If there is one thing that I can appreciate when it comes to new titles, it’s originality, especially when a game developer attempts to stand out from the crowd, spit in the face of what is considered the norm, and tries to change the rules. This is exactly what Bethesda and Arkane Studios have done with Dishonored. The team have moved away from the trends of this generation and created something which each and every player will get a different experience from. I’ve spent some quiet alone time with Corvo, the man behind the scary mask, and despite a few teething problems, Dishonored has certainly left me entertained.
Dishonored is an open-world first-person stealth action title that puts players in the shoes of Corvo, once a legendary guard for the Empress, who seeks vengeance against the Lord Regent who framed him for the assassination of the Empress. It’s apparent from the very first scenes that a lot of time has been spent by the developers to try and craft a rich, unique world that will absorb the player, and they certainly have succeded in that department. You are dropped into the middle of a steampunk inspired universe in which your homeland is currently having a few rodent problems (well, I say a few, more like a deadly outbreak of vicious flesh eating rats which carry a form of the plague).
Character models and personalities feel bulky and fleshed out, like a strange mix of Fable 3 and Half-Life 2, and everything – right down to the most insignificant item – looks intricate and frankly cool as shit. We’re reviewing Dishonored on the Xbox 360 and whilst the title is fantastic looking, it’s painfuly obvious that many of the video teasers and screenshots were taken from the PC version. While the console version looks great graphically, I’m sure some people may be a little bit dissapointed.
In terms of gameplay, there are a lot of positives here but it’s not as perfect as you might hope. A simple formula is followed throughout the majority of the game – wake up at the Hounds Inn, listen to some advancement of the storyline from the NPC’s, get given a quest, do quest (which involves killing someone, naturally), return to Hounds Inn, sleep. While this system does a fine job, it does make the world in which you are playing seem very small. Mission locations are often visited more than once during the course of the main storyline, and while they do change a little bit (thanks to some fantastic mechanics which I will touch on later) it feels less like a sprawling city begging to be explored and more of a small collection of areas for you to interact with.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Dishonored lets you decide how you want to play the game. From stealthy ninja assasin to pistol wielding maniac, the choice – apparently – is yours. Certain mechanics however – namley the Chaos system, which rates how much death and destruction you have wrought – will make you question whether or not your Sam Fisher style antics were the right choice.
One of Dishonored’s brilliant mechanics is how your actions affect the environment. For example, the amount of bodies you leave in your wake has a direct impact upon the world itself. Assassinate or murder a few people and, upon your return to that area, you will find sentry turrets, Tall Boys, increased patrols and other defences have been erected, as well as a population increase of the aforementioned rats dependent on just how postal you went during the previous mission in that area.
One irritating feature of this mechanic though is that guards that you have knocked out will sometimes be classed as kills at the end of the mission as they can randomly get eaten by those bloody rats. So whilst you’ve spent ages plotting the sneakiest infiltration routes and resisting the urge to just blow everyone away and have done with it, there’s always a possibility that you’ll end a level with blood on your hands. While this does make the world seem alive in some respects, it also makes playing in the stealthy way I want to feel a bit futile.
When it comes to deciding what kind of path you want to go down in terms of your play style, there are lots of different abilites to choose from which are unlocked by finding runes that are scattered around the different areas. These skills include all kinds of funky stuff such as Blink (teleportation to me and you), Dark Vision which allows you to see through walls, Bend Time and the rather nifty Possession ability. All of the skills on offer will appeal to a different kind of playstyle and it’s important to make sure that you are specced out correctly.
However, as with most things in Dishonored, I found a slight issue with them. A lot of the skills require some hefty levelling up before they become of any great use. With Possession for example, what most people want, myself included, is to be able to take control of guards and walk them into increasingly funny situations or off of very high cliffs. However, to get the skill to the level required to control human charcters takes a total of eight runes. While this might not seem a lot, runes are not that easy to come by without a lot of exploration and doing a lot of side quests.
One thing which I was a little disappointed with was the lack of variation in the weapons and equipment that you have to choose from. Your main arsenal consists of a short sword, pistole and crossbow with different types of ammo such as the obligatry sleep arrows and fire arrows. There are also a few other items that you can purchase and upgrade such as grenades and spike mines. Most of the items granted to you in Dishonored are destructive in nature, which is a shame as I would have loved a few more items to assist in stealth runs.
My favourite item by far has to be the Heart. Given to you near the start of the game (I’m trying not to include spoilers here) the Heart has two functions. It’s main function is to highlight runes and bone charms in areas and guide you to them but the second, and the reason I like it, is to tell you secrets about NPCs. Just equip it, target someone, and the creepy yet sexy voice of the heart will whisper to you their dirty secrets. A lot of fun!
Combat is obviously a big focus in Dishonored and is incredibly intuitive. Your short sword is always equipped to your right hand and the left hand is occupied by your selected equipment, secondary weapon or ability. You are able to quick map four different abilities or equipment to the d-pad for fast switching in combat, however you can bring up the equipment wheel and combat will pause. Making a perfect block in combat will give you the opportunity to perform a one-hit kill, however your enemy will stumble and you often find your target out of range to carry out this deadly attack.
As a package though, Dishonored offers a lot, but it’s not perfect. The way the story is told is excellently and should be seen as a lesson to other developers on how to get the most out of your storyline, but it is a tad cliched and predictable. The combat is a bit sluggish and not varied enough, but it also provides some fantastic entertainment. Sticking a guards head to the wall with a crossbow bolt before seeing it clatter to the ground when you remove the bolt never gets old.
It’s incredibly rare to get everything perfect with a brand new IP and that’s the thing with Dishonored. It does a lot of things right, and almost gets to the stage of being perfect, but there are still a few teething problems that need to be worked out. Providing that the title sells well (which it damn well should), Bethesda and Arkane Studios have got a fantastic blueprint for what could be a fantastic new franchise that all gamers can enjoy.
+ NPC’s are well animated and the steampunk style design is both gorgeous and interesting
- Some textures are bland and boring. Some areas don’t feel as unique
+ Wide variety of side missions and lots of options to play the game in different ways. Different endings and dialogue from NPC’s on offer depending on your actions
- Sometimes feels like it’s forcing you to play a certain way. Main mission tasks lack some variation. Very ‘trial and error’
+ Fantastc voice acting, music and SFX
Dishonored is due for release on October 12th 2012 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.