In the interest of full disclosure, Dishonored is a game that I wasn’t exactly over the moon about. While I thought that the gameplay could be unique and refreshing, I had serious concerns about whether or not Arkane Studios could bring it all together into something special. Let’s just say they did all that and more. From the moment you get your first power, you will have no doubt that this is an experience like nothing you’ve ever played before. The thing that makes Dishonored such a special game is that it has so much depth in terms of gameplay strategy and approach. As the player you have so many choices on how to accomplish your task that I have no doubt that each player will have a truly unique playthrough.
Dishonored takes place in the city of Dunwall and is the story of Corvo Attano, personal bodyguard to the Empress, who is framed for her murder and is forced to become an assassin in order to hunt down the men responsible and clear his name in the process. At the start of the game Corvo is just a mere man but once he meets the Outsider, he becomes much more than that. The Outsider is a powerful being who imbues him with magical abilities that give Corvo the powers that he will need in order to become the most dangerous weapon the city of Dunwall has ever known.
The beauty of Dishonored is that they give you all this power but then really challenge you on how and when to use it. The main driver behind the way you play is the Chaos System, which is a gameplay mechanic that basically changes the world around you for better or for worse depending on the way you play. The overarching backdrop to the story is that the city of Dunwall is dying from a plague that seems quite similar to the Spanish Flu that devastated so many families all those years ago. Along with the plague itself have come rats, lots of rats. The game is clear with you upfront that the way you play will affect the outcome of the story and lead to other differences in gameplay such as more enemies and more rats. The thing that makes plague rats different is that they move in packs and pretty much annihilate any flesh they come in contact with, living or dead. You quickly realize that the more people you kill, the more plague rats you start to see. Plague rats have no preference, they will just as easily try to kill you as anyone else. And there my friends is the rub. Do you go around killing everyone because you can or do you take the more stealth approach and either avoid enemies or use nonlethal means of dealing with them. While I’ll admit that in most cases going the nonlethal route is a bit more tedious, as the game progresses, I think it’s worth it.
Corvo has all this power. He could easily take on any number of enemies and make quick work of them but that would have consequences, both in the environment that you will have to work in during the game as well as the overall outcome of the larger game itself. Dishonored does a great job of giving players all the tools they need to decide whether they would like to go in guns blazing or whether they would prefer to go the stealth route. Stealth games by their nature tend to put a lot of pressure on players, but there is a delicate balance between applying the kind of pressure that wears a player out and the kind that leaves them exhilarated. Dishonored masterfully does the latter, giving players enough room to not be perfect and still pull out heavily stealth runs without wanting to pull their hair out.
The game looks gorgeous and of course the voice acting is great, but where the game really shines is when you look at the beautiful partnership that is the weapons and powers’ system. Corvo is already a skilled fighter, with ability to dual wield any number of weapons in addition to his deadly sword. He can use pistols, crossbows, grenades, and quite a few other gadgets that I’ll just let you experience for yourself. With just these things, you would be a formidable opponent for anyone but with the addition of the powers granted to you by the Outsider, you become a serious badass. Corvo is able to gain different abilities by finding these items called Runes throughout his journey, Runes can in turn be exchanged for different powers. The game pretty much gives you a few of them to get you started and then how, when, or if you develop the rest is up to you. A power that everyone will come to know and love is Blink, which allows you to move from one location to another in an instant. This is great for moving around areas quickly and undetected or if you get into an altercation it can be used to quickly escape and regroup.
Corvo’s right hand always carries his trusty sword but the left hand can either hold a weapon or control a power. Personally, I hardly ever had a weapon equipped, most times the different powers allowed me to avoid altercations altogether. Using a combination of Blink and Dark Vision, another power that lets you see enemies through walls, I was able to stalk my targets completely undetected most of the time. From there I normally used a sleep dart to drop them and then carry out whatever non-lethal action I needed.
Dishonored is truly brilliant and almost perfect. If I had to knock anything about the game it would be that as you near the end of the game the difficulty level starts to become almost ridiculous. As the player, you are outnumbered from the moment you start the game but you never really feel at a disadvantage until you are near the end. Throughout the game you learn to watch the enemies’ movements and look for openings, to be patient, and eventually a deliciously devious attack strategy will present itself to you. As the game draws to its conclusion, those windows become less and less abundant. I never expect a game to get easier at the end, but I didn’t necessarily expect such a drastic divergence from the game’s style and pace that had become so familiar up until that point. Near the end of the game, a lot of players will get frustrated with the stealth options and settle for just surviving, though I’ll admit that depending on which powers you choose to develop, the endgame could be slightly less frustrating.
In the end, even a slightly unexpected change of pace near the game’s conclusion isn’t enough to change the fact that Dishonored is a must play for anyone that calls themselves a gamer. In a world where many would have you believe that for a game to be great it has to have multiplayer, Dishonored strikes a mighty blow for the single player experience.
Score: 9.5 out of 10