Game Review: Dishonored

This is one of those games where a review has been a long time coming. Since I lacked the hardware necessary to play the game when it first came out, I had to wait until I had a PC that was capable of handling the game, that time came and went, and I progressed to near the end of the base game before being swallowed up by other, newer, shinier games.

You know, the usual.

dishonored_box_art_bethesda

Dishonored is a stealth action adventure game about a man on a quest for revenge. Corvo Attano, once the bodyguard to the Empress, is framed for her murder and must hunt down and eliminate the people who orchestrated his downfall with the aid of supernatural powers bestowed upon him by the Outsider as well as rescue the late Empress’ daughter, Emily.

The basic gameplay flow of Dishonored is that it drops you into a huge level in the plague-infested steampunk city of Dunwall, gives you a target to eliminate, and then gives you free reign to accomplish your goals. There are multiple ways to approach targets and multiple ways to dispatch them, including nonlethal means. In addition to conventional tools like crossbow bolts (regular and sleep darts for nonlethal takedowns), Corvo also has some neat supernatural powers: Blink is a short range teleport, whereas Bend Time slows or stops time completely. Corvo can summon rat swarms to devour enemies or possess animals and people. These powers can be combined in interesting ways. One of my favourite things to do is stop time, fire a couple sleep darts at enemies, then watch as they all keel over unconscious. Powers can be upgraded by finding runes scattered throughout the level. Corvo can also equip bone charms (also found throughout the level) which enhance his abilities (increasing his movement speed, for example). Another important gameplay element is Chaos. Killing enemies (other than key targets) or leaving bodies around for enemies to discover raises Corvo’s Chaos rating. High Chaos will make Corvo’s enemies more suspicious, and result in increased defenses and a more difficult time traversing the level in the next mission.

For my playthrough, I went with a Low Chaos, Clean Hands (no killing), Ghost (no enemy alerts) run, which is one of the more difficult runs but is perfect for stealth runs. I didn’t manage to get Ghost due to an annoying alert guard in the very first level. This means that many of Corvo’s more interesting abilities were off limits to me (although I did take the opportunity to mess around a bit with the combat before loading a save). As a stealth game, Dishonored is engaging, if at times frustrating, and Ghost runs involve a ton of reloading if you’re spotted. I personally wouldn’t recommend a Ghost run on your first run, I just really like stealth games.

Here we come to the disconnect between Dishonored’s gameplay and the Chaos system in that the game gives you a bunch of cool toys to play with and punishes you with a bad ending if you use them. You can choose to only take down key targets or complete most missions in Low Chaos and still get the good ending, but even so, it still feels like you’re being punished for playing with your toys.

Even though the game isn’t technically open world, Dunwall feels huge. You can find the usual assortment of books and documents to read which flesh out the world. You can look for the Outsider shrines in each level, which contain a rune and some dialogue from the Outsider that changes slightly depending on your actions. Point the Heart (a macabre artifact that beats whenever a bone charm or rune is near) at an NPC and you’ll hear a fact about them. You might find out a guard you just knocked out is a serial killer or that one of your associates peeps on women in the bathroom. One of my favourite missions in the game is Lady Boyle’s Last Party, which sees you rubbing elbows with the elite at a fancy party where you need to first identify your target before moving to the main event. You can even eschew stealth altogether and walk in through the front door like a boss. Some of the nonlethal methods to eliminate your targets arguably leave them worse off than just outright killing them (like handing a woman over to her stalker or having two targets sent to be worked to death in their own mines).

Some criticisms I have is that the Blink power is a bit too sensitive, I’d be wiggling the mouse around, trying to get the indicator where I needed it to be and accidentally end up blinking too soon and faceplanting in front of enemies. Sometimes there would be a weird “time skip” where I’d save my game, get spotted, and reload to immediately be spotted again. Sometimes unconscious bodies that I’d stashed away were missing after a reload. Fortunately, the instantly spotted on reload only happened to me once and the game autosaves frequently. This is something that happens in many games, but after a while you hear the same NPC chatter over and over again. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a guard whistle the same tune I’d be filthy rich right now. Another thing I personally object to is the way the DLC apparently has more to do with the sequel’s plot than the actual base game. It’s not a complaint about the DLC itself, it’s just a personal gripe of mine. I dislike when I’m expected to play the games, play the DLC, buy the tie-in novels, and bake the officially approved cake so I can understand what’s going on in the series. To be fair, Bethesda isn’t the only company that’s guilty of this EA and BioWare but I thought I’d mention it because I despise the practice so much.

Normally I don’t buy a lot of DLC but I bought the definitive edition of the game on sale on Steam. The Void Walker’s Arsenal includes bone charms, gold, and books that were offered as preorder bonuses. The Dunwall City Trials are a series of challenge maps, each with a different objective. In “Mystery Foe” your goal is to collect clues in order to find and eliminate a random tarot, while “Kill Cascade” is a series of drop assassinations on a timer.The real meat of the DLC are the two story campaigns: The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which follow the adventures of Daud as he searches for a woman named Delilah. Daud controls much like Corvo with the addition of some new tools like the Chokedust grenade, which can distract enemies for a few seconds while you escape (or sleep dart them). Another new feature of the DLC is corrupted bone shards which have both benefits and drawbacks. The favours system allows Daud to purchase advantages (like a weapons cache or a rune) that can make levels a little easier. The DLCs are supposed to be harder than the main campaign but they are absolutely a must play.

In terms of triggery content, one of the easiest ways to non-lethally deal with enemies is to choke them out. As you might expect from a game where you play as a supernatural assassin, violence is par for the course, and even in a playthrough where the player isn’t violent, NPCs will frequently be shot and stabbed by other NPCs. Descriptions of the effects of the rat plague are horrific and the game makes it clear that children are not exempt from the horrors that the poor of Dunwall experience. There are a couple sequences (one in the DLC) where you can torture characters for information.

I spent about 55 hours in total on both the base game and two story DLCs and 26 hours on the base game alone. There is some replayability if you want to go back and try a High Chaos playthrough. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t played this game, but if you’re the one person who hasn’t. Dishonored is a dark but engaging stealth action game with some really interesting level design.

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