Dishonored is a game centred on freedom, about giving players permission to do what they please with what they have: instead of being funnelled down one linear path. Arkane Studios' latest title instead provides a multitude of options, outcomes and experiences, each and every one of them tailored to the player at the helm. But with so much ambition and so many possibilities, it'd be easy for the title to falter: such a wide range of choices could lead to a disjointed adventure and with such a plethora of available abilities, a confusing game Dishonored could have become, almost to the point of where it would be deemed a failure. Yet, on the other hand, if everything works out the way it should and the title delivers a satisfying and exciting gaming experience, then Dishonored could be one of the greatest games not just of this year, but of this generation. So, the question remains: does the story of Corvo Attano and his quest for revenge amidst a city filled with plague live up to the astounding hype surrounding it?
Dunwall is a place of ruin: once a gleaming location of class and perfection, the city is now drowning in its own filth; the homeless sit against grimy brick walls calling to anyone who passes by, guards patrol every inch searching for those doing wrong and rats seep through every gap they can find, infecting whatever crosses their path. Yet, despite all of this negativity, Dunwall is also a place of hope: a revolution is rising and as the rich become more so and the poorer succeed in falling further down the social ladder, the belief and the promise of a better future becomes stronger with every second that passes. It is this that Corvo Attano, once bodyguard of the Emperor, finds himself thrust into, as a wrongful allegation throws him into prison and an unseen friend gives him the tools to fight back, to craft and perform his revenge.
The story of Dishonored is both well scripted and frequently gripping: with a strong set-up and rich, deeply drawn characters, this is a plot players will want to see the end of, regardless of what end they receive, and when combined with an atmospheric, detailed world and a gorgeous art style, Dishonored is a title that is as much of a joy to watch as it is to play. The locations of Dunwall, from the dingy, body-littered sewers to the luxurious interiors of the upper class, are some of the richest ever made in a video game, let alone this generation, ranking up with the best in its class alongside City 17 from Half-Life 2, Cyrrodil or Skyrim from The Elder Scrolls and Rapture from Bioshock. And with such a unique art style, which only emphasises the bleakness of Dunwall, Dishonored is easily one of the most graphically sumptuous games of the year.
But whilst a good story and stunning graphics do sometimes make for a great game, it could not be anything different with Dishonored, as the star of the show is undoubtedly the gameplay. What Arkane Studios have done with their latest title is nothing short of genius: thanks to their hard work a masterpiece has been created. The idea of an assassin making his way through huge areas to take out targets with a multitude of ways to complete the mission: the idea has been done before but what makes Dishonored stand out from the crowd is how well it does it. If any title should be picked up this year because of both the complexity and the sheer brilliance of its gameplay then Dishonored is it. Not only does everything fit together so perfectly, but it's also thoroughly satisfying to do anything in the game, be it killing a guard in bloody fashion or traversing the environment in search of runes and bone charms: everything in Dishonored is a joy to witness and perform.
It's incredibly difficult to sum up what Arkane Studios' masterpiece really is: at its heart, it's a simple stealth action game, where players sneak around the environment outsmarting guards, crawling through air ducts and then silently taking them out, but there's certainly a lot more to it than that, a fact that is proven countless times as missions are completed and abilities are upgraded. The whole of Dishonored is somewhat very similar to a skeleton: All the game does is provide structure and parts but everything else, from who lives and who dies to whether certain objectives are even completed or not, is decided by the player and the decisions they make. Everything in Dishonored, be it not saving a side character during a particular mission to the amount of enemies Corvo kills during an assassination, has effects and consequences that, whilst it may not be initially obvious, certainly play their part in the way the story concludes regarding the fate of Dunwall.
Whilst the game does definitely reward players for completing objectives, it seems to instead focus on something else, a factor that very few titles do put emphasis on anymore: Dishonored is more interested in not what players are going to do but instead how they are going to do it, giving the player praise and better items to use for looking around, finding alternate routes to get to the destination and then combining them with the spectacular powers at their disposal rather than going the most direct route; it applauds those that take the time to work things out and realise that, in Dishonored, the quickest path is most definitely not always the most exciting. Whilst the marker showing where Corvo must get to is constantly there, it's never a distraction, simply moving to the edges of the screen should a player choose to, instead, go where they're not meant to and see what trinkets they can discover.
The target may be in the room at the end of the corridor but that does not necessarily mean that's where Corvo should go; taking a glance to the right may reveal a window that, once opened, allows the assassin to head outside and make his way up to the roof before descending through the skylight onto the target and consequently ramming a knife through their neck. Doing this may cause some sudden violence as guards come flooding to Corvo's location and, as the supernatural assassin exits the building, he may spot a rat nibbling away at a corpse right next to an air duct that, had he of possessed the animal, could have made the mission play out in a different fashion. Dishonored is a game that doesn't give the player two or three choices, it gives them many more that can be crossed and connected to make something entirely new.
