Arkane Studios and publisher Bethesda Softworks have joined together to bring a new twist to the stealth-action genre. Dishonored‘s richly detailed Neo-Victorian world provides players the ability to create their own path through the city of Dunwall, making it a thoroughly satisfying experience.
Dishonored takes place in the Imperial capital of Dunwall – an imaginative vision of a fictionalized London, where whale oil based technology has expedited a social and industrial revolution. Players assume the role of Corvo Attano, the famed Lord Protector of Dunwall’s Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. The city is in disarray and overwhelmed by an infectious rat plague that’s turning the citizens into zombie-like creatures called Weepers. Upon his arrival from attempting to locate a cure for the plague, Corvo witnesses the assassination of the Empress, the abduction of her daughter, Emily, and is held accountable for both crimes. While in jail awaiting execution, he escapes captivity thanks to a group of Loyalists, and sets forth a plan to rescue Emily and extract revenge on those responsible for her mother’s death. From this point on, how you accomplish your missions will affect the outcome of this virtual world.
Although Dishonored has a successive level structure, each mission can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Receiving your orders from the Loyalist’s home base, the Hound Pits, players will venture into the city to gather information on their target, uncover secret paths, and decide whether to take the combat or stealth approach. The way that you tackle your missions will affect certain aspects of your journey like altering in-game events and the way citizens react to your presence. Running through the streets of Dunwall killing anyone along the way will only intensify the plague; as rats feed upon the corpses of your enemies.
Every mission environment feels different from the last, ranging from dank, underground sewers and abandoned whale oil factories to royal mansions and burlesque houses. Whether you choose to assassinate or spare a target, your number of kills, or the more you make your presence known to your enemies, they all increase the world’s chaos rating. Doing less desirable actions makes Dunwall a drearier place, giving true weight to your choices. A high chaos rating fills the streets with additional Weepers and rats, but it also has a psychological impact on your companions and their attitudes toward you.
Similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored can be completed from beginning to end without spilling a single drop of blood – but accomplishing this is no easy feat. For those moments where you are detected, combining weapons and supernatural powers provide spectacular results. Assassin-style weapons like a retractable blade and one-handed crossbow come in handy when you need to take out a guard, but players will also have access to supernatural abilities that allow Corzo to teleport short distances, enhanced vision, animal possession, and freeze time. Similar to Bioshock, Corzo can equip an ability to one hand while keeping his weapon drawn. Each of these abilities are earned and upgraded by collecting rare runes, and Corvo can upgrade certain abilities by equipping bone charms. Since Dishonored offers nothing in terms of a radar or map, equipping a mystical Heart will guide you in the right direction of these power-ups and reveal secrets about your surroundings.
Taking the direct approach to your mission is doable but you’ll have a shorter and less satisfying experience. The real pleasure in Dishonored is exploring each locale, accepting and completing side-missions, and finding new ways in and out of buildings. Exploring the warped, steampunk vision of Neo-Victorian London is further enhanced by gorgeous visuals. The developers have gone to great lengths to make Dunwall feel like a living breathing city. The art style is painterly rather than photorealistic, with deliberately caricatured figures and an expressionistic use of light, texture, and color. From graffiti covered walls that bear messages of despair to alleys laden with plagued corpses, the atmosphere of Dishonored is certainly dire. Sneaking your way around the city will allow you to learn everything there is to know about the dense world lore and the interesting target characters through journals, voice recordings, and NPC gossip.
Of course, pulling off the illusion of a vast city is no easy feat. With so much exterior and interior detail Dunwall is divided into chunks, and you’ll come across loading screens as you enter certain buildings or move from one area into another. Despite hiring some big Hollywood names, including Susan Sarandon, Michael Madsen and Carrie Fisher, pretentious voicework and animation sometimes fails to bring the story to life. The AI systems have their own odd moments of ridiculousness, as characters see you from a distance if you’re on the same level, but seem negligent to your actions if you’re just above their direct line of sight. Meanwhile, objects and characters occasionally get stuck in jerking physics-engine glitches.
In a genre overpopulated with Call of Duty clones, Dishonored manages to fabricate an experience that’s both original and engrossing. Its compelling gameplay and art direction outweigh the minor imperfections in plot and character development, making the city of Dunwall a pleasure to explore. Dishonored is a title that you won’t want to miss.
Editor’s Note: Dishonored was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.
Release Date: October 9, 2012 • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks • Developer: Arkane Studios • Genre: Action • Multiplayer: None • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $59.99 • Replay Value: High