For those of you who feel that games these days are all too often little but imitations of previous successes, or small iterations of a stagnant franchise, Dishonored
is the antidote. Arkane Studios have pushed themselves above and beyond in an effort to offer the market a stark choice to anything else currently available. Will it disappear into a sea of sequels or soar above as a bastion for breathtaking single player experiences?
You are Corvo Attano. A bodyguard of superior skill stationed to protect the Empress, a caring leader who is gravely concerned for the future of her city, Dunwall. A replica of Victorian era London, Dunwall is beginning to crumble at the hands of a rat-borne plague virus as citizens succumb to the virus itself and poorly bootlegged placebos. Corvo is dispatched to nearby neighbouring towns in search of any aid or knowledge which could assist them in halting the slow demise of their people.
Upon returning to Dunwall with nothing but bad news, an exceptionally well-coordinated attack catches Corvo and the Empress off guard. Throwing himself into the fight without question he disposes as many of the attackers as he can. Once the dust settles the Empress is dead, her daughter kidnapped and Corvo finds himself framed for the whole ordeal.Blinded by the shine of a Golden Age
Within the steampunk universe of Dishonored
, Whale Oil is the precious resource that keeps cities alive. Whalers risk their lives day and night to bleed the lumbering creatures dry of their precious cargo which is juxtaposed into contraptions such as Walls of Light (Tesla Coil like structures), audiographs or the humble street light. This magical substance drives their entire world forward without a single care for the sustainability of their lifestyle. The whalers are the beating heart of a dangerous yet thriving working class driven culture where the aristocratic elite preside over the majority of the wealth and power.
The quality of scene-setting, writing and dialogue throughout is sublime. As you travel the streets of Dunwall you'll get an incredibly beautiful picture of it's inhabitants and their internal struggles.
Down a back alley flooded with sewage, a peasant is bent double, violently vomiting into a nearby trash pile as they ward off the rats. They sense they are soon to receive the gift of another corpse and feed well. Moving forward we hop over a wall, traverse a rooftop and find ourselves at a gauche masked ball for the close friends of the high and powerful. Moving silently between groups we catch isolated phrases from the disconnected upper-classes. "Realising the power of Whale Oil was a truly great discovery. This is our Golden Age...".
Dunwall is a genuinely brilliant construct. As with many games attempting to tell such a grand story, the most under-appreciated characters are the very locations themselves.Enter Corvo - The Masked Man
As we enter the game true, Arkane Studios have set an amazing scene, but is it a beautiful setting for mediocre gameplay? Thankfully not. Here we get everything we would hope for in the role of Corvo and more. Played from a FPS point of view, Corvo is capable of dual-wielding weaponry. In his right hand, always a sword. In his left hand however you can get creative. You can choose to equip different shortcuts to the d-pad to quickly jump from crossbow to sleep darts, or if the need to dig yourself out of a tight spot emerges, a classic pistol.
You'll also gain access to arcane powers of your choosing. As you find Runes and Bone Charms throughout the world you can opt to spend them on powers and upgrades of your choice. If it helps you picture them, think of these as being similar to Plasmids from BioShock
. You can choose from a range of powers such as Bending Time or moving faster with Blink and assign these to your left hand.
Blink is one of the basic powers in the game and is used with great effect to twist what could have been a somewhat dreary and limiting sneaking affair into an exciting system with a far greater scope. To our eyes, Corvo moves smoothly and incredibly quickly from one point on the map to another (chosen by holding down LT and simply releasing it wherever we would like to propel ourselves), but to our enemies' eyes we move so phenomenally quickly we essentially teleport. You can Blink in all dimensions making it an exceptionally handy tool for dropping down into a room, pickpocketing a valuable key from a guard's pocket and then hurriedly retreating back into the rafters. The skill is a demonstrable offensive force too allowing the more aggressive play of chaining together stealth kills and assassinations.
Indeed you can elect to play the whole game without anything but the core setup of Blink and a sword (and indeed earn 50G
for doing so). This reinforces the point that this game truly plays how you
tell it to. If you lean towards a loud and in-your-face offensive setup, expect a lot of combat and for the game's engine to adapt to your technique injecting more enemies between you and your goal as reinforcements are called in. To accommodate for this possibility levels are carefully crafted to spoil you with a multitude of routes to your goal, plenty of optional objectives and dynamic options based on how you influence the world.
There's a simple and incredibly compelling idea at the heart of each mission and the resulting outcome. You're responsible. Every action you take is your
decision. You killed that dignitary because you wanted
to. Not because you had
to. You're responsible for the effects felt from this death and the changes it will bring to Dunwall.
One can learn a lot of information (both back story and mission pertinent tidbits) just by simply slowing down and listening. This is a game that rewrites the rules of combat without shoving them down the gamer's throat. It is very clear Arkane Studios intend this to be played out as a game of cat-and-mouse, moving from shadow to shadow as you recon your target. Sometimes a wonderful non-lethal opportunity to dispose of a target will expose itself if you look around enough. Although many of the powerful inhabitants of Dunwall exude airs and graces and proclaim their close allegiances to their friends and leaders, many are harbouring deep desires to see the system burn. All the situation needs is an unseen hand to fell the first domino and set an idea in motion. The frequent auto-saves and ability to create your own save to branch a decision at any point encourages you to explore the dozen routes to your waypoint and to play the game your own way. Indeed the achievement list is designed to support this too as we explored in our recent Achievement Spotlight
. Three to perhaps even four playthroughs might be required to see everything that is on offer here. Arkane certainly didn't 'play safe' when it came to unleashing their idea upon the market. The value for money in replayability is incredible.Keeping the focus firmly on the goal
Despite presenting the player with a healthy number of options, some of which are incredibly high risk strategies, Arkane Studios have maintained a focus on rewarding players who work stealthily to collect more clues and put themselves in greater positions of danger. These rewards range from in-game items to interesting story developments which will affect later cutscenes and dialogue. In short, this is the Chaos system. Going by the name, the system works much like you would expect it to. Malevolent actions such as killing enemies and drawing attention to the fact a masked assassin is in the vicinity raises the Chaos rating. Conversely conducting your actions silently with a minimal death toll keeps the Chaos level low.Dishonored
demands greater skill and more creativity in order to uncover high value information and clues - and rightly so. It's this attitude that takes a linear level progression and ensures it doesn't feel constrained or predetermined. It puts you in charge of how the objectives will be completed. Dishonored
simply gives you the building blocks and waypoints in a level. How the dots are connected is the player's choice. It's a welcome move as without this level of control the temptation to simply 'run and gun' would win through for most people. Instead I actually found myself reloading checkpoints I'd made simply because, "I can do better". And by better, I mean without detection or kills.Does Dishonored have the antidote?
In a gaming market saturated with easy sequels and minor iterations which sell by the bucketload, Arkane Studios and Bethesda have arrived at the table with quite the mission on their hands. Convincing gamers to take a chance on a new IP which is undoubtedly one of the freshest and most cohesive experiences to hit store shelves in the last 18 months. Those who make the decision to buck the trend will be rewarded with one of the bleakest and most gorgeously complete game worlds I've witnessed outside the sunken walls of Rapture. The experience is supported by a rock solid storyline and an incredibly interesting supporting cast forcibly propelling the game into 'AAA' status.
If you read the opening sentence of this summary and felt even just a tinge of agreement with my sentiment, should you only be able to afford one retail title from the impressive lineup we're contending with this year, make it Dishonored
. I can offer no higher praise than an unquestionable five star rating, though I'm throwing my hat into the ring and declaring that I strongly
believe this is a Game of the Year contender.