Dishonored is a new game published by Bethesda Softworks, created by Arkane studios. It was almost impossible not to hear of it in the time leading up to release, but it really came onto my radar after seeing it on the Dishonorable Proportions episode of SyFy’s FaceOff reality show. The setting is what first grabbed me- the game is set in Dunwall, an industrial whaling city where of steampunk and mythos powers exist side by side. The background is one of political intrigue juxtaposed with a stratification of classes enforced by a version of the Black Plague that creates the forces that drive the plot.
The story isn’t unique or inspired; the player is the bodyguard of the Empress, and his failure to protect her haunts the story as he becomes an assassin bent on revenge and clearing his name. But the execution of the story is anything but mundane, with excellent storytelling and acting talent helping to sell the otherwise bland story. Also of help in selling the story is the effect of the players choices; the player can take Corvo down a path of redemption or a path of bloody revenge, and his actions have a lasting effect on the environment during the playthrough.
Firmly rooted in first person stealth tactics, the game can be favorably compared to the Thief franchise, though Corvo is more capable in combat than Garrett, allowing multiple ways to play through the game. The controls are tight, making Corvo easily controllable as he adventures through the detailed environment, and the array of abilities, both technological and supernatural, enforce the ability to choose your own path through the game, as they are very versatile, and able to be combined in varied ways to produce spectacular effects.
Though the game is pretty open ended within the confines of the mission, the fact that there is that mission based divide does take away from the immersive nature of the game. Each mission has a specific goal that must be completed- from extraction to elimination to information gathering. These goals can be completed without bloodshed, even up to and including the main target for elimination. At the end of the mission, the playthrough is graded on your ability to slip in and out without being observed, how many combatants were killed, how many non-combatants were killed, and how many bodies were found.
Detection is handled through a series of lightning bolts that surround an adversary’s head- the more lightning bolts, the more alert the adversary, and if the lightning bolts are red, the adversary is not just alert, but combative. Darkness and shadow effect Corvo’s ability to stay unseen, but only up to a point, and only from a distance. Its quite unfortunate that the lighting mechanics are so ephemeral, as it appears to be either on or off, without shades in between as other stealth based games have implemented.
The story itself is short, but it does lend itself to multiple playthroughs, and the execution is so well done that I find myself wanting to play again, to see if I could do some things better or differently. This is one place that I find myself not minding the mission based gameplay, as now that the game is finished, I can pick up at the beginning of a mission, rather than wading through save games to find where I want to start.
All in all, I definitely recommend the game. It is one of the first that I’ve bought within the first week of release, and though discounts played into that decision, I definitely have no regrets about purchasing it.