"Valentine, having died as she has, needs not only a priest, but an avenger. You send for a priest, Monsieur de Villefort; I shall be her avenger."
In the shadows of a dystopian city, a masked man leaves his mark and through his infamous deeds will help shape the fate of an entire nation. Corvo Attano, the former Lord Protector to the Empress of Dunwall, is framed for the murder of the woman he protected with his life. And in the same cIassic fashion of Alexander Dumas' novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, you set out for revenge. As Dunwall reels from the death of its Empress and the spread of the Rat Plague, a masked man rises, either to stand against the violence or to walk a brutal path covered in scarlet.
"You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it."
Dishonored provides you with two paths of play. One is based on your desire for avenging the Empress; the other is based on Corvo's affection for the Empress' young daughter. You must make a choice while playing: do you murder those in your path or walk a higher road? The decision to play lethally or to avoid bloodshed directly affects how the world around you changes. But it is entirely up to you as the player. At any point in time you can change your mind and play however you want, whether its to spare all lives, kill only the guards or kill any living person. The choice is yours, and Arkane Studios wisely chose to never take that choice away from the player.
Dishonored's missions take place in huge areas, all of which are dealing with the plague. The level design in Dishonored is so open to creative forms of play that it defies the current trend of linear games that guide players down one corridor to the next. The powers you choose to unlock and upgrade give you more options. Some powers are gruesome, others useful for stealth and all are well-balanced and perfectly incorporated into the game's design. Whether it's slowing the flow of time, calling a swarm of rats to attack enemies or seeing through walls to know enemy movement, Dishonored's powers all help vary up the experience without making Corvo too powerful.
And utilizing those powers in the open levels provides excellent replayability. Whether you choose to go from rooftops, underwater, directly attacking the main entrance or finding ventilation shafts to enter, the level design provides different ways to reach your objectives and different ways to complete them. One of the earliest levels is a prime example, where you are sent in to assassinate a target and later learn of a non-lethal way to take him down. But there is an optional task of saving the life of another. Whether you save this man or not will affect how you reach your target. And there are variations on how to kill him as well, or if you choose to go the non-lethal route. In just the first mission alone four options arise and that says little about the other optional objectives that pop up throughout that mission.
"Have I ever told you, when you have done your job as a Royalist and had the head cut off one of our people: 'My son, you have committed murder'? No, I have said: 'Very well, Monsieur, you have fought and won, but tomorrow we shall have our revenge.'"
Whether you knock out a guard or kill him, you need to hide the body. But if someone else hears you or sees you there's a frantic panic that begins. You may find yourself leaping out of a window, carrying the body, only to find yourself near a group of other guards. That or you may choose to utilize your powers and take out the other guard in a hopeful gamble. Or perhaps you may choose to rampage through the area, using the environment as you please and leaving no man alive. Each encounter in Dishonored is thrilling and exhilarating and much of that has to do with all the different options open to you as the player. Dishonored succeeds not just because of the openness to the levels, but because of how flexible the game is in allowing you to complete your objectives.
Non-lethal players will rarely make use of the combat mechanics unless they find themselves in a truly desperate situation. But the actual combat itself is extremely entertaining. Corvo is a gifted fighter, in his right hand he carries his sword and in his left either a power or a ranged weapon. Whether you fire your pistol or crossbow, both of which have various ammunition types, use other forms of death-dealing tools, or equip one of your powers, combat is entertaining. The first person swordplay allows you to cross blades with opponents block and parry in real time, and having the right power or weapon in your left hand makes all the difference. Even in bloodshed, being unseen is a must, but in Dishonored, true satisfaction comes from finding your targets and punishing them in some other way. The non-lethal route is cruel. Not to the guards and civilians that you spare, but to the targets you are sent after. There is a certain pleasure in knowing the fate you have decided for those who tried to take control of the city. Whether you make your statements by punishing them for the rest of their lives or simply piling their corpses as a warning for those in your path, Dishonored is an extremely fulfilling game.
"Violence can be used for good."
Towards the end of the game where there are more enemies and guards than before, you will have access to more abilities than before and true experimentation in combat becomes possible. You can stop time, enter a room and place mines by their feet or you can call a swarm of rats to begin devouring your foes, teleporting behind them and shooting them one by one in the back of the head. Combat is satisfying and brutal, but avoiding combat is just as satisfying. Dishonored never forces a path on the player, it is entirely your choice. My choice, after seeing the early consequences of my bloody standoff in the first two missions was to become a shadow that could not be detected by the enemy.
Dishonored takes its themes from The Count of Monte Cristo and V for Vendetta. It wears its influences like a badge of honor and helps to create one of the greatest visions of a great city that has fallen under tyrannical rule and a dark plague. Whether you are infiltrating a party or a guard tower, the game provides options with how to play. If you want to toy with your enemies you may, if you want to succumb to more and more power you may, the choice is always in your hands and none of it ever feels wrong. None of it is ever preached against you. Dishonored is the game that people have been asking for and Arkane must be commended for creating such an inspired and exhilarating game.
"Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words,- 'wait' and 'hope.'"
While playing Dishonored I felt attached to the events that were taking place in the game. The story is not bloated with plot twists that try to make you care for the characters. But in providing a simple tale of revenge, the game makes you care for what is actually happening based on your actions as Corvo. I started out as a killer and chose a high road. But as I prepared for the final showdown I knew forgiveness was no longer in me. I upgraded my weapons, bought explosive bullets and swapped out my sleep bolts for incendiary bolts. By the end I had made up my mind that there was dark work to be done. That based on the events I had witnessed, regular bullets would not be enough. I had made up my mind that in the final moments I would march up to my enemy, with a pile of severed body parts and the burnt shreds of corpses marking my path. In the chaos, I leapt from the top of a tower onto the back of a Tall Boy in pursuit of me, I wedged my blade between his neck and shoulder. And as the thirty foot tall behemoth crumbled I moved forward, saving one last explosive bullet.
"Who is but the form following the function of what, and what I am is a man in a mask."
Excellent review! Gave it a thumbs up. I've heard lots of good things about this game, but I'm hesitant to get it, as I already have a lot to play. It will be a future purchase for sure.
Awesome review. I'm not sure I agreed with it though. I liked Dishonored quite a bit, but I don't think I could ever canonize it in my book of classics. I agree with you fully about how wonderful the emergent feel of the gameplay is, but it seems we disagree on the game's narrative merits.
I personally found the morality system to be pretty baffling, and, unlike you, quite didactic. It just seems totally contrary to the game's design philosophy; you're given a huge number of lethal abilities (and relatively few specifically non-lethal powers), but adhering to a certain play style encourages refraining from many of the game's glut of amazing tools and powers. In a game so built around indulging in sandbox mechanics, its odd to be pushed towards limiting oneself.
What's more this system's effect on narrative is rather absurd. I don't know if you checked up on Emily between missions all that often (I stopped after a couple levels), but she somehow possesses a sixth sense as to how much blood you shed in the previous mission. Her ensuing reactions to you are extremely heavy-handed. If you go the non-lethal route, she'll talk about what a great person you are, and all the kind, noble things she'll do once she's empress. If kill everyone, she starts going off about what a brutal, uncompromising leader she'll be. There's a way to make the consequences of player decisions apparent, but Emily's ridiculous characterization is a perfect example of how not to handle such things.
Still, I thought Dishonored was pretty great, and the issues I mentioned above are just about the only problems I find in it.
@WTA2k5 I found Emily's development understandable. As someone who considers Corvo to be her father-figure and a natural role-model, she would behave how Corvo would.
If Corvo thinks killing everyone working under those who seeks revenge against is expendable, she'll think the same for her people when she becomes the Empress. If Corvo revels in his vengeful attitude, she'll do the same.
Actions of parents or guardians -- whether they're good or bad influence the kids and I think Dishonored showed that to the best of its capability in the limited time it had.
In all honesty, it seemed like half of the power were lethal. I checked on Emily a few times. But I was playing non-lethal so her view of me never changed. I'm not surprised that it would change after killing though. You'd have to figure that much exposure to murder would change a man. However, I'll have to visit her more frequently in my next playthrough to see the full effects. It was never a major point of interest for me personally. I was involved more with the missions and the characters I dealt with during those missions.
Great review. Loved the excerpts from Dumas.
I love how it doesn't get too invest too much time in story's cutscenes and instead allows it to flow naturally during missions. Even when you're outside the room of the final target, you hear him repenting and regretting in a real-time monologue as you quietly kill him. No theatrics nothing. That's how assassinations always are. There is no style or honour in killing people or exacting revenge.
Now say "Thank you Light!" because I have played a major role in giving you your 3rd consecutive 9.5/10 (after Witcher 2 and ME3).
I'm glad to see Arkane's first game in almost a decade haven't changed them. They're very much still the PC traditionalists and that design clearly shines through in Dishonored.
WHAT? I'll grant you Dishonored and Mass Effect 3, but Witcher 2? Boy, please. I bought that game as soon as it was at a price I was fine with paying. I loved The Witcher. You get no credit for Witcher 2. And a very special thank you to EA for making Mass Effect 3 60% off. :P But I'll give you props for having a hand in Mass Effect 3 and Dishonored.
I was also a fan of how the story played out. It was all organic. Very well done game.
@NeonNinja The Witcher. Not its sequel. I need credit for that. :P
New Vegas too. The last two years have been incredibly good. The industry might be producing more bland games but I think we have more variety and games cater to a far wider choice than it ever did before. (especially on PC)
Alright, I'll give you The Witcher. Lots of bland games, but only if people are looking for the major, overhyped sequels to last years games.