This year at E3 there was lots of chatter when it came to Arkane Studios’ “Dishonored” a game published by Bethesda. Seeing as my appointment with Bethesda was on the last day of the annual trade show I was very curious to see what all the hoopla was about given what I had heard. Although there was indeed a lot of chatter, the way that people were talking about Dishonored it merely sounded like it was just another ‘run-of-the-mill’ Action/FPS title with just a few more bells and whistles; yet I kept an open mind leading up to my appointment, and I am sure glad I did. When I walked away from the Bethesda’s booth I marked Dishonored’s release date on my calendar and have been counting down the days since my first. Over the last week I have had the chance to really sink my teeth into the game and it is safe to say that it has effectively managed to live up to the hype. Dishonored is indeed a game that you will want to have on your shortlist of games this holiday season. This being said, I did experience some issues and frustrations that were difficult to overlook.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the game, I should mention Dishonored is strictly a single player experience. I have to admit I was a little disappointed that no multiplayer or co-operative gameplay was available, but in the end this does not hurt the overall experience as I still had a lot of fun with the game. Dishonored bears many similarities to the Bioshock franchise, but this is not a bad thing as I enjoyed the Bioshock games, as did many others out there. At its core Dishonored is an action game played in the first person perspective but there are RPG elements and other sequences where Dishonored can feel and play out like an open world title. Moral decisions come into play during your adventure and the decisions you make will impact the way characters will respond to you. It can even impact the outcome of the game. In the end you appear to be rewarded more for using your stealth abilities but the game does not necessarily punish you for being a little more aggressive either. You are indeed in charge of your own destiny so to speak.
Dishonored takes place in the fictional city of Dunwall. It is an industrial whaling city that is in the grips of a terrible plague. You take control of Corvo Atano who was once a bodyguard for an Empress. After a series of events early in the game you are framed for her assassination. As a result you are imprisoned and now seek vengeance on the people who framed you. Using supernatural powers, marksmanship, stealth abilities, and glut of weapons, you set off on this journey of revenge. This is the basic premise of the game and as far as storylines go it is classic tale of retribution. Sure there are some twists and turns along the way but I am not going to ruin it for you. While I did find some disconnect with the main character I found the game did a remarkable job at telling the story and setting the stage for Corvo’s relentless pursuit of those who set him up. The amount of character interaction in the game is impressive and the experience can go as deep as you want it.
For the most part Dishonored plays out in a somewhat linear fashion in such that you will have to complete missions in a sequential fashion to get to the end of the story. Sure, there are some side quests that take you away from the main missions, and you can spend a great deal of time searching the levels inside and out for loot, yet at the end of the day Dishonored takes you down a singular path in your quest for revenge. Yet what makes Dishonored a little different than your average Action/FPS game is the many ways you can tackle the various missions. Whether it is completing the missions using stealth combat and non-lethal takedowns or going in kicking down doors and shredding everything in sight, Dishonored allows you to develop your own approach and style of play. Not to mention you have wide range of abilities and gadgets that can be deployed to support your style of combat.
For instance, if you want to proceed through a mission in stealth-like fashion you can toggle “Sneak Mode” by pressing B. After you press B your character crouches and subsequently sneaks his ways around the area. Just do not make too much noise, as enemies will detect you. Sprinting will also trigger enemies to your presence due to the noise you can make running, so the key here is to take it slow. In Sneak Mode you must also be mindful to dispose of bodies, as enemies will become alarmed if they spot a corpse. On the flip side, if proceeding through a mission at a slower pace is not your thing, you can always go in ‘guns-a-blazing’. When engaging in “Combat Mode” Corvo can duel wield his sword and another power or gadget. Your sword is found in your right hand and you use the right trigger to slash enemies and the right bumper to block attacks. Counter attacks are key to your survival, especially towards the latter part of the game. In your left hand you can equip such things as a pistol, crossbow, grenades, as well as special abilities such as Blink or Bend Time. You use these items or powers with the left trigger and you use the left bumper to bring up the “Quick Access Wheel” which is one of the best parts of Dishonored gameplay.
The quick access wheel will inevitably draw comparisons to Bioshock’s seamless weapon selection system. That is just fine by me as Bioshock features some terrific combat and frankly I loved Bioshock’s combat mechanics including the weapon upgrade system. This being said, Dishonored still feels very different. The wheel gives you access to some wicked weaponry that allows you to brutalize your enemy with some of the most vicious deaths you will ever see. But it is not all ‘blood and guts’ as the wheel gives you access to non-lethal styles of combat. For instance, Blink allows you to teleport short distances. In one level I was able to use Blink to reach certain areas undetected. I then subsequently assassinated an enemy and then used the Blink ability to get out of the area safely. It is a pretty cool tool that, when effectively mastered, you can get past a lot of dicey areas with this special power.
