This year’s fall lineup promises to deliver some heavy hitters this holiday season from Assassin’s Creed III to the much anticipated remake X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and new entries in their highly popular series respectively, from Halo 4 to Call to Duty: Black Ops 2. With that and more making appearances, Arkane Studios’ Dishonored has its work cut out for it to get noticed by the public. Luckily, while not perfect, Dishonored, with its impressive mixture of Assassin’s Creed’s assassination focused gameplay, Bioshock’s steam punk, bleak backdrop, and Thief’s stealth mechanics, has just enough polish and enjoyment to make a big splash of its own.
You’re dropped into the shoes of Corvo Attano, former protector of the Empress. “Former” comes into play when the Empress is killed right in front of Corvo’s eyes and he is framed and incarcerated for her murder. With a little help from a small group of loyalists and the trickster god of this world named “The Outsider”, our protagonist suits up and stalks bloody vengeance and justice against the corrupt regime that took his former life away. How does he do this? With an abundance of tools, powers, and very sharply executed stealth gameplay.
The city of Dunwall is a dark, compassionless, corrupt, and decaying place plagued by diseased rats that directly reflect the bureaucracy that drags the city down. Dishonored’s Dunwall is brought to glorious, depressing life by its very steampunk look, impressive array of memorable characters, and a slightly embellished design. The artwork prides itself on being less realistic than other games, particularly The Elder Scrolls series. Dishonored casts a much more exaggerated feel, much like the Fable series, though darker in tone and creation. However unrealistic the character models are, the landscape and the world they inhabit with their old world architecture are no less impressive and Dishonored gives plenty of chances to view them from afar and from up high.
Many may come expecting to experience this dark city as an open-world style game. This is not the case. Dunwall is presented to you in neat little chunks of real estate in the form of missions. Some may think this a downside, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Open worlds, unless executed properly, can leave you with a lot of space and nothing to do. Dishonored, instead, lets you experience this city piece by piece, with plenty of openness in each mission to give you ample options on where to go. A bonus is that each mission grades you on how well you stuck to the shadows. Leaving bodies around or racking up a body count ups your “Chaos” rating, while remaining undetected and properly hiding bodies keeps it down. It’s up to you to decide if “Chaos” matters to you or not. Your decisions, however, will shape the city as time goes by. More bodies equal more rats, more plague and a much darker conclusion.
Without a doubt, stealth and secrecy are the center of Dishonored’s gameplay. While pistols and swords, as well as a few powers that emphasize killing sprees make it possible to wreak bloody revenge right out in the open, hand to hand combat isn’t where the game truly shines. The guns are quite accurate and using powers like Wind Blast and Time Bend to dispatch guards is fun, but the sword combat is slightly less polished, being a bit clumsy with its timing. Sticking to the shadows and formulating a plan is not only advised, but it becomes very rewarding.
However, being limited to stealth, at least until you gain some experience, isn’t a downside at all. Dishonored handles the mechanics well. The kills are easy to pull off and just as easy to find. Getting around the city of Dunwall is a breeze. The controls for traversing the city are great; climbing over obstacles, leaping from ledge to ledge, plus the ability to teleport, or “Blink,” over longer jumps makes it feel very fluid, much like the stealth. Not only that, but the rest of your powers are easily implemented and enjoyable to use as well. Stopping time, seeing through walls, summoning rats, possessing animals and humans, and several more are all at your fingertips and all can help get you out of a scrap or help you stay undetected, that and using the light to your advantage. Darkness leaves less visible while light causes enemies to spot you from afar.
What these options come down to is choice, which plays a big role in Dishonored. The biggest method of choice is in how you approach combat and situations. Missions are very open to tackling in many different ways: taking to the rooftops or the waterways and avoiding everyone, cutting a silent, unseen path through the enemy, or charging straight in and causing as much chaos as possible. Within each of these choices are more choices: which abilities to use, which weapons, should I turn the enemies technology against them, etc. Luckily, everything from the crossbow to the sword, from teleportation and possession to shooting gusts of razor wind from your hand, everything feels rewarding and everything can be used to your advantage…or disadvantage if you don’t think something through.
The downside to having the stealthy approach being the focal point is Dishonored’s insistence on punishing you if you stray from it. While the direct approach is an option, it is almost not worth the hassle. You are quickly overwhelmed with guards if spotted, and later on machines and superpowered villains make the fight that much harder. Sadly, there aren’t as many options taking that approach either.
Dishonored may have mechanics and ingredients that have been done before, but never have they been mixed in such an ideal way. It isn’t the very first of its kind, but Dishonored is an incredibly enjoyable, addicting, and tactical creation with a great art direction to bring it to life. Not only that, but it tells a compelling story with a few unseen twists that will keep you playing just to see what happens next. Stealth may be the ideal choice with little else, but it is by far the most finely executed stealth gameplay of its kind.