A wrath-filled bodyguard turned assassin out to get revenge against the people who murdered his Empress in an industrial steampunk world mixed with magic: what could possibly go wrong? But while there is no doubt that Dishonored is fun and creative, it isn’t perfect. However, are the flaws easily overlooked or do they weigh this game down?
You play as Corvo Attano, the highly regarded bodyguard of the Empress of the island nation Dunwall. Within the first ten minutes of the game, the empress is assassinated and her daughter kidnapped and you are blamed. With some help from a loyalist group, you break out of prison and join their ranks. Thus begins the story of Corvo, who is attempting to right the wrong done to him in either a bloody, vengeful massacre or a higher, noble pursuit of justice. This story sounds like it should be amazing and filled with thrills, action, and political corruption; sadly, however, it’s boring, dry, and uninteresting. The reason for this is the flat characters. Corvo is empty and you don’t feel for his struggle at all. The other characters are uninteresting as well; they have backgrounds and motives, but they still fall flat. Add in some extremely predictable plot twists and the story just doesn’t hold up to what it could have been.
On the other hand, the setting is incredible. The combination of an industrial city and a magical steampunk world really provides some great environments, and adding a devastating plague that is ravaging the city’s inhabitants really helps to sell the world. The game is visually appealing and the landscape designs are great; however, when you look closely, the graphics take a definite nosedive.
The variation found in the levels is also well done – the grimy, rat-infested sewers are another world compared to the lush, ornate mansion you may find yourself in a little while later. Finding lore-filled journals, books, and letters, along with eavesdropping on conversations, adds to the already strong atmosphere.
Dishonored is a mission-based game, but there are enough options available in each mission that it gives off a sandbox vibe. Do you crawl through the sewers to get past the heavily guarded gate, or do you stroll down the middle of the street, killing anyone you see? You can literally go through the entire game without killing a single person or you can mercilessly butcher everybody who crosses your path. Dishonored tries to influence you to make merciful decisions by having the amount of dead enemies affect three things: the outcome of the story, an increase in rats, and an overall increase in enemies. This would matter if the story was at all interesting . Also, if you enjoy killing a lot of people, adding in more enemies doesn’t exactly seem like much of a punishment but rather a reward.
Dishonored is a first-person stealth game, which means it involves a lot of climbing and hiding. It pulls off first-person climbing well enough, although there will be a moment or two where you miss a ledge you swore you should have made. In your right hand you carry a sword while your left hand is used for everything else. This includes shooting a gun, throwing grenades, using magical powers, and other fun stuff. There is a menu wheel that allows you to select the left hand’s ability, and there are also shortcuts so you don’t always have to go into the menu. Still, it would’ve been nice to use both hands – your right hand is always occupied with your sword.
The upgrade aspect is where most of the diversity in play-styles will arise for Dishonored. You can purchase physical upgrades, like making your boots quieter, and there are also bone-charms to discover and equip, which act like perks; faster choking speed, to name one. Then there are the magical powers, upgraded by finding runes hidden throughout the game. Some magical powers are made for killing, while others will help you remain undetected. Most likely you will focus on one type of skill set per playthrough. The first playthrough you may be a bloodthirsty killer with spells like Devouring Swarm (which summons rats to eat a guard), while on a second playthrough you may focus more on peaceful upgrades like Possession (which transfers Corvo’s mind to a small creature in order to sneak by guards).
There are many, many fun ways to kill people. It could be as simple as using your sword, or as creative as using a magic wind blast to send them flying off a balcony to their death. The variety in killing is well done and will foster creativity. However, it’s the complete opposite when it comes to not killing enemies – you can either knock them out by choking them from behind or by shooting them with a sleep dart; that’s it. You have regular grenades – why not include sleeping gas grenades to put multiple enemies to sleep. Also, why do you always have to kill someone in combat? Surely you could simply knock them out rather than jamming your sword into their throat? This makes playing the game without killing (which is what the game pushes you to do) feel unimaginative, since there are only so many ways to knock an enemy out.
The issue with stealth games is always the intelligence of the AI, and this is definitely called into question in Dishonored. One time, an enemy only a couple of steps away was alerted to Corvo’s presence, but taking one step to the left and putting him behind a column caused the enemy to completely forget about Corvo. The enemy didn’t even check the area out. Think you’re safe enough to shoot a crossbow bolt because you’re three stories up and a block away? Guess again; somehow, that one bolt has alerted every enemy (including a dog) to your exact location. Tossing a body into the open should draw attention, but there was more than one instance where a guard walked right past a body, completely oblivious. It’s hard to plan in this game when you have no idea if the AI will be like a raccoon drawn to a shiny object or if it will have a sudden stroke of genius.
The biggest issue is one bug that happened repeatedly throughout the game. There is a moment when an enemy will lower their sword and raise their gun, and this moment in which they switch weapons should be a perfect opening to strike, considering they’re completely defenseless. However, almost every time, Corvo’s sword would literally go through the enemy as if they were a ghost. This led to many unfair deaths; a gun to the face, to be precise.
Dishonored is a strange game, considering that each player will experience it differently. The first playthrough took just over six hours and felt very unsatisfying. However, after replaying missions to experiment with different routes, strategies, and upgrades, the overall experience increased. The best way to play Dishonored is by taking your time, exploring areas for their many secrets, doing side-missions, reading the lore-filled books, experimenting with upgrades, and, most importantly, replaying the missions. Playing through this game once will give little satisfaction, since the allure of Dishonored comes in being able to beat a level multiple ways. There are many good things in Dishonored, but the bad cannot be ignored.
Final Verdict: This review may seem negative, but rest assured, Dishonored is a good game. It simply has flaws that must be mentioned. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not quite there yet. It’s definitely fun but it’s too short, so in order to fully enjoy it, it’s necessary to take every side-quest and experience multiple playthroughs. Truthfully, this game may be better as a rental, since it does not take long to beat at all, even multiple times.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Dishonored developed by Arkane Studios and distributed by Bethesda Softworks.