Arkane Studios' Dishonored is one of the most anticipated games of this year, and after playing through it twice, it's the right time for a complete verdict. How does it measure up?
- Worth The Time?Yes, every minute you spend with it.
- Things LovedCorvo's mask, the exhilarating predator and fast paced stealth gameplay, the diversity in gameplay, the excellent and varied level design, the many different approaches you can take, the power system, the way powers really change the way you can play, the incredibly unique and fantastically realised graphical style, the way the game begs you to play it twice, the compelling game world, the save system lets you experiment.
- Things HatedThe weapon and equipment upgrades leave a lot to be desired, the combat can be clunky and especially clumsy against multiple opponents, a new game+ option is sorely missed, the Blink-climb move can be a bit buggy, the direction of the story is predictable, certain plot points didn't get enough explanation, enemy AI can be a bit inconsistent sometimes.
- RecommendationAs one of this year's highlights, you surely would be missing out by not playing this game. It offers more than enough to justify a purchase, and it can give you good value for your money if you take your time with it. The only gamers I can think of who might not like this are those who don't at all enjoy games like BioShock or Skyrim or Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Otherwise, everyone should play this game before the year ends.
- Name: Dishonored
- Genre: First Person Stealth Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Arkane Studios
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Price: R385 (PC), R545 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PC, PS3
Dishonored from Arkane Studios is one of the most talked-about games this year. It’s new, it’s exciting, it looks badass, but for the most part I’ve distanced myself from all of the hype and didn’t allow myself to get carried away and raise my expectations too high, as that would have been unfair on the game. I went into it having just a basic idea of what it’s about, and allowed the game to do all of the talking. That said, by now you’ve either made your decision to buy this already or you’ve seen all the hype surrounding it. Hopefully, some of you here don’t know much about it as well, but in any case we’ve all been excited to play it and after completing it twice, I feel it’s time for the complete verdict.
In the game you play as Corvo Attano, the legendary bodyguard to Dunwall’s Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. After returning from a faraway voyage to seek help with the deadly plague ruining the city, Corvo travels to the tower of Dunwall to meet with the Empress, with whom he is close with, and share his findings. Corvo is also extremely attached to her daughter, Emily, who thinks of him like a father. After delivering the message to the Empress, the three of them are attacked by assassins, and despite Corvo’s attempts at fighting them off, they magically restrain him, kill the Empress and kidnap Emily. If things couldn’t get any worse, moments after the Empress begs Corvo to find Emily before dying, the Empress’ Spymaster arrives and accuses Corvo of committing the murder and abducting Emily. Fast forward six months, and the Spymaster has seized control of Dunwall as Lord Regent, and he reveals to Corvo that he orchestrated the assassination and framed Corvo. With the help of outside friends who call themselves the Loyalists, Corvo escapes from his cell before his execution and attempts to unite with his new-found allies in order to fight back. There’s only one problem. Corvo is now infamous for the murder, and has to hide his face from the world if he still wants to be a part of it.
The story has a great premise to it, and an amazing feel. It’s a ravaged world that’s in a bit of a poor state, and it needs the right kind of encouragement to get shaken up. That’s where you come in, as an assassin on a revenge quest, one that will change the fate of the entirety of Dunwell. While the plot sounds grand in scale, the truth is that the story is mostly conventional and you can more or less predict where it’s going save for the various endings, but where the game will win you over is with its fantastic setting and compelling world. It’s a world you’ll want to explore and learn more about, and a lot of said learning will come from either just listening to characters or reading through books and notes. Unfortunately though I couldn’t help but feel that there’s a bit of backstory missing, and certain plot elements, such as those concerning the Outsider for instance, aren’t really detailed that much. You shouldn’t really be required to read notes, as they should be for additional knowledge and not for things of importance. More story depth would have done a lot of good, but overall the story is both told well and paced well and is entertaining to experience, even if it does take a bit of a backseat.
An interesting twist is that you can influence the outcome based on whether you adopt a lethal or nonlethal approach in your missions. Rack up the body count, and you’ll increase your Chaos level, while killing few or none at all will keep it low. The rating is important because not only do you get a mission rating at the end of every level and a challenge of both not being seen and not killing anyone, but the game also changes depending on your Chaos rating. You’re told this practically on the first mission, but basically if your Chaos level is high you’ll get a darker ending, and if it’s low you’ll get the good one. The world itself also slightly changes depending on your rating. A high Chaos rating means there are more signs of the plague, as in more rats and infected humans, and certain characters also act differently towards you. It’s a cool system, even if it does discourage killing excessively.