It's precisely this that is the heart of Dishonored. It feels as if Arkane Studios created the maps and all of the individual paths Corvo could take then build the game around that and it works completely. For this to fail, it would have been so easy: paths could not work, the artificial intelligence could get confused what with all of the reactions it has to do to the different options and the game could just be so confusing that it literally falls apart. But Dishonored is as far from a failure as it could ever possibly be: the developers have not only pulled it all off but have succeeded with flying colours and have surpassed expectations more than it was ever thought possible.
As entertaining and as astonishing as the multitude of options at Corvo's disposal are, it wouldn't be as enjoyable as it is if it wasn't for his abilities: To say that the supernatural assassin is a one-man-army is a severe understatement. Corvo can "teleport" from one part of the map to the other using Blink, see enemies movements and their line of sight through walls with Dead Vision and using Force-like powers to push adversaries away and off ledges with Whiplash. Whilst players will not be able to purchase and upgrade all of these abilities due to the limited amount of runes in the game, it never once feels like purchasing a new power was a waste: All are useful and relevant no matter what the situation. There are times, however, when Corvo seems to be a little too powerful, making certain moments in the game that would usually be difficult a breeze with the use of one fully-upgraded ability or gadget but these moments are still as entertaining and as satisfying as the rest.
However, players will need to choose wisely: Corvo doesn't receive experience points with every kill he gets to upgrade his powers; instead he must explore the huge sandbox missions for runes and bone charms with the help of a mechanical human heart to guide him. Bone charms give Corvo benefits to his health, agility, and other aspects of the game but only when equipped, and there's only three slots initially, allowing players to therefore swap and choose depending on the situation. Runes, on the other hand, can be collected and then used to either buy new abilities or upgrade existing ones, however there is a limited amount of runes in the game, meaning Corvo will not be able to have every power fully upgraded: Players must choose the moment they collect one what they want to spend it on and whether it will be useful to their plans. On the other hand, players could very definitely not buy another ability other than Blink, which is compulsory, and instead use weapons: It would be difficult but it could be done.
As a side note, the sound design is Dishonored is simply fantastic: voice acting is great with a superbly talented cast behind the characters, including Star Wars' Carrie Fisher and Hugo's Chloe Grace-Moretz; the soundtrack is both exciting, pulse-pounding and emotional at the times, using the bleakness of Dunwall and the intensity of missions to full effect, creating a theme that fits the hauntingly beautiful art design perfectly. Sound effects as a whole sound great, with pistols being extremely meaty and the appropriate "squelch" that accompanies Corvo's blade as it rips through an enemy's neck is satisfying beyond belief.
However, like every game out there, Dishonored is not perfect, but its flaws are so minor that they can be almost completely ignored. The world of Dunwall is, without a doubt, atmospheric and bleak but it's also very empty: whilst guards do patrol the streets and rats creep from every inch of the brickwork that they can, there seems to be a lack of NPC's almost everywhere. It's a fair point to say that nobody would be stupid enough to go out at night with guards appearing from nowhere, but this lack of "real life" is a bit disappointing and ever so slightly takes away from the fact that Dunwall is a stunning location: It makes it feel less like an actual place that could live and exist and more like a playground built specifically for players to experiment with the powers at their disposal. Whilst it is arguable that the latter is exactly what Dishonored is, it would have been nice to see more people other than guards or plague-ridden corpses in the maps outside of the bases where Corvo lives with his fellow resistance-fighters.
To say Dishonored does a lot right is a severe understatement. Arkane Studios' masterful stealth action adventure is nothing short of a masterpiece and is deservedly one of the best titles of the year. With a stunningly, yet hauntingly, beautiful world, a plethora of unique and usable powers and a level of freedom few titles offer, Dishonored is a game that everyone should play, whether they had a previous interest in it or not. But the titles strongest point is just how it all fits together so well, so perfectly, to create an experience that is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable for a long time. To compare Dishonored to timeless classics like Half-Life 2 seems a bit peculiar, but it would not be ambitious to predict that many will feel the same way they did when they first sat down and played Valve's sequel for the first time as they do when they windblast a guard off of a rooftop or possess a fish in Dishonored: The feeling that not only is a fantastic game sitting before them but also one that will have a huge effect on the titles that come later in the same genre. Simply put, Dishonored is not only the best game this year so far but also one of the most enjoyable titles of this generation.
- A hauntingly beautiful setting
- A great main plot
- Fantastically exciting abilities
- Freedom unlike never before
- Great voice acting from a brilliant cast
- Pushes the genre forward
- Corvo can sometimes be a little too powerful
- The maps are startlingly sparse of NPC's