Dishonored is a game in which you try to clear your name as the person who murdered the empress by murdering a whole bunch of people. This past week I finally picked it up after hearing a lot of good things about it, and they turned out to mostly be true. It’s a fun game, and if you’ve been skimming over it in favour of Call of Modern Fighter 4 you might want to give it a re-think. Let’s see why.
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Dishonored is a game that completely slipped under my radar. I heard almost no hype from it during its development, other than ‘It’s some new FPS from Bethesda,’ and then all of a sudden, BAM, it’s getting great reviews all over the place. It’s why it took me so long to pick it up and see what I was missing out on. But now that I’ve played it, it might just steal my ‘Sleeper hit of the year’ award, previously allotted to 2K’s Sleeping Dogs.
Dishonored is an FPS set in a dystopian, steam punk universe where you use a combination of guns, swords, and magic to try and overthrow a tyrannical empire. I know what you’re thinking, and while the immediately obvious parallel is Bioshock, the game itself plays a lot more like the Thief games of yore, promoting sneaking around in the shadows over Bioshock’s style of shooting everything that moves in the face.
The story picks up when you, Corvo, the former guardsman of the Empress, is framed for her murder by a power-hungry officer. You break out of jail with the help of a rag-tag bunch of freedom fighters and work with them in order to try and stop the officer from gaining control of the empire, clear your name, and rescue Emily, the Empress’s kidnapped daughter. You do this, obviously, by becoming a master assassin. Wait, what? Whatever.
The combat system of Dishonored was easily my favorite part of the game. You start off with a gun and a sword, but eventually upgrade your inventory with crossbows, grenades, traps and even a selection of magic powers. Melee combat works surprisingly well, utilizing a block system that rewards perfect timing by throwing your opponents off guard. Magic lets you do lots of cool little things like see through walls, teleport, slow time, or even possess rats, as well as give you some cool passive benefits such as health regeneration, or making slain enemies turn into ash.
I really like the ‘dual wield’ system. It makes your sword feel like your main fighting weapon, while all the other little gadgets, guns and magic feel like supplements. Slowing time to get behind a guy to stab him, or jumping from a rooftop onto a guy with your sword and shooting his buddy in the face makes you feel really badass.
One of the game’s main draws is the ‘multiple approaches to every mission’ kind of play made famous by the Hitman series. Every assassination target has multiple routes to it. You can set up murders that look like an accident. You can use your powers and the environment to find ways to sneak up on your target. Or, you can just shoot everyone in the face. It works really well, and it’s fun to try and discover the most interesting way to complete a mission.
There is also a non-lethal option for every target. If you want, you can play through the entire game without ever killing a single person, using your crossbow’s sleep bolts and your non-lethal stealth takedown to eliminate guards. In fact, the game actively rewards you for being less lethal. At the end of each mission, you are presented with a Chaos level, which is affected by how many people you killed and how many alarms you tripped. The higher the chaos level, the more difficult subsequent levels will be, as more rat swarms and zombie-like plague-riddled ‘weepers’ will be present. It’s a shame that all of the really cool toys leave bodies in your wake.
If I had one complaint with the game, it’s that I never really felt sufficiently challenged. I started out on ‘hard’ and had to bump it up to ‘very hard’ once I realized that I was constantly at a full stock of potions and relatively easily progressing through the levels. Coming from playing Hitman: Absolution, whose stealth system was so brutal and unforgiving, Dishonored’s seems a lot more lackluster. It’s relatively easy to remain hidden the majority of the time, and if you get discovered, quickly taking care of one or two guards usually puts you in the clear. Once you figure out the block and parry system, combat only really becomes difficult when you are fighting three or more people at once, yet some of the magic powers (such as slow time) and the fact that you can quicksave and quickload at any time, make even this a breeze.
I also didn’t like ‘The Heart’ system. Scattered throughout every level are several runes and bone charms. Runes are your currency for upgrading magic powers, and bone charms can be equipped to give you a small buff. The only problem is you can’t track them unless you have ‘The Heart’ equipped. It felt like a needlessly complicated extra step. Why not just have the runes and charms show up as quest markers by default?
Another minor complaint is the whole ‘Basil Exposition’ aspect of the story. I really liked that there were so many books and audio tapes lying around the game world, and if you stop to read them, it paints a vivid picture of the world around you and what’s been going on. But then you go back to the pub and these two assholes throw you into a cutscene to go and force-feed you an explanation anyway. It really throws me out of the game, especially seeing as these guys just sit around drinking beer while you constantly keep going out there and doing the dirty work. ‘Corvo rescue this guy, Corvo kill this guy, Corvo wash the dishes.’ The whole ‘home base’ aspect feels a bit useless, the only real reason to go there is to visit Pierro, who can upgrade your equipment, but this could have easily been accomplished in the ‘end of mission’ screen. I felt the game would have worked a lot better if they cut out the home base entirely and had the resistance members contact you via radio, akin to Bioshock.
So, Dishonored came out of no-where and sufficiently impressed me. The flaws that I’m pointing out are more of a personal preference than glaring faults, and they shouldn’t really effect your enjoyment of the game. It’s a solid stealth-action game with very fun mechanics and a rich, detailed world. If you were a fan of Bioshock, Thief, Hitman or similar games, you should pick it up!