Another power I really enjoyed using is called Possession. Here I could physically merge with any creature’s body. In one sequence I possessed a fish that allowed me to access a drainage pipe so that I could infiltrate an area. Once you reach level 2 for the Possession ability you can start to possess humans and this adds a whole new dynamic to the game. Additionally, there are other powers that allow you to slow down time and others that release a powerful windblast. You can even unleash a swarm of rats or perform a kill that leaves your enemy in a cloud of ash. As the powers are slowly introduced into the game and Dishonored does a nice job at helping you become acquainted with them. Just keep in mind though that all these powers are not infinite. You must accumulate enough “Mana” potions in order to use these powers to their fullest forcing you to use them sparingly.
Despite having varying levels of difficulty I was quite surprised with how much of a challenge Dishonored can be. Getting from point A to point B is tasking. Taking down “Tall Boys” for instance is difficult. No these are not large beer cans but rather they are police on large robotic stilts. The district has become flooded with “The Plague” so the police use stilts to keep themselves high off the ground. Needless to say I needed to use a number of powers at my disposal in order to take those suckers down. As I ventured through Dishonored I found there were quite a few times where I wanted to knock down the difficulty level just so I could get past a certain area. I also ran across more then a few occasions where I would get stuck and I would not know where to go or how to get there. Again, I needed to use my noggin and get creative to get to through certain areas. I also had to exercise a great deal of patience during these times as the game does not really provide direction when needed, and this can be somewhat frustrating. Overall it will take you around 20 hours to complete the game, and this is quite dependent on the style of gameplay you choose, from being all stealth-like to going in with your weapons and powers front and center.
Although there were some frustrating moments, Dishnored features some innovative and dynamic gameplay. Aside from the variety of ways you can take down enemy foes, and how some of the choices you make impact the gameplay, Dishnored features something called “Chaos”. The game appears to reward you with extra “Chaos” if you choose to proceed your way through the many levels and bosses without killing them. What is Chaos you ask? Well Chaos is the value that is adjusted according to the actions of your character during gameplay. The Chaos system is a hidden mechanic in such that you will only see your Chaos level during the end mission stats screen.
As far as the controls are concerned, Dishonored is fairly tight. My only ‘beef’ would be with the game’s melee or close quarter combat. Repeatedly hitting the right trigger felt a tad awkward and I just didn’t get that sense of satisfaction when taking down the enemies. Otherwise, the controls felt great and the game does a great job at slowly introducing you to the basic and then more advanced controls; just do not expect the game to spoon feed you.
During your playthrough your characters keeps a journal. This journal retains your mission objectives, and it also lists all the books, audiographs and written notes you have found in the game. It also lists your powers and all the bone charms you have collected. Last but not least the journal also keeps tab on your inventory, so any keys you have collected or upgrades you have gathered are kept in this handy dandy little area. I should mention Dishonored involves a great deal of searching and collecting loot, which adds to the game’s replay value. At the end of each mission various stats are displayed. Each time I finished a level I would simply be stunned with how much stuff I missed despite having thought I did a decent job at searching the area. So to that end, the stats are nice in terms of keeping tabs of how many kills, coins and other things I accomplished in the mission, as well as letting me know how much I did or did not find.
Dishonored takes place in a very unique and picturesque setting. Environment wise the game is sharp looking and it has an artistic look about it. It very much reminded me of an Assassins Creed-like historic environment that has been plagued with a nasty rat infestation. The comparison to the Assassins Creed franchise is not a bad thing either as it has some of the best-looking landscapes and historic village environments we have seen on consoles to date. Sure Dishonored’s visuals may not be as sharp as some of the environments seen in Ubisoft’s franchise but it is on par to a degree and most should be happy with what is on screen. I guess my only complaint would be that some of the game’s environments can appear a tad murky. Likewise the characters animations look decent, but again I felt that they were just not as sharp as they could be.
As far as technical issues are concerned I experienced very few of them. This is likely due to the developers recommending you install Dishonored onto your hard drive in order for you to have an “optimal experience”. As far as slow down and clipping issues, I experienced few if any. Dishonored plays out very smoothly without much of a hiccup at all.
In regards to the game’s audio, I found that overall the whole sound package is pretty darn good. Sure it is not the best I have heard but it adequately manages to do the job. Everything manages to convey the on screen action to a tee while the game’s music is pretty atmospheric and suits the game quite well. The victims you dispatch also die with style and some of the death sounds are quite noticeable. Overall I would have to say that there was just nothing incredibly jaw dropping or awe inspiring as far as the audio is concerned, but it managed to get the job done in a manner which was not disappointing at all.
Overall, Bethesda’s Dishonored is a really good game but it comes up a little short from being considered one of the “must own” Xbox 360 games. With so many fantastic games coming out this fall and holiday season I question whether it will be able to capture the attention of the masses. That being said, it would be a shame if you didn’t take a close look at Dishonored as its varied combat mechanics, dynamic gameplay, and level of depth make it one of the more memorable games to be released at this juncture of the 2012 holiday season.