At the 2012 E3 Expo, Bethesda split their media presentation between the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online and Dishonored. Oozing with an impressionist rendition of steampunk, the playthrough of Dishonored conjured memories of critical favorite, Bioshock, and everything we’ve seen of the upcoming Bioshock Infinite. Though the terrestrial setting is between the original Bioshock’s ocean depths and Infinite’s floating city, Dishonored’s Dunwall borrows much from the artistic rendition of both games. Easily one of the most interesting games shown at E3 this year, Dishonored has finally been released.
Beyond the style and presentation, Dishonored is completely dissimilar to the Bioshock games. The roots of developer Arkane’s game actually go further back. Before my conversion to the relative ease of console gaming, this writer played a lot of PC games. Dishonored feels an awful lot like the original Thief and Deus Ex games. This is not entirely surprising, considering co-creator Harvey Smith lists the iconic Deus Ex on his resume and Dishonored was originally planned as something of a reimagining of Thief.
Dishonored puts players in the role of Corvo, a royal protector and spy of sorts. As Corvo returns early from a mission he was sent abroad to complete, he arrives at the plague stricken city of Dunwall to witness a coup that was planned to occur in his absence. Unable to thwart the attack, Corvo is put in a tragic position and ultimately becomes the scapegoat. This is the first instance from where the game draws its title. The rest of the game is Corvo’s attempt to right the wrongs, even if the game does punish players somewhat for enacting revenge. More on that though a little later.
Corvo is a skilled spy, assassin, bodyguard, or whatever you prefer to call him, and has a number of physical abilities at his disposal. These only increase throughout the game thanks to a little bit of supernatural help.
The basic controls are typical for a first-person action game, with the analog sticks controlling Corvo’s movement and vision. The X button allows Corvo to jump and the Circle button has him crouch and sneak. Square sheathes and unsheathes his melee weapon and Triangle leans or assassinates. The R1 and R2 buttons let Corvo swordfight and the L1 and L2 buttons are for gadgets, missile weapons, and supernatural powers. These can also be selected with the D-pad. Corvo has grenades, guns, traps, and crossbows at his disposal and these can be augmented. As for supernatural abilities, the teleporting “Blink” ability is probably the most essential, but “Possession” and the ability slow and stop time are also very useful. Though Corvo is a master assassin, it is easy to get overmatched when surrounded, and the game encourages players to use stealthy means over the more violent. The only way to get the “good” ending is to keep the killing to minimum.
Unfortunately, Dishonored doesn’t make it easy to choose discretion over revenge. Starting with the sneaking, the enemy detection is inconsistent but, the bigger problem is moving the invisible cursor in the right spot. Getting the game to allow you to Blink to the place you want to go can be time consuming, particularly when it’s a longer distance. Sneaking up behind enemies to either kill or knock them out can also be problematic. If you can’t get the option to pop up quickly, you run the risk of being discovered. The game does recommend saving often, but when there are a few enemies in a room saving after dealing with each one isn’t always practical.
It is true that discretion is often the better part of valor. Dishonored, in some ways, takes this to the extreme. Personally, I don’t need to kill everyone in a game. I typically play games, fairly pragmatically, as if I were somehow thrown into whatever circumstances the game has set up. That being said, if put in a situation where it’s either them or me, they need to go. Also, if they are a murderous psycho, they probably need to die before someone else becomes their victim. Besides the chapter recap displaying a violence level and zero kill bonuses, there is nothing in the game to encourage using more peaceful means.
However, Dishonored gives players many tools to kill and only two options that are non-lethal. I’m fine with that, but if players choose to kill their enemies, the game punishes them with more obstacles and a darker ending. To continue using clichés, doing the right thing is often more difficult but, this is not the “Gandhi” game. It is set in a ruthless and feudal dog eat dog world. There is no reason given why Corvo is supposed to leave evil serial killers unconscious to wake up later and come up with a more deadly plan for the next time.
The technical issues and forced morality are definitely issues in Dishonored, but that doesn’t stop it from being a really good game. Except for having to save way too often, I have enjoyed my time with Dishonored. Sure, I think it is a little too game-y with score screens at the end of each chapter but, I find the RPG elements and story interesting. The characters and voicing were excellent, too. How they got Carrie Fisher, Michael Madsen, and Susan Sarandon to voice a game is surprising. Dunwall is a fascinating place that will no doubt inspire multiple playthroughs.
Dishonored is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.