Developer: Arkane Studios
In the usual build-up to Christmas there is always a huge rush of sequels heading out for the public to buy. However this year Arkane Studios and Bethesda have decided to break the mould and release a brand new IP in the pre-xmas rush, but is it good enough to compete against the established big franchises.
The storyline has a familiar ring to it as you play the role of Corvo Attano, the Royal Protector, who gets accused of a crime he didn’t commit and gets thrown into prison. From here you have to escape and wreck either a bloody or bloodless revenge upon your enemies. This choice to play as lethal or non-lethal assassin brings us to the most important point about Dishonored, the variety of the gameplay.
As you could expect from a development team including the co-creator of Deus Ex, every mission has a variety of different ways to be completed. You can go full on sneaky mode and try to avoid killing anyone or even being spotted and be richly rewarded for doing so, or you can go full on psycho killer and murder everyone in sight. Or you can go for somewhere between the two, the choice is all yours and all methods are viable.
Originally I adopted a stealthy approach avoiding all killing and trying not to be spotted by enemies and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then decided to go back and go all out blood lust in my second play through and it was like playing a completely different game. But they both worked well even though they were two opposing play styles. The levels are well designed allowing you to plot a route through the level avoiding detection and even give an option to take out your targets non-lethally, usually via completing a number of sub-objectives. However the combat is sturdy enough for you to storm the levels wiping out all enemies in your path. It is a tougher path to choose if you go all out but it still viable as the combat system, although not hugely in-depth is sturdy enough for you to accomplish this.
However all choices have consequences and the world around you will change depending on your actions. Obviously depending on actions you take different things will be spoken by NPC relating to the events happening but there are much wider consequences. Dunwall, the setting of the game, is stricken by a plague during the events of the game spread by rats. Now if you decide to start killing everyone, you’ll start seeing a lot more rats around the level. Normally not a major problem but in Dishonored rats become vicious predators when in packs and will kill a man and strip his bones within seconds. Plus the more deaths you rack up the more of the zombie-like infected called Weepers will appear who although not overly dangerous can cause you a lot of problems when you’re trying to be stealthy.
The game world itself is an essential character itself and worth mentioning. Originally designed as London just after the plague in 1666, the world developed into Dunwall a more steampunk world powered by Whale Oil and controlled equally by military force and the dominant religious order. There are still elements of London showing and when you reach Kaldwin Bridge the resemblance to the iconic London Bridge is difficult to miss. You can also see the influence of the designer of Half-Life 2’s City 17 in Dunwall from the giant walls blocking off the quarantine areas to the ever present voice of the city rulers Propaganda Officer.
The ever present plague actually gives an explanation for the sparsely populated streets of Dunwall but also allows for some great hidden stories. For instance you’ll often climb into an old building to find corpses wrapped in a corner and notes lying around telling you about what happened here previously. It’s a nice touch to the game and gives a reward for exploring every building you can rather than just having empty rooms for you to use cover. Arkane have obviously put a lot of love into every aspect of the world to really make it feel alive.
There is also a lot of background info into the world of Dunwall presented in both overheard conversations and the various books and notes left lying around the world. Although this is optional content, much like the Elder Scroll series it fleshes out the world nicely, which is handy as the NPC’s are sometimes a little bland. You’ll often find yourself meeting various characters but not caring too much about them as they just aren’t given flavour other than just seeming to be mission giver unless you spend a fair amount of time chatting to them when you see them. But there is no need or reward for doing this, the exception being Piedro the inventor who if you make the effort to keep an eye on him has some great moments of comic relief.
As a master assassin you have quite the arsenal at your disposal in the form of both physical weaponry and supernatural powers. Weapon-wise you will find you are always wielding a deadly sword in your right hand designed for close combat. Previous experience with first person melee combat via Arx Fatalis (a PC game which was all about first person melee and developed by Arkane) pays off here as the combat is simply controlled but requires precision timing and combos of blocks and attacks to become successful. In your left hand you can equip a choice of crossbow, pistol and various thrown devices like grenades and traps. The crossbow is your weapon of choice most of the time and will allow you to kill from afar in deadly silence, while the pistol is best deployed when in combat due to its high power but short range. There is truly no greater bad-ass feeling then successfully blocking a sword lunge and then unloading a pistol shot in your opponents face.
The powers you have are also controlled using the left hand and range from a short range teleport spell, possession of animals and time manipulation, handy for the stealth approach, to summoning swarms of rats, having the ability to pull of uber-devastating moves or using a Force-like windblast, if you opt for the more combat heavy approach. Most of these powers are useful in one way or another for your missions though depending on what play style your using some will be more useful than others.
Visually the game is strong. The first thing you will notice is the art style which can be best described as cartoon realism. All the characters have a realistic drawn feel to them much like a painting of a caricature would and it gives the game a unique feel. There are some superb lighting effects in use as well, often used to great effect as most missions are set around dusk so you’ll often see the sun setting across the sea. As mentioned before there is a lot of background detail in the areas too from, ships moving back and forth the ocean to posters and paintings throughout every level. All these details add to a feel of a once great city brought to ruin by this virulent plague running through its streets, with all but the richest being hit.
As you would expect from a stealth game sound is very important and while music is kept to a minimum during missions, a few incidental pieces are heard during non-mission segments to help set the mood nicely. The speech is all well recorded but does suffer from an element of repetitiveness with the enemy NPC’s when they are on patrol, not enough to be causing any issue but enough to be noticeable. The sound effects are very useful in not only attempting to find where your enemies are but alerting you if you make too much noise. It really forces you to keep your ears open for any suspicious sounds especially the weepers who can be deadly quiet and sneak up on you from nowhere.
The achievement list is well thought out and while multiple playthroughs are required to obtain all, the fact that the game can play completely differently depending on how you approach it means you’ll be essentially playing two different games. There are also some nice achievements for attempting actions you wouldn’t normally approach like killing the stilt walking Tallboys with just your sword which is made more difficult by the fact they are often 30 foot in the air! However due to a save anywhere system all the achievements are quite possible and won’t take you too long to complete the list. None will give you too much of a headache and this is a very possible 100%
Overall Dishonored is a great new IP. With a rich world which the game barely scratches there is plenty of scope for future games too. Although the missions are not the longest and the Blink power if used wisely can simplify some missions ridiculously, there is still a fair 20-30 hours gameplay here due to multiple playthroughs, although once completed there is little incentive to return to the game, you will enjoy your time playing it. Although possibly not GOTY material, this is definitely one of the best games out this year and definitely worth picking up for its original ideas and the fact that is very little out there in the market quite like it.Overall 9/10