We live in an era where video games often end up playing themselves in scripted sequences, on rail segments or Quick Time Events, Arkane Studios and Bethesda have joined forces to do exactly the opposite. Arkane Studios is a developer with a fairly long history of immersive first person games like Dark messiah of Might and Magic, contributed to BioShock 2 and has been joined by Harvey Smith who worked on Deus Ex and Invisible Wars. This is a track record that should set up a pretty good game with the support of Bethesda as a publisher for the studio’s latest venture – Dishonored.
Dishonored is a game set in the fictional industrial city called Dunwall, resembling a Victorian London where whale oil is the number one source of power and also the reason for its purpose in the empire led by the Empress of the region. Players will take control of the Empress’s bodyguard Corvo Attano who is framed for her murder. These events set the game up for his path to redemption.
Corvo’s journey to redemption is really the name of the game in Dishonored as the ending may be a little bit underwhelming. However, the fallen idol of the empire will spend a lot of quality time exploring the city of Dunwall, which is some of best gaming I have done this year. Dunwall has been stricken by the rat plague which turns an already bleak, industrial whaling city into a quarantined fortress filled with city watch guards, tallboys, gangs and weepers who are infected with the deadly plague carried by the diseased rats. Corvo is now a known enemy to the empire and blamed for the murder of the region’s beloved Empress by conspirator Lord Regent, whose plan to gain power seems to be paying off.
Lord Regent is only one of the colorful characters Corvo meets on his path to clear his name and bring the real killer to justice. Of course this goal isn’t achieved easily since the whole city is locked down and filled with security. Dishonored is a stealth game reminiscent of the classic Deus Ex and Thief gameplay from years past and provides many ways to achieve its mission objectives. Dunwall is a playground!
Players are given a plethora of tools to work with and be as creative as they’d like. Corvo doesn’t only get weapons like guns, swords, a mini cross bow, grenades and other gadgets to take care of foes but also supernatural abilities given to him by the Outsider. This ambiguous supernatural being not only provided Corvo his initial set of abilities but also left shrines around the world which serve as perks if found and activated – these perks range from added health to longer possession of rats. Additionally to the shrines, Corvo will find decorated whale bones called runes hidden in the world which are used to unlock and upgrade abilities like Blink – a short distance teleportation skill, Dark Vision – allows seeing enemies and items through walls or Possession which is the ability to take control of animals or people.
Combining all of the newly found weapons combined with the supernatural abilities Corvo can become a ruthless assassin who murders everything in his path or a stealth machine who is never detected during a mission. Dishonored leaves it all in the player’s hands as each mission has a main objective and one or more possible optional tasks which may help Corvo find a new path to his target or take care of a main objective without ever seeing them in the flesh. Arkane Studios has not only crafted an unbelievably beautiful and immersive world with loads of audio visual class but also allowed players to make real decisions affecting each mission and the world as a whole.
If players use Corvo’s skills to kill enemies rather than put them to sleep or circumvent them entirely and assassinate main targets as opposed to finding a non-lethal way the world will respond by becoming darker and more grim as the story progresses. Going the opposite route and leaving the ‘Chaos Meter’ in a low stage rather than high will avoid having to deal with more enemies, rats and affect the main story outcome. Corvo can hack protective gates called ‘Walls of Light’, creep across roof tops, find secret passages, hidden trap doors, and other advantageous pathways to his main target by stealing keys, listening in on conversations or complete side missions.
I must say that while I have done my fair share of beautifully animated, brutal and satisfying killing but tried to go the stealth route for most of the game which was even more rewarding at times. Even through once I mastered the game mechanics of Dishonored, and the various systems became more obvious to me, the game never felt arbitrary or going through the motions, keeping most of its crafted world intact. There are so many different ways to solve each mission that I spent way more time on each of them than I needed to, only to see the various ways I could use Corvo to approach and ultimately complete my goal.
The narrative journey Corvo is sent on in Dishonored is so good, that I tried to write this review as spoiler free as possible to make sure everyone gets to enjoy the game without knowing any of the game’s story. Arkane Studios has done the virtually impossible and created a new IP that is not only completely different from the way modern games tend to be made this generation but also a completely satisfying experience that will have players coming back for more than one playthrough. Dishonored’s world is so rich with backstory, interesting characters and motivations that I am having a hard time to recall a game this year that did it better. Arkane has crafted not only a great, living and breathing world but also the game mechanics to go along with it, marrying both elements to a near perfect union.
Score: 9 / 10
Dishonored was developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 8th. A retail copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided to us by Bethesda for reviewing purposes.