I’m ashamed to admit that Dishonored completely slipped under my radar. Despite glowing recommendations based off of preview builds, I still wrote it off as just another stealth game and ignored it. Doing so was a gross injustice. Dishonored deserves all the praise it’s received and more and is an incredibly strong contender for my game of the year.
The game follows Corvo, a bodyguard turned assassin, attempting to avenge the Empress’ death and prevent a political coup led by the Empress’ spymaster. Assassination targets are all suitably corrupt/power-hungry or straight up nasty and taking them out is both satisfying and gives a good sense of progression. The story here is nothing ground-breaking but the characters carry it well, each as devious as the last and in general the plot serves as a good vehicle for the action.
What really stands out about Dishonored is how player driven it is. Want to go through the game without killing anyone? Kill everyone in sight? Or perhaps a healthy balance of the two? The option is there and each direction has its merits. Although stealth is encouraged, it is never forced and when opting for this route, there are a ton of different ways to do that too. You could climb along balconies to avoid sight or just freeze time and run through. The different options are surprisingly well balanced. Not once did I feel penned into a choice simply because it was clearly the easiest. Morality is handled well too with no arbitrary meter telling you how good of a person you are. Killing people adds to the plagued city’s troubles but you are never explicitly told by how much so killing civilians or even mission targets comes down to how you want to play your character. It’s rare to see choices in a game handled so well and feeling so meaningful and personal.
Although many aspects of gameplay are nothing new to the action/adventure genre, the execution is near flawless. In absolute basic terms it comes across as Bioshock’s first person view and powers crossed with Assassins Creed‘s stealth and acrobatics, but still manages to feel little like either. Powers and equipment are varied (although I would like to have seen a few more) and very few are overpowered. I found myself using most powers regularly which was incredibly refreshing compared to the usual tactic of other games; putting all points into the best skill and using it constantly. The use of these skills is only really limited by the player’s imagination. Not once did I find I was unable to try my newest idea due to the game’s mechanics not allowing it. My only complaint with the gameplay was that controls felt unresponsive at times. Climbing out of water and blinking on to ledges in particular were hit and miss; sometimes it took several tries to achieve what should be a simple task.
The graphics of Dishonored are heavily stylised but it fits the game incredibly well. Characters have cartoon-like quality to them which strikes an interesting contrast with the rather dark themes of the game. The locations in the city of Dunwall fit the mood too, from the lavish Golden Cat where the upper classes spend their time and money to the back streets where plague victims are left to die. Right from the start you get an amazing sense that you’re part of a fully realised world. Throughout the game you get to see the city’s problems first hand but there’s always more going on behind the scenes. The only thing that dragged me out of the world was an unfortunate case of what I’ve come to call ‘Bethesda face’. Despite being developed by Arkane Studios, the influence from Bethesda (who published the game) is clear. From Skyrim to Fallout and now Dishonored, they still haven’t quite mastered facial animation leaving conversations with NPCs more than a bit jarring.
Aside from these one or two minor issues, the game is a massive accomplishment. The game delivers all the promise shown in the build up to release and expands it into a well-rounded complete package. The scope and freedom of the game is staggering and the brilliant atmosphere keeps the player invested in the world from start to finish. In a climate of endless triple A sequels and reboots, Dishonored stands out as one of the best original titles in years.