The only assassin game you’ll ever need…
Like every truly great game Dishonored has shown me something about myself that I’d never truly recognised before; I just plain don’t like rich people. I’m not talking self-made millionaires, a kin to Alan Sugar or the real billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. I’m talking about the sort of rich folk who attend masquerade balls, talk dismissively about ‘the little people’ and don’t mind using the political machine to get ahead for their own mischievous gains. Those sorts of people can take a short walk off a long pier and Arkane Studio’s latest gives players the ideal opportunity to bring the corrupt rich to righteous justice in any way they see fit.
Player expression is something a lot of games promise, but Dishonored delivers on it fully with an all new universe which is full to the brim with scheming aristocrats, stuffy military types, auto-zapping Tesla Coils, two storey tall mechanical bi-pedal walkers and a world which is just begging to be explored.
Easily summed up, Dishonored is a first-person stealth-em-up in a similar guise to Thief: Deadly Shadows or Deus Ex, with players assuming the role of a disgraced bodyguard turned assassin who seeks vengeance against those who framed him for killing the Empress he was supposed to be protecting. Corvo Atano is his name, but the angry devil never mutters a word about his plight – instead his function is really just a shell; a body for the player to imbue in order to make their experiences and choices in the world seem more personal and this device works brilliantly.
Here’s how the typical mission works, you’re dropped into an environment, care of your helpful boatman, and from there you’re entirely free to track and kill a target/targets n any way you wish; using any entry point, skills or equipment you’ve unlocked. This freeform gameplay lends itself well to replaying missions and finding new ways into hardened facilities be it by killing all the watchman guarding the front door, carefully making your way in via the roof or learning about an unlocked basement window from a local NPC who requires your help.. This structure has been seen before in games like Deus Ex and Thief: Deadly Shadows, and like those two masterpieces players are actively encouraged to investigate every nook, talk to key NPCs, and search out hidden artifacts to help them become more powerful.
Missions unlock in a sequential fashion following a surprisingly entertaining story, with assassination activities broken up with major plot slices in the game’s ever changing hub, The Hound Pits Pub. From here players can interact with key characters, learn more about the city of Dunwall and unlock and stock up on new tools like razor mines, grenades and other devices a would-be killer wouldn’t be without. There isn’t an XP system or anything like that, instead any gold or artefacts earned/found can be exchanged for new and upgraded hardware to make that next hit a bit easier and fun. The mechanical side of Dishonored’s combat options is also enjoyable thanks to the thrilling melee system revolving around swordplay and the sublimely powerful blunderbuss handgun which can blow enemies away in a cloud of smoke and shrapnel, but what really places this game above and beyond the status quo are the magic abilities.
Arkane explain away the protagonist’s ability to possess enemies and animals, blink/teleport into areas directly ahead in a millisecond, and spawn whirlwinds into the world whenever they wish in a really effective yet slightly unsettling fashion, and they’re an absolute joy to utilise – every single one of them.
These powers are unlocked via runes which are found in the world or earned by doing certain activities for NPCs and when combined with the more rudimentary skills, it becomes clear that Arkane Studios has given players enough skills to make replaying missions genuinely thrilling.
There’s also separate skill modifier artefact’s dubbed Bone Charms which make certain abilities last longer, dial up damage and other nifty things which can further charge up your powerset. It’s impossible not to feel like some kind of steam-punk Batman when everything available to you is put to good use, be it slowly putting NPCs out of their misery or blinking through elaborate guard patrol routes as if enemies weren’t even there, and that kind of bad ass feeling makes the game especially hard to put down.
Speaking of DC’s Dark Knight, Dishonored’s setting of Dunwall is a little bit like Gotham with tall buildings offering up rooftops to scale, officers available to stalk and evil super clans to bust down to size. Of course you can do lots of griefing activities, like tossing a knocked out guard’s body into a dumpster so his friend doesn’t come along and wake him up, or skilfully avoid a security checkpoint by possessing a rat and manoeuvring harmlessly down a cracked vent.
Honestly we could go on with these sorts of anecdotes all day, like when we convinced a local crime-lord to get rid of two of our assassin targets for us, after we cracked a safe he was looking to get access to, or the time we helped a vulnerable looking old lady hiding from a bunch of hoodlums for which we were rewarded with a shiny new rune, but frankly those sorts of fantastic moments are best discovered for yourself.
Dishonored is a game which has been painstakingly thought over throughout its development, and that becomes clearer as you delve deeper into the game. Each mission is varied, offers lots of fiction flavour, and can be replayed with players discovering new routes and methods to their target, however the really big touch is that Arkane has deliberately added systems for players to tinker around in the world which just a little to add more context to proceedings.
Whenever you come across a door you can peek in the keyhole to have a look around, and if NPCs are in ear shot they’ll usually offer up some info about the world or a funny piece of dialogue just to reward players for going the extra mile and not just rushing through. The ultimate example of that is the heart artefact which is given to the player early on and not only reveals all the runes located on any level, but also prompts character thoughts and extra location information to be revealed to the player via monologues. There isn’t a requirement for players to look out for that added information, but much like the snippets of text which can also be found in the open world, this extra world flavour is here for players to enjoy if they want to.
This option depth also extends to mission design as well as every key action a player takes, be it rescuing a citizen in trouble, deciding to steal items from a safe etc. are tracked by the game and shown in a post-mission evaluation screen which also includes how many hidden items you’ve found, amount of civilians killed, soldiers killed and the amount of chaos your actions have created. Chaos functions a lot like ‘notoriety’ in the Hitman series, so if you attract lots of attention you’ll find more enemies in certain scenarios than you would usually. The way key characters interact with you also alters as you take Corvo down increasingly, and entirely optional, paths.
Man, I’d absolutely love to spoil the finer plot details for you I really would, but it’s best to find out for yourself. What we will say though is that these subtle differences between playthroughs have massive consequences to the universe, and what sort of challenges face the player and the changes associated with them really need to be seen to be believed. You won’t see these differences if you only play the campaign through once, but if you try different methods and go for different outcomes in missions the variations on offer can be genuinely bone chilling.
Enemy AI is also assuredly predictable with enemy sight and audio cones clearly visible using the game’s Dark Sight power, which you can switch on and off at your leisure, proving that Dishonored is very fair when it comes to stealth. Sure it’s frustrating when you get discovered, but there are multiple alert levels from one guard trying to take you on to a dozen once after an alarm has been raised, but the difficulty never seems unfair. Instead it’s usually your own impatience which causes you to get discovered, and that state immediately goes away if you reload to a previous point in the mission, with autosave ensuring your progress is kept whenever you engage guards or go in or out of an area.
Overall it’s hard to see Dishonored as anything other than an outstanding achievement. There’s easily 12 hours worth of gameplay here, even if you only playthrough the game once, but just tallying up the running time doesn’t take into account the incredible platforming gameplay, the fascinating world design, the wince inducing combat and a complex plot which doesn’t insult your intelligence.
Arkane has got almost everything right in this modern take on the first person stealth-em-up and we’re absolutely clamouring for more adventures in this brutally divided world. The plague which has caused the rift between rich and poor to widen even more demands much more exploration and how Corvo gets his powers and the agent of that delivery deserves plenty more attention.
Simply put if you’re a fan of games which test and reward you for going the extra mile and match fun gameplay with a thrilling story – good that’s all of you – then Dishonored is the ideal choice.
An interactive masterpiece which will leave you clamouring for more!
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