Are you tired of the generic play of many of today’s biggest franchises? Interested in having the freedom to move about and solve a game’s obstacles in whatever fashion takes your fancy? If so, then allow me to point you to the newer of the two assassination-themed games that have been released this year, Dishonored. The makers of the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda, and Arkane Studios want to take you to the city of Dunwall for a few outings of sneaking, hacking and potentially murder. And you should go.
Dishonored lets you play as Corvo Attano, the former Lord Protector of the Empress and her accused murderer. Obviously Corvo didn’t do it, but as he awaits execution, it looks like it doesn’t matter. Then he’s given a way out by a group of high-placed individuals who wish to overthrow the cruel Lord Regent who now rules over the plague-infested city. They need to find where the Lord Regent stashed the heir to the throne first as well as remove his entire power base. And here is where Corvo comes in. As a skilled assassin, he can bypass the strict security measures and large patrols that rule the streets of Dunwall to reach his targets. But will you show mercy? Or will you bring death?
Being a first-person action game, Dishonored feels less like Assassin’s Creed and more like Skyrim, which isn’t surprising given the Bethesda connection. Like that other game, Dishonored looks and sounds beautiful. From the detail of the City Watch’s uniforms to the murk of the sewers and the sounds of the Heart, every detail is made to make you feel as if you are in this fictional city and seeing its decay into disease and chaos. The voice-cast is another top notch affair, bringing Lena Headey, John Slattery, Chloe Grace Moretz, Brad Dourif, Carrie Fisher, Michael Madsen and Susan Sarandon to play amongst the most important of characters.
But getting back to the action aspect of the game, Dishonored does something that few other games do: it frees you up to deal with the enemies as you see fit. You can take on each of the game’s nine missions in either a stealthy fashion or you can attack head on if you choose. You can opt to spare every opponent you encounter – even the targets you’re sent to kill can be neutralized in a non-lethal but permanent manner – or you can dispatch of them in the most imaginative fashion you can conjure. The game is open enough for you to do what you will.
Now the game does begin to adapt itself to how you play it. If you’re a shadow and do not go on a killing spree, then latter stages aren’t plagued with rats and with plague victims (referred to as “Weepers” in the game). You also avoid having targets take greater measures to avoid you – like hiding out in a panic room or doubling up their guards. And the last stage plays very differently if you were a Low Chaos (less carnage and mayhem) player or a High Chaos (lots of death and violence) player. That does incentivize you to, at least, give the game two playthroughs; just to see the different results from your actions.
This openness extends to the powers you obtain from The Outsider. These powers range from a simple X-ray-like vision that reveals enemies and loot to very deadly powers like conjuring up a swarm of plague rats or a whirlwind with which to blow every one away. You’ll increase your powers by finding runes and charms throughout the stages via the Heart you get from The Outsider. Which ones you use and in what fashion is entirely up to you. Same for the gear you obtain from master innovator Piero – sleep darts or explosive darts? Use the springrazors or the the hack tools to rewire the walls of light to kill enemies? As for The Outsider, he’s a force neither good nor evil, but an entity interested in simply noticing how you react to the betrayals and hardships you face. Don’t expect much revelations into his power.
Criticisms? Let’s start with the obvious one: nine missions. Even if you play the game as I did my first time – very slowly and deliberately, looking for every collectible, trying to be a shadow and not be detected – you can complete the game in less than 30 hours. I get that the game can be supplemented by DLC but that’s just not enough. Usually, when games are this short, it’s because you’re going to get complemented by a strong multiplayer aspect – think of the Call of Duty games. With no multiplayer aspect, all you’ve got is the chance to replay the game again in the fashion opposite your first play of the game – from Low Chaos to High Chaos.
You’ll also get annoyed at the repetitive statements by the guards. Now, this was necessary in a big game like Skyrim because there was so much to stuff. Given Dishonored’s smaller scale, it’s surprising there isn’t more variety from the voice acting. Likewise for being a city (even a plague-ravaged city) you don’t run into much of the population of Dunwall. And, this is just me, but if the entire game is taking place in a city where freedom is the selling point, I am surprised they didn’t design Dunwall as a free-roaming environment – a la Arkham City. It would have been a nice way to extend the game’s running time without adding significant missions; turning Corvo into an avenging angel from the rooftops of Dunwall.
Any criticism of the game pales in comparison to its qualities. The story is strong. The gameplay intriguing. And the game does a great job of immersing you into the world of Corvo and Dunwall. Given the shortness of the game, I might recommend people rent it or borrow it. But even so, you should give this game a go and enjoy singing to yourself all the various ways you can dispose of a few hundred drunken whalers…I mean guardsmen, overseers and conspirators. A game this good ought to be experienced at least once.