Dishonored’s greatest asset is its gameplay. Instead of the standard, slow stick-to-the-shadows stealth, this is about fast paced predator and overt stealth. You are the hunter, but you’ll also have to sneak and hide the old fashioned way, picking off your targets one by one and disposing of their bodies. Alternatively, you could not care about that at all and just stroll right in with your sword held up high. You can mix the two, or you can avoid all manner of confrontation. The controls are very easy to get a hold of. You’ll select your powers and gear from a radial menu, and you’re free to assign your hotkeys as you please. You move quite quickly, and you can get around the world fairly easily by sprinting, jumping, climbing, sliding and Blinking, which is the first power you get. The gameplay is extremely varied, and one of the best things about it is the excellent and varied level design. Levels are dynamic and packed with entry points from above or the ground, and there are many different approaches you can take to each mission. There’s great freedom in how you want to tackle your assassinations and each level, and this is definitely a game you’ll want to experiment with and explore. There are five main components to the gameplay, namely the sword combat, stealth, your two ranged weapons, powers and bone charms. Your two ranged weapons are a gun and a crossbow, both of which are one-handed weapons, so you’ll get to hold your sword as well. Powers and bone charms are a different story.
The game has one of the best power systems I’ve seen, and that’s thanks to the amazing design. Powers take up mana, of which you can restore using a potion. A small chunk recharges automatically though. The star of the show is Blink, which lets you teleport a small distance forward, or a large one if you upgrade it. It’s not just for platforming and getting to vantage points, as you can also use it to instantly warp up to an enemy and take him out, as well as to get out of a hot spot or avoid detection. You’ll upgrade your powers by collecting Runes in the game world, and each power has two levels. You get more conventional ones like Vitality, that increases your maximum health, or Agility, which makes you jump much higher and move faster. Then you get seriously awesome powers like Bend Time, which lets you slow down time at the first level, and completely freeze it at the second. It’s a thing of beauty to stop time and fire bullets or arrows at each enemy’s head, watching them sit suspended in mid air only for them to fly to their targets, killing them instantly the moment the power ends. You also get one called Possession, that lets you go into the body of animals or humans at level two, and play as them for a short duration. So you can take over a rat and pass by undetected or get into small areas otherwise inaccessible. A particular favourite of mine is Wind Blast, which sends a powerful wave that initially knocks enemies down, but later tears them apart and rips through doors and breakable objects.
There are only a handful of powers in the game, but the best thing about the system is that the powers significantly change the way you play the game, depending on the build you choose. Instead of simply being there to add variety, the developers have done a wonderful job of making the powers truly open up new ways to play. For example, Bend Time level two, by freezing time, stops electric fences called Walls of Light from harming you, so you can pass right through them as well as other security systems. Possession lets you scout out areas or get to places you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Blink level two really gives you a greater freedom of movement and allows you to be more tactical regarding where you want to strike from. A small issue I found with it though is that using it to climb can be a bit inconsistent, as it doesn’t always work the way you want it to, but in every other area it performs perfectly. Overall though it’s rare to see abilities have such a deep influence on gameplay, and the only recent game I can compare such fantastic design to is Deus Ex: Human Revolution, because similarly here no matter what build you choose, you will be effective and you will have plenty of variety in how you want to play and you will undoubtedly enjoy the entire journey feeling powerful enough.
Bone charms are less influential, but still very useful. They’re little items to collect and equip, providing small buffs permanently, such as increasing your maximum health, mana regeneration speed, attack speed or increasing the health you gain from consumables. You can have a maximum of six equipped if you buy the capacity upgrade, otherwise you’re limited to three. What I really liked about Bone Charms is that the buffs they provide are actually quite noticeable, and not negligible like you might have expected. Similarly to Runes, you’ll find them scattered around the world, and the key to finding them is using a magical Heart you acquire early on as part of the story. This tool is pretty awesome, as it not only shows you where Runes and Bone Charms are, beating more vigorously when you’re near to them, but it also whispers secrets to you and gives you information about the lore of the world at the click of a button. You can also aim it at characters and hit a button to get a read on them. It’s a very nice touch to the game, and it’s pretty unique as well, and a tool you can spend some time with.
The combat system is relatively easy to grasp. Your sword is always in hand, and in your other hand you can either equip a magic spell, ranged weapon or the Heart. It’s a bit puzzling why you can’t maybe equip a ranged weapon and a magic spell, or two magic spells, or both your ranged weapons, but that’s the way it is and it works great. Your crossbow is definitely an awesome weapon as you can use it to kill or kick up a fuss with standard bolts or incendiary rounds, or you can knock enemies out with sleep darts for the nonlethal approach. It’s pretty badass to fight with a gun and a sword or crossbow at once, but your powers are definitely where it’s at. You can also hack certain security systems using a Rewire tool, or you can set shrapnel traps or use grenades. It would have been nice to have more variety in traps and grenades, as there’s only one of each. You can purchase upgrades for weapons and equipment at your base, but I felt that it was a bit of a missed opportunity. Aside from capacity upgrades and crossbow upgrades, which can make it function far better such as by allowing you to instantly swap ammunition types and lose the reload time, nothing else is really worth buying or changes the gameplay in any noticeable way. You could even ignore them completely and you wouldn’t feel like you’re missing out. I was hoping to add to the sword combat, but it sees no change.
