‘D ishonored” is a game that does so many things right. It’s a first-person action game with an emphasis on stealth, mobility and choice. The environments are sprawling, the combat fast and fluid, and the aesthetic Victorian-era steampunk. Each level tests (and rewards) your patience, and makes you think before every step. So few games present players with truly non-linear paths to playthrough, so when a game comes around with the sheer variety of options like “Dishonored” does, it’s fantastic breath of fresh air.
Players control Corvo Attano, Bodyguard to the Empress to the city of Dunwall, the game’s setting. Unfortunately, the Empress goes and gets herself assassinated in the first five minutes, and Corvo’s the one set up to take the fall. You soon find yourself working as an assassin for a fringe resistance group bent on placing the rightful heir, a young girl named Emily, on the throne.
Gameplay is aided by series of supernatural powers that you unlock through the game, including a short-range teleport and the ability to slow down time or possess enemies and animals. You can collect “runes” by doing sidequests and exploring different areas to further upgrade your skill-sets. Combat falls into two facets: that of a more traditional action game with an emphasis on taking down anyone that gets in your way, or a more controlled, stealthy approach.
And I do mean stealthy. The entire game can be completed without killing, or even being seen by, a single enemy, though it will probably involve you saving and reloading every other minute to avoid misstep. Things can escalate quickly when you’re not careful: a single guard stumbling upon you can send things awry, and your no-kill playthrough can turn into a bloodbath lightning quick because you opened the wrong door at the wrong time.
Conversely, you can also choose to blow through the game, shooting everything you see in the face with a crossbow, setting up shrapnel traps for guards to walk into, using your supernatural powers to send an ornery swarm of diseased rats at anything that crosses you. But your actions have consequences here, and “Dishonored” does a better job than most of giving your choices meaning.
Chaos is a mechanic built into the game that actively changes your settings depending on how high your body count rises. Leaving a bloody trail will result in subsequent levels having more guards and plague victims, known as Weepers, wandering the streets of the city; NPC’s dialogue and actions toward you will change; and if it gets really high, bedlam erupts in the streets of Dunwall. Characters start to distrust and attack each other; disorder reigns over the city.
Level design deserves a special mention here. Fans of last year’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” will find some common ground in the variety of paths open to those who care to look for them. It seems like for every route you see, there are two that lay hidden. Doors can be opened by stealing a key from a guard, using your teleport ability to climb neighboring buildings and look for a window, or you can even possess a fish and swim in through the sewer system.
For everything that “Dishonored” has going for it, it’s worth mentioning a few of the more flawed points. Some of the characters seem to start interesting story lines or display behavior that seems like it could lead somewhere, but then they are quickly forgotten like nothing happened. Also, the source of your supernatural powers, a character known as the Outsider, doesn’t ever provide a reason why you were chosen. A few of the other side stories feel not so much open ended as cut short.
Finally, the options available to those trying to go for a stealth, no-kill playthrough are really limited when compared to all the lethal powers and gizmos you have at the ready. While you can lob grenades, blast foes with wind powers and shoot enemies with a crossbow and pistol, all the stealth players have at their disposal are a few sleep darts and the ability to choke enemies to unconsciousness. It doesn’t harm the game too much, but a few more options to spice up all the sneaking around, like a gas grenade or tripwire, would have been a smart addition.
Still, “Dishonored” is worth your time and money, a really impressive new IP in a recent sea of sequels afraid to break free from tried and tested game types.
— Sam Nixon is a self-proclaimed video-game nerd who writes reviews for the Daily whenever a cool new game is released.