New IPs are increasingly rare as this console cycle stretches on and on. It’s not something I fully understand, as more people than ever have 360s and PS3s, so one would think the risk of funding a game based on a new property would be much lower, but then again, what do I know?
Thankfully, Bethesda feels differently and thus has unleashed Dishonored upon the world. Developed by Arkane Studios, which features the talents of one of the original Deus Ex developers, it is a mix of Bioshock, Thief and Deus Ex, all rolled into one package. Onward to the review!
The first thing that you notice once the game gets going is the atmosphere. Much like Rapture in Bioshock, Dishonored drips with it. As the game begins, you find yourself in a small boat, entering Dunwall Tower. All around you is the city of Dunwall, a Victorian-era type city with a steampunk aesthetic. I was instantly transported and engrossed in this world, which is something that doesn’t happen often enough in games. But when it does, oh man, do I love it. Even though you are in a wide open city, the atmosphere is oppressive. There is a plague going on and panic has taken over the city. It permeates everything in the game, even whether or not you kill or simply subdue. The more enemies you kill, the more plague-spreading rats appear throughout the missions. It’s a fun way to tie the narrative to the gameplay.
As for the actual story, well, it’s good. Nothing special, really, just your usual tale of loyal adviser framed for the murder of the Empress, then busted out of prison by a group of rebels seeking to bring down the bad guys and restore the princess to the throne. There are betrayals and double-crosses and the occasional startling revelation. It’s all very basic, though it is executed very well. I found myself in love with the world more than the story or any of the characters, although the voice acting is stellar. The game makes mention of a few other cities, but in this one, you only explore Dunwall. I would like to see future games expand on the world and show us the other cities. Decent story, fantastic world-building.
This is where the game truly shines. The game consists of dropping you in a level, giving you a main objective with the option to do some side missions (that I highly recommend) and letting you make all the decisions from there. Do you want to do a non-lethal playthrough and simply knock-out any guards you come across? Or would you prefer killing everything in sight? How about a mix of the two? Any way you want it, you can have it and each way is executed expertly. The primary feature the game brings is the Blink ability, which basically turns you into Nightcrawler from X-Men. Hold down the L1 button, point the marker at any spot within and range and BAMF! You are instantly transported there. This lets you traverse rooftops, ledges and easily escape from enemies, which makes the stealth much more palatable. Instead of resorting to violence or reloading a save when caught, just Blink away and lose the guards, then start anew. No muss, no fuss.
Now, when you do get the urge to kill some folk, Dishonored is quite happy to give you a plethora of tools to do so. In fact, I encourage people to play through the game twice and do the non-lethal run the second time because there are just too many fun ways to wreck some fools. You always carry a sword in your right, but your left hand can hold any number of powers such as: devouring rats, a gun, a crossbow, grenades, proximity mines, a telekinetic push, slow/stop time and possession. That’s right, you can even possess people and put them in harm’s way. Or you can possess a rat and use it to circumvent the security. The possibilities are almost endless and it is in this way that player-choice plays such a large part of the game. The only issue I had is the game narrative seems to encourage you to not kill, but then they give you all these fun tools at your disposal. Seems counter-productive, but that’s why I suggest playing it twice. The second time goes much faster.
In addition to the main objective in every mission, there are several side quests you can embark on. Some are simply ways to get more power-ups or money, but others tie directly into the story. For instance, each target you are given can be killed or neutralized in a non-lethal, clever and usually far more heinous manner. But sometimes you need the help of others in order to so and that involves completing side missions. One example is a local gangster, named Slackjaw, who offers to take care of your targets for you, by cutting off their tongues, shaving their heads and sending them to toil away eternally in their own harsh mines. To do so, you must recover a safe combination and return it to Slackjaw. It’s a neat way to bring the usually non-important side quests under the fold of the main story and I would like to see more games do such things. (Also, nothing is stopping you from emptying that safe before giving the code to Slackjaw. And he will remember that you screwed him over later.)
The way in which you level-up is also a fun diversion. You could literally go the entire game without powering up if you are so inclined, but to do so would be to miss out on a lot of fun abilities. You unlock more powers by finding runes, hidden throughout each level. You are given a device, a heart imbued with the soul of someone who has been murdered and the heart reveals where the runes are. It’s up to you to figure out how to reach them and some are hidden quite cleverly. One thing I loved was that the heart will give insight into places and people in the world when you use it, often useful in enriching the world even more. There is a secret about the heart as well that is never fully spelled out, but requires you to figure out on your own. It has no bearing on anything, but I really love when a game lets you find things out for yourself.
I received several games for Christmas and my intent was to play each of them a little bit at a time to see which one grabbed. At first, it was XCOM, but when I started Dishonored, I knew I had to keep going until I reached the end. The odd thing was that when I finish a game, I am usually done with it. But I hadn’t yet gotten Dishonored out of my system and I started a second playthrough, which I rarely do anymore. It’s that good, it’s that addicting and it’s that much fun to keep me coming back and trying new ways to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting guards of Dunwall. It won’t be for everyone I am sure, but once you figure out the stealth and combat systems, it is a joy to play. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
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