The joke, around whatever it is that passes for the newbreview offices (bunkerlow – ed), is that any review of Dishonored (DISHONORED!!!) would consist of two words ‘Buy X-Com.’
Aside from the gorgeous art style, lived in and believable world, understandable characters, excellent sound design and interesting approach, what makes Dishonored special is that it is a game that revels in the challenges the player sets themselves. Playing through non-lethally, or without being seen, or brutally murdering every last living thing on the map, all up to you. Dishonored presents the player with its immaculately carved world and then lets you run free in it, testing the limits of possibility or playstyle at your own whim.
If anything Dishonored suffers from this, or rather we as players do. It’s all too easy to reload the moment the tiniest thing goes wrong, or to feel like we are bound by the value added challenges the game offers up. The city of Dunwall is far more fun when stuff is going horribly, cataclysmically wrong. Charging away from massed enemies, bolting frantically up the side of a building, diving into a slide to get behind cover to find yourself careening of the edge of a ledge, these are hysterical, pulse quickening moments that the game asks to be savoured. ‘I think his mate saw me… Yes, yes he saw me!’
Even hiding in a wardrobe while the massed band of the city watch search an apartment from you can be a thrilling experience as you plan what you are going to do if that watchman takes another step closer, planning your escape. Play the game as a straight sneak’em’up and I think you’ll find yourself disappointed. Of course, the game sweetens the deal for some of the way, to add incentives to your play. Achievements are on offer for stealthy or low-violence playthrough, and in addition there is the ‘Chaos system’ that stands in for morality, changing city elements and adding more enemies to later levels as the bodycount rises. The Chaos system also affects the games overall outcome, pushing players who like nice happy endings to attempt as bloodless an approach as possible.
A low chaos playthrough can be quite limiting due to the fact that Corvo’s only non-lethal attacks are a cripplingly limited supply of sleep darts or sneaking up behind an unaware enemy and choking them with a grab of the right bumper. Even the drop assassinate can only be used to murder and not incapacitate and while the design decision here is understandable it can be rather frustrating, especially in the early game due to your limited powers.
With that said, I’ve argued in the past that making the player weaker at the start of the game is the only way to make them feel powerful as they grow, and here I think Dishonored nails that balance. Corvo is no lilting rose, slitting throats and chopping heads even in the very early game, but a combination of powers and the players skill in using them mean that approaches that would have been foolhardy or suicidal in the beginning are possible or even preferable in the end. What in other games might seem like a cheap way to re-use elements stands out a as a neat trick for marking your progression as the player is sent back to the area of the first mission at the start of the second, but this time with new approaches open to you.
I was lucky enough to have caught an RPS article in which it was advised that players turn off the quest marker and explore each area in detail and I think this is the way forward. Players who spend their time watching the distance marker count down as they progress straight towards their target will miss out of some of the most fun exploration in a game since Fez. Climbing across rooves or sneaking under bridges as you search for alternate routes through the level is wonderfully rewarding. And its a world that deserved to be explored. The details here are rich and thought through, and there are tiny narratives woven into the most unlikely places. While the use of audio logs may be becoming hackneyed, their use here is kept to a minimum and far more can often be gleaned about the world simply by looking at it. Bumping the occasional invisible wall is a small price to pay for the freedom you are given within each games area.
With that said, it’s not perfect. I had hoped for a more open world approach as opposed relatively linear structure of large but discrete areas that are offered up. While you may pass between some of these at your leisure once a level is complete there is no going back in most cases, and the player is even presented with a scorecard showing kills and amount of money found etc. Playing through non-lethally, I was twice frustrated to finish a level only to discover that someone had managed to get killed earlier on, and was forced to repeat the entire level in order to earn my 100Gs- it would seem a simply thing to notify the player of the first fatality in a level to circumnavigate this. Thankfully, animals don’t count towards this goal, though it was a trip onto google to discover this. In addition the climbing can occasionally go wonky, resulting in you climbing out of a river four times before finally managing to stay out of it. This is serious nitpicking, however, and should not dissuade. If anything, that a game can even attempt to offer this level of freedom is a bright beacon of hope for the future.
Review Round Up
Graphics: 5/5 – A gloriously realised world captured with unparalleled style. Even those of you that can’t help but see City 17 seeping through the cracks can’t criticise the execution.
Sound: 4/5 – Well realised soundscaping creates adds to world and is matched by some excellent acting by the cast
Gameplay: 5/5 – Choose how you want to play and then go nuts- Dishonored offers up the toolset to experiment and play like few games before have done.
Longevity: 4/5 – It would be possible to rush through it in around eight hours or so but you’d miss most of the game. Taking my time took me around 25 hours to complete the campaign, nonlethal, no quickloading, but I’m going back in to play through as a vicious murderer.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
If nothing else, Dishonored offers up a glorious break from the standard run and gun, and a wonderfully rich new environment to indulge in.For those of you just re-emerging from your XCOM induced exile, go put your FPS mask back on and give Dishonored a spin.
- Sam Crisp