diligent or observant players will be rewarded with a fleshed out back story through eavesdropping on casual conversations and exploration, whilst journals and notes are stashed in vacant rundown apartments, bars and even the sewers. You will venture across homes barricaded against the dangers lurking the street, or fallen people with their worldly possessions scattered around them. All of this helps tell the tale of a city struck with strife and misery. It is all there for the player to find if they choose and it is choice that is at the heart of this game.
Dishonored does not raise the bar this generation graphically. I don’t think that was the plan either. What it does do however is remind us that a game can be as much an art piece as it can be an experience. Not to say it is not a good looking game, on the contrary. With a Gothic Steampunk vibe and watercolour pallet, Dishonored should be a reminder to all developers that giving your game a distinctive look can truly pay off. In the same way that Borderlands has its cell shading, Dishonored has a look that is very much its own and a welcome change from other modern games. The visuals do a wonderful job of breathing life into the city streets of Dunwall.
I found myself on many occasions being distracted by the set pieces and vistas. Standing on the docks watching huge ships slink by the city, or on the steeple-like rooftops watching the denizens below. This game simply oozes atmosphere and personality.
You will find yourself traversing all manner of locations. From back alleys littered with trash and infested with rats, to ornate mansions filled with the posh and connected. The contrast between the environments helps tell the story of a city torn between differing realities. One mission will have you on the moonlight bathed streets, while another may see you infiltrating a brothel teeming with guards and women of the oldest profession. All the levels feel open and begging for you to explore their possibilities.
This is where Dishonored really shines. You feel you are always given a choice. Never are you funnelled into a situation where there is only one option or path. Instead, it’s up to you to decide. Do you want to walk down the street, knife and gun in hand, dispatching all those before you? How about sneak from roof to roof, slipping past guards as you burglarize and pickpocket your way to the objective? Or any combination of the above.
Each area you enter is rife with alternate routes, nooks and crannies, all hiding secret paths or treasures to be plundered. How you get from point A to point B is very much up to you. Never will you find yourself without options. The level design made me reminisce on old favourites like Thief or even the Hitman series.. Dishonored‘s levels feel more like small sandboxes for improvising, rather than straightforward levels to be conquered and forgotten.
What allows this to work so well are the game mechanics.
At the heart of Dishonored is a game that urges the player to experiment. This is a first-person action adventure that mixes combat and stealth into a delicious concoction of your choosing. At the start you have your sword and gun and stealth. But through an economic system based on risk versus reward you can craft Corvo into your own personal vision. Throughout each level are stashed both monetary and magical items. Cash wise you can find coins, paintings and other such valuables which are used to purchase upgrades for your weapons and equipment.
Want to carry more grenades, bullets or darts? Shoot farther, faster? Those will all cost you money. Not just upgrades, but the items themselves. You can purchase different darts for your crossbow or upgrade your boots to silence your steps. If you’re feeling rowdy though, you can buy better armour or devices to help parry enemy sword blows. At first these upgrades will be inexpensive, but as you rise in tiers the price also keeps pace – forcing you to either pick and choose, or make sure that you clean out as much money as you can from each level.
Forward thinking will be required before each mission as well. Since the levels are sparse in your more exotic items, it is important to plan ahead and come prepared. Sleeping darts, rewire kits (which turn enemy machinery against them) and trip mines all cost money and if you want to bring them with you, you had better have the cash to cough up. Cash that is earned through pickpocketing and burglary.
Personally, I played the entire game as a stealthy sleuth. I never had an issue with being able to afford not only all the upgrades but keeping my character stocked up on darts, bullets and other items. There where plenty of times when I would find myself lacking supplies well before I was able to complete my objectives though, forcing me to slow my pace and rethink my approach.
Review continued on next page..