While Developer Arkane Studios may not be a household name to many gamers, they certainly made their presence known with the first information of Dishonored in Game Informer and wowed many a critic at E3 2012. Their background only includes a meager 2 games before, and their Austin based studio had only previously helped with work on Bioshock 2 and a cancelled Valve project. With the release of Dishonored, expect their name to get tossed around for whatever they work on next. For while the title is a short affair, a lot of attention to detail was crafted into this new IP.
Dishonored tells the simple tale of a bodyguard to a fictional steampunk england era empress. After being framed for her assassination and the disappearance of her daughter you are quickly given a chance to sneak out of prison before your untimely execution. From there the game is a mission based romp through a dystopian city suffering the outbreak of a plague while you attempt to find and rescue the heir to the throne and extract revenge on those who wronged you and control the empire now. While the title uses the Unreal 3 engine like just about every game in this day and age, it thankfully attempts to branch out with a unique stylized look, at least for the characters. This was probably a good call as the game really isn’t anything to write home about visually otherwise. Part of the problem I believe comes from the color palette, to many of the textures and surfaces appear washed out or faded, and using a deeper and darker color scheme probably could have done wonders for the title. As for the music it is almost non-existent and when it does it is mostly for mood. This definitely comes from the PC gaming background of letting the natural sounds of the game world immerse you in its world over a music score. A surprising number of celebrities also lend their talents to the voice cast, though you probably wont recognize them at first. This is a good thing and it shows that people were cast for their talents rather then their recognition. That said your character is the classic mute, another PC gaming tradition for FPS, but the acting of the characters around you is generally excellent. The biggest complaint I do have is the general guard conversations are severely limited. I probably heard the same three exchanges from every guard I snuck past on every level in the game.
So from the title and boxart alone you can probably guess Dishonored is a stealth game. To put it simply, Dishonored is to Thief, what Fable is to the Elder Scrolls. A stylized, much more accessible style of game in the same genre but missing some of the more intricate details of the series it derives from. Arkane Studios have done a remarkable job of pacing and timing the controls of the game to ease you into understanding how to use all of the different features and abilities the title has to offer. I do wish to point out that for the XBOX 360 I did not generally like the default control scheme. This come in the fact that on the default console settings, block and parry is mapped to the R1/RB button. Thankfully there is the option of four different methods, though a full button configuration option would have been greatly appreciated. After settling for type D, where block/parry was the L trigger, I never felt confused or that I had to fight for control of my character. It should be noted there is a peculiar option in the menu entirely dedicated to chain climbing controls. I can not figure out for the life of me what they were trying to accomplish with the default setting, and switching that early on relieved a lot of grief.
Much like Fable and Mass Effect, Dishonored is a game about choice and morals that are reflected in the ending. By using stealth and finding ways to non-leathly dispose of guards and head targets you will be rewarded with the token “good” ending, the more you kill the more you are likely to get the “bad” or “chaos” ending. This is where Dishonored basically falls apart because the morality system is essentially broken. Early on the game you are introduced to a very intriguing character called The Outsider. He is basically a god who grants you the ability to use magic spells. What you do with them is up to you. The catch here is that outside only maybe 2 magic abilities and only one weapon type in the whole game everything is tailored for you to kill people with. Summoning rat hordes, blasting tornadoes, bending time which grants instant kills, nearly every ability helps you kill faster and more efficiently. The same is true for the firearms, of which only the sleep darts will render foes unconscious, the rest are all made for good old fashioned blood shed. The problem with this is two fold, using non-lethal methods simply are not fun and the payoff really isn’t worth the trouble. While sneaking around can usually be made interesting, here it usually involves a lot of waiting and listening to guards to move on, and slow sneaking up to people’s backs to choke them out over and over again. Games such as the Batman: Arkham Asylum and City have shown you can make sneaking fun by screwing with enemies fear and paranoia. Here there is no such pleasure as it basically functions the same as the First Metal Gear Solid. This makes playing it good a challenge in patience more then anything. While this does effect later missions ever so slightly, the end result is really not that drastic. Either ending is about 30 seconds long of camera pans over still frame 3D dioramas with the major points of the ending remaining untouched. Another reason the morality system is broken is that it is near impossible to raise your moral level from Chaos to good once it goes down. Even with only 9 missions, I completed one with a meager 4 deaths and still no change in my rating. Also the game does not take into account self defense either. Every single major target or plot point that let me take out the person or people non-leathly I did. The game did not care at all. Death is death, and even in self-defense your morality is still tacked against in the end. This is all of course somewhat explained in the fact that dead bodies means more food for the diseased rats which then breed and spread the disease further which causes more plague bearers to appear in your game. This would be a cool feature if not for the fact that there is a spell that incinerates fallen foes into ash immediately upon death, however the game does not take this into account either and you will still magically have more diseased people roaming around your game. Speaking of the diseased, called Weepers, there actions don’t really make a lot of sense. The plague is for all intents and purposes basically the black death from our own real history. As you sneak about some of the more abandoned areas of the city you will see them huddled around fire pits for warmth, or curled up in their houses awaiting their inevitable demise. Sometimes you will find rather touching moments between two best friends as they struggle to climb out of a pile of corpses, or a pair of lovers huddled together as they pass. These are all offset by the fact that when weepers see you they drop what they are doing and try to eat you. Why do they try to eat you?! from the journals you can find and read in the game there is nothing about the plague turning people into cannibals, it is pretty much the black plague through and through. Other then to have yet another zombie enemy in a video game, it makes no real sense why they want to eat you.
Still despite these weaknesses, there is still a lot of good in the game. The world is very fleshed out, much beyond the city it takes place in. There is a whole fictional world you can discover and read about in the game and many of the aforementioned NPC dialog sequences are very well done. Arkane should also be commended on their attention to detail in completing one sidequest can greatly impact characters and events in a completely separate mission all thanks to your actions. While the morality system might be broken, it can’t be denied that many other gameplay based cause and effect actions are taken into consideration. While not a open world title, the nature of the game does make a very sandbox experience despite the level structure. Still it has to be said that one question that nagged through my mind by the end of the game was whether or not this was even a world worth saving? To be blunt other then about 3-4 characters total, every single person in the game is evil or corrupt in some way. it doesn’t help that 90% of NPC are bloodthirsty guards, slimey aristocrats, or twisted gang members. You rarely find an actual citizen that isn’t an infected zombie. Also it has to be said that the last couple missions in particular are clearly padded out content made to wrap up as many loose ends as they can and stretching the conclusion out for another couple hours. Even with all that Dishonored is a game that is unlikely to take you more then a few days top to beat and can easily be completed within a single sitting if your inclined enough. The flip side to this is that it is entirely impossible to see and do everything on one playthrough. The game clearly wants you to see both sides it has to offer, the question just boils down to, do you want to?
In the end Dishonored is a commendable job by a relatively young studio. The attention to detail and ease of use is top notch. However the ambition of the title often gets the better of it, and as such some of the bigger mechanics fall over themselves in the end. Still you are likely to have a good time playing through the title, so long as you don’t mind being bad or being very, very patient in your attempt to be good.
Final Verdict: GIFT
Dishonored is a short but sweet new IP that goes a long way to flesh out its world and make choices count. While the controls gameplay is top notch, it is lopsided in its morality system and many of its ideas fall over themselves. You could probably see most of what the title has to offer on two playthroughs making this a perfect gift choice to play in between the longer titles.