On that subject, the melee combat is a bit of an issue. Your ranged weapons all work great, and the stealth gameplay is as amazing as you’d want it to be, but the swordplay is a bit of a hit and miss. It’s definitely fun to fight, and it’s great to watch the violent kills, but it’s a bit clunky. You’re limited to striking and blocking with sword combat, and when you get a good hit on an opponent or stagger them, you’ll perform an instant kill strike. And this is what you’ll mostly be trying to activate as you hack away at your opponents. To put it simply, the system is a bit shallow and it becomes really clumsy when you’re facing multiple opponents. It’s also not always easy to judge the range at which an enemy will hit you, so your counters can be a bit off. You can also cheap out the combat if you combine Blinks and strikes, so from a technical point of view the combat could have used improvement. Despite these issues though, it’s hard not to like the combat and it’s both fast and bloody, which is a good combination. Most of your game though will revolve around stealth, unless you’re a nut, so sword fighting isn’t something you’ll do often unless you want to, but the majority of fights are over in seconds which actually makes them feel intense. The enemy AI can be a little inconsistent though, in terms of their detection of you and behaviour in fights, but it’s nothing serious or overly damaging to the game.
Dishonored is excellent to play, and it’s one of the most fluid action games I’ve played recently. It’s exhilarating to take an enemy out silently with your crossbow, warp up to someone high up and take them out before jumping off the top of a building and assassinating someone from above all in perfect flow. I can’t stop praising the amazing design of the game, its fluidity and how awesome it is to use the powers and plan your approach. There’s plenty to do in each level, there are many different ways you can play the game, and despite its flaws or shortcomings, it’s an absolute joy to play, and you’ll most likely want to play through levels multiple times just to see what you might have missed if you had done something differently. However, I felt that a New Game+ mode is sorely missed in Dishonored. Yes, you do get the option to replay previous missions, but strangely you only get the powers and upgrades that you had at that particular time. For a game filled with such great design, it really puzzles me as to why you don’t get the option to experience the game with all of your powers and upgrades in tact. It really seemed like the obvious choice in a game like this. It’s upsetting, but chances are that your arsenal will most likely be two to three powers anyway so it’s not unforgivable and it does encourage you to try something different on alternate playthroughs, but honestly I did wish that I could have cranked the difficulty up to the highest level and then tackled some of the earlier missions fully powered up.
It’s hard to judge how long the game will take you to finish. It depends how slow you take it or how much time you spend experimenting. But to give you an indication, my first playthrough, one of high chaos, took me between ten and twelve hours, which included doing all side missions and getting almost all the runes and bone charms I saw. My second play-through, which was all stealth and minimal killing or in other words low chaos and a few missions completed without being seen or making a kill, took me literally one night, and by that I mean around about six or seven hours. Yes, I didn’t sleep that night. I did skip all of the cutscenes that I had already watched though, but I didn’t rush the game at all as I once again did all the side missions and nonlethal approaches and maxed out Blink, Bend Time, Agility and Vitality and got a number of bone charms and upgrades as well. So depending on you, the game can be finished quickly even if you’re not rushing, or over a long time, but the great part is that regardless of which, it begs you to play it twice for the low and high chaos outcomes and various gameplay approaches, so you can easily get eighteen to twenty hours of solid game time out of it.
It’s very easy to say that one of the best things about Dishonored is its visual style. Hands down it’s one of the most awesome and unique visual experiences you’ll come across this generation. I actually can’t quite put a finger on it. The game has some BioShock in it, some Prince of Persia 2008, and plenty of its own ingredients as well. It’s like a painting, yet its heavily stylized and distinct. It looks gorgeous and clean, and it’s a graphical style that will still be appreciated and that will still look attractive and unique in the years to come. The world is bright yet dark, old yet subtly modern, and beautiful yet in many ways ugly. It’s a seriously compelling and powerful experience, visually. It’s a pity the same can’t be said for the audio, because while everything is of a good standard, through two playthroughs nothing really stood out for me. Comparing the PC version to consoles, the former looks cleaner with slightly smoother textures, but really the console versions look just as good. The advantage of the PC though is quick save and absolutely minimal loading times of only a couple of seconds, while the console version can sometimes load for close to twenty seconds even after installing the game to your hard drive. It’s not so bad though, and in both versions you can save at any time on your exact spot.
Dishonored may have a few shortcomings and it might not reach its full potential, but there’s no doubt that it’s a really great game that leaves you completely satisfied. A number of improvements and additions in certain areas could have made this game even better, but it’s a damn fine game already. It’s definitely worth the money, and to put it as simply as possible, everyone should at least try to play this before the year ends. The game simply begs you to play it twice, and you will naturally love every minute of it. As one of the year’s highlights, you’d surely be missing out by not experiencing this.