Dishonored Review

October 17, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Arkane Studios
Publisher(s): Bethesda Softworks
Platform(s): XBox360, PS3, PC
Review Platform: PC
Release Date: October 9, 2012

I, Corvo Attano, have been framed for the assassination of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and the abduction of her heir Emily, the very people I was sworn to protect. My execution is forthcoming and the men who framed me are tying the noose. Loyalists to the empire bust me out days shy of my punishment and welcome me to their rebellion. I will be their blade in the dark, a silent assassin striking at the key players of the lord regent’s coup in order to return the rightful heir to power and clear my name.
  • You are rewarded for both stealth and combat choices
  • A beautiful painterly aesthetic
  • Several ways to complete each mission
  • As should be the case in all stealth games, there are no forced boss battles
  • The game is brief if you’re not exploring every nook and cranny
  • Mission objectives and locales lack variety
  • Environments feel empty
Asleep in my room above the Loyalists’ base of operations, I am visited in my dreams by a deific entity called the Outsider. It grants me access to a slew of unnatural powers, accessed through