At this late date in the current console cycle, and with a constant flow of developers biting the dust, it is perhaps surprising Bethesda Softworks would consider pushing out a new IP by French developers Arkane Studios. It’s a good job they did because Dishonored is a great game.
Unlike the majority of blockbuster videogames today that hurriedly funnel players along rigid set pieces from one slow-motion explosion to another, Dishonored asks players to slow down, to re-think, to discover new possibilities and to consider the potential consequences of your actions. In doing so, the game succeeds in delivering players a true sandbox experience.
This first-person stealth-action game is set in the fictional costal city of Dunwall, the grand capital city of a vast maritime empire, inspired by steam punk and late Victorian London. The once magnificent city is now in a state of utter dilapidation. A mysterious plague is ravishing the population, bloodthirsty rats prey upon survivors and a ruthless dictatorship oppresses the proletariats. It’s a dark sci-fi amalgamation of everything bad 19th century Europe could have ever conjured up. Every facet of the game’s backstory has been flushed out and well written. Letters, notes, books, signs and posters are strewn all over the game, adding to the intrigue and immersing players further in to the Victorian-esque city. While the backdrop of Dunwall is exceedingly well crafted, the game’s main story is a little clichéd.
Dark Satanic Mills
In Dishonored we play as Corvo, a former bodyguard to the Empress, now a dark sorcery-wielding assassin. In the opening scenes we see the Empress abruptly murdered and the heiress kidnaped by a gang of mysterious brigands. Corvo, framed for both heinous acts, is thrown in jail and subjected to much torture and torment at the hands of the real culprits: the Regent and his cronies. The story has a well-trodden premise at its heart, featuring the usual plot twists and turns any blockbuster videogame might employ. However the game soon sets itself apart once we begin to play.
In each level Corvo is given a target to strike down with a vengeance. To aid him in this bloody work, he has an array of deadly weapons to exploit. Also at our anti-hero’s disposal are ten diabolical powers to unlock, upgrade and unleash upon the world. As well as being incredibly fun to use, each individual power proves extremely useful by opening up new areas to explore and creating different ways to play. It’s mixing these powers together however, that makes Corvo feel like an unstoppable force. You can see guards through walls, then teleport behind them. Or freeze time still and murder your target while he stands inert and, just before time re-starts, posses a rat and make good your escape. The game might be set up for stealth, but you needn’t be so clandestine. It’s perfectly viable to burst open the doors and summon a plague of rats to devour all inside.
It’s also entirely possible, and somewhat encouraged, to complete each level without harming a soul. It’s the choices that you make, the factions that you help and the mercy that you show that affects how later levels will play out. Go around massacring everything that moves and things are likely to turn out chaotic in later levels. Want to be a pacifist? Then go ahead. Life, even A.I life, is precious after all.
And how would you like your revenge served, sir?
Dishonored plays more or less exactly how you want it to. Confidently stride up to your enemies to dispatch them in the cold light of day or keep to the shadows, maintaining as vast a distance from them as you possibly can. It’s up to you. Though to be fair, the stealthy approach is probably your best chance of success.
The game does have a few minor annoyances. Like, loading auto-saves in the middle of combat, no sign that you’re actually hidden, a pretty predictable plot and zombies… (a personal hatred of mine.) However none of these issues are large enough to hold the game back in any real way.
It’s clear that Arkane Studios, the development team behind Dishonored, drew extensive inspiration from similar games such as, Thief, Bioshock and Half-life 2. While the game might not break any new ground, it certainly is a refinement of the open-world first-person videogame genre. It takes everything those previous (stellar) games got right and backs them up with awesome gameplay, great magic and an amazing setting.
Arkane Studios have created one of the best games of this generation. The gameplay and backdrop to the game will likely stick with gamers for years. Do yourself a favour, buy this game... or at least ask Santa for it!