Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, few people knew what to expect from Dishonored. Was it a stealthy action game? Did it feature an open world? With Bethesda in the mix there were even questions as to its technical quality and just how much of a hand the giant publisher had in its creation and development. Thankfully for us, most of these questions have been answered with Dishonored’s release and I’m here to say that overall it’s a fantastic game.
In Dishonored you play as Corvo Attano, the near legendary protector of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and her daughter Emily. However, as you return from a lengthy mission on behalf of the empress you barely have time to say hello before she is assassinated, Emily is kidnapped and you’re framed for the entire shebang. Naturally you’re whisked away to the depths of a miserable rat infested prison to be tortured by high-ranking government conspirators, several of whom unwisely confess their involvement in the assassination plot even whilst they attempt to force your confession. Luckily for you that somebody manages to sneak a key into your pre-execution supper and the game begins in earnest as you launch off on a choke-crazy rampage through the prison on your way to freedom.
I’ll not spoil the story directly but, through some extra-planar shennanigans, Corvo is gifted with a fantastic suite of reality warping powers by a mysterious being known as the Outsider. In no time at all you’ll soon be teleporting across wide distances, possessing the bodies of your foes or even halting time. While these powers can sometimes make the moment to moment stealth and action gameplay feel a little too easy, they truly are a blast to play around with, especially once they’re fully upgraded. These upgrades can be found hidden throughout the darkest corners of Dishonored’s expansive world in the form of numerous collectibles that’ll challenge you to sneak or fight your way past frequently daunting odds. It’s good then that whether you choose to stay silent and skulk your way through the shadows or burst into the room crossbow blazing, that Dishonored accommodates the preferences of the player with a variety of powers and equipment that let you approach the game however you so choose.
In fact, this is taken to such an extreme that you could very well slaughter your way through the game in a wave of red or complete it from start to finish without taking so much as a single life. Even the targets of your revenge can be dispatched in ways that are more karmic retribution than bloody execution, leaving them alive to suffer the consequences of their actions.
It’s around here that I should probably talk about the world in which Dishonored takes place, a grimy city environment known as Dunwall that boasts what can only described as an occult tainted “Whalepunk” aesthetic. You see this world’s burgeoning industry is fueled entirely by whale oil and the massive tentacled leviathans from which it is harvested. Just imagine an elegant cross between Cthulhu and Moby Dick and you’ll get the general idea. By the time Corvo and you entire the story, Dunwall’s resources are running thin as abundant whale populations steadily decrease and a horrifying plague sweeps the cities districts with an almost supernatural vengeance. The infected, known as weepers, shed streams of blood from their eyes and violently lash out at those who are uninfected before dying a miserable and protracted death.
If it wasn’t abundantly obvious by this point already let me make it clear by saying that Dunwall is not a happy place to inhabit. Every corner of the the city seems to be inundated with trash, sickness and despair. You’ll likely come across many journals in your time with the game, some more hidden than others, and find that they detail everything from the story of a once adventurous whaler now long since jaded, to final chronicle of a plague addled family in the last week of their lives. Most likely, whether you read the entries or not, you’ll soon find yourself hovering over the sheet wrapped corpses of this family, looting their remains to improve your own chances in this grim city. With a bit of searching in this sprawling but still technically linear world, you’ll find everything from weapon blueprints to sidequests that’ll task you with additional objectives within your current quest. However, if you’re looking for something on par with the openness of an Elder Scrolls game, this isn’t it. It is quite a looker however, making the best use of now aged console hardware by providing a slick almost watercolor graphical art style that’s as stylish as it is appealing.
Sadly, the story that further fleshes out this world is somewhat lacking in its execution and long lasting impact. I for one would have liked a few more moments with the empress for whose murder Corvo is so wrongfully accused, but sadly she barely gets out a few lines of dialogue before she’s put to the blade. While there are some characters to care for and the story does a great job of moving you from place to place without you feeling like you’re just chugging down the tracks of a ride the developers insist you take, I never personally felt an inkling of Corvo’s desire for revenge within myself until the game was nearly finished. Numerous tantalizing possibilities are also raised, such as the identity of the Outsider himself or even the origin of a talking disembodied heart with which Corvo searches for hidden upgrades, but there isn’t any payoff to these questions. The voice acting is pretty top-notch for the most part with plenty of incidental dialogue that’ll have you dropping in on plenty of interesting conversations, even though Corvo himself never says a word. Dishonored’s soundtrack is also equally solid and complementary to the gameplay but, outside of the haunting track “Drunken Whaler“, it’s extremely short on standouts.
Outside of a few polish issues that have left behind some pretty quirky visual glitches that left bodies falling into wall or ragdolls freaking out, my greatest issue with Dishonored is in how it rather abruptly wraps up its story. Without spoiling the whole thing for you, the ending feels unsatisfying because it tries to go for an emotional ending that focuses more closely on Corvo and someone dear to him while barely giving a passing mention to the consequences left in your wake or even the outcome of the plague, things that were important up to this point. Bioshock did this same thing years ago by choosing to focus on the personal side of your choices rather than the “big picture”, but while it succeeds at this approach Dishonored simply falls flat because it has done nothing to earn a conclusion so bereft of closure for its other story threads.
At the end of the day Dishonored is the best action-stealth game I’ve played in quite some time. For a brand new intellectual property it delivers a unique, stylish and satisfying experience even if it is held back by a few small bugs and story letdowns that keep it from attaining unequivocal greatness. If you enjoy your games grim, beautiful and with an emphasis on freedom, then Dishonored is simply a must have that you shouldn’t pass up.