Dishonored is one of those games containing all of those precious characteristics that you long for in your favorite titles. Bethesda was a perfect match for the concept, seeing as they have a history of giving you a world and letting you do whatever you want in it. Yet it’s not what you would call a sandbox game. There are consequences for your actions beyond some guy will make a snarky comment and a frownie face if you kill everybody in sight, or you’ll get a different cut scene at the end. This kind of tacked on crap is universally disappointing and very common. My ideal game has dozens of different endings based on your actions, and Dishonored only has two basic endings. What Dishonored does change is the rest of the game.
GAME NAME: Dishonored
DEVELOPER(S): Arkane Studios
PLATFORM(S): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Action-Adventure, Stealth
RELEASE DATE(S): October 9, 2012
The game itself is quite short, especially if you power through it to get to the end (perhaps if you need to review it). At first I was shocked and disappointed. Then I thought back to all of the random, non-plot related details I had stumbled upon and how much more I would find if I really took the time to explore everything. As I began the game again, I realized that Dishonored is two games. My first play through was the sneaky version. The sneaky, nonviolent or “low chaos” way is obviously the way to get the good ending (the loading screens even say so). What I was worried about was that Dishonored would do nothing to punish nonviolence or reward violence, making the nonviolent path the clear choice.
Not so. Not only does leaving guards alive make it more difficult to sneak around (since they move around a ton and occasionally deviate from their normal path), not killing people makes the game a completely different experience. It leaves out the option to pull off all of those awesome creative magic kills the developers kept bragging about. Instead, you have to stay in the shadows, find one of the many paths through the sewers or on the rooftops. You have to rely on short range teleportation and the seeing-through-walls trick. It’s a slower, more tense and urgent version of the game. It’s not as action packed, and exploring every nook and cranny isn’t an option as you have too many guards, weepers and gang members wandering around to feel safe. The city is superbly designed, with so many different possible paths to get to where you need to go, you forget that the city had a designer. And when you do find a path that takes you right over or under all the guards, you feel accomplished and satisfied – like you could totally be an assassin if you wanted to.
High chaos is a completely different experience. Combat in Dishonored is intense and challenging. Nobody waits politely in a circle for their friends to attack you first, and half the guards have guns and use them liberally (albeit slowly). Sword combat is fantastic, with a blocking mechanism that you will actually use. Bullets and crossbow bolts are too precious to waste, so you only use them in dire situations. I’ve not felt video game combat that was more realistic and versatile. Picture this: As you’re swarmed by three guards, one will come in swinging, you block one sword and counter for the insta-kill, but his buddy is already on you and he slices you good. Behind him, another guard pulls his gun. You dodge behind the guard who just cut you and his buddy accidentally shoots him. Before the remaining guard can reload, you pull out your own gun (or crossbow) and bring him down. More guards are drawn by the noise, and the high quality AI isn’t thrown off by hiding behind a wall. You release a swarm of rats to distract them and retreat to find a way up to the rooftops to regroup.
It’s pretty late in the game before you can do any really awesome tricks with your magic, but in the mean time, spring traps and messing with the insta-vaporize walls makes for loads of fun. Watching a swarm of rats devour a human being never gets old, nor does wind blasting people into walls so hard that they die on impact. The only power I found little use for was possession, but it does come in handy for sneaking as there are small pipes you can crawl through to escape guards or enter forbidden or hard to reach areas.
The best part about playing high chaos was that it turned Dishonored into more of the game I wanted. I was looking forward to an incredibly dark game with a creepy atmosphere that gets into your skin and keeps you up at night. I was disappointed in this aspect. It’s more of a trek through a dirty, mostly-abandoned city with the occasional rat swarm eating a random corpse (or trying to eat you). The weepers aren’t nearly as threatening or scary as I’d hoped, and there is no scene of a train car dumping piles of corpses onto a massive pile of corpses. Playing high chaos helps with this some, because it creates more rats, more weepers, and your allies aren’t so freaking positive all the time. Their dialogue turns more selfish and violent, and they begin to foresee a nasty end to the whole conflict. This is more like the game I wanted, but still not there in terms of atmosphere and plot.
The plot itself is pretty simple. City is experiencing mysterious plague, nice empress wants to help poor people, mean spymaster doesn’t want to help poor people, mean spymaster hires ninjas to kill nice empress, kidnap her daughter, then pins the murder on you. You escape prison with the help of some loyalists who send you out to kill everyone who’s helping the spymaster. I don’t buy it. Bethesda has said that they decided not to give Corvo a voice and make the game entirely in first person so that the players could do the whole self projection dealie. This works fine sometimes, but not for this game.
Dishonored gives you little dialogue choices and no actual path choices. If I were Corvo, I would have thanked the loyalists for helping me escape and then told them nicely that I would be coming up with my own plan for revenge, so kindly shove it. I would not silently agree to every bit of their plan and obediently do whatever they tell me. If that’s what Corvo’s going to do, he needs a reason for it. Give him a personality or motive for going along with everything, or show him resisting and needing to be convinced. Better yet, take a page out of the Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines book and allow the player to choose between a number of factions to side with, or choose to distance yourself from all of them and do what’d best for you. Otherwise, I still get that feeling of being led around by the hand by developers who only want to let me do what they want me to do.
You know what would also have helped the atmosphere issue? Cut scenes. I know Bethesda is anti-cut scene, but they serve their purpose. Corvo has an awesome mask with a badass hood thing going on. I want to see him! Just a brief scene of Corvo in his sweet getup poised for attack on some rooftop. Let’s get a close up of some of the devastation that the city has suffered, like we got to see in the trailers. I mean, forcing me to stand still and listen to some dudes talk basically counts as a cut scene. It takes away control and forces me to pay attention to essential plot points. So if you’re going to do it, let me see some cool stuff while it happens. Cut scenes aren’t inherently bad, Bethesda. It’s all about balance.
As a game, Dishonored is an incredible experience, and I fully expect it to go down as one of the industry’s most important games – something that helps to shape the industry itself. This game creates a sense of organic freedom and realism in the gameplay that few, maybe no games have been able to accomplish. Had they incorporated this into the plot, they might have had a masterpiece on their hands. Maybe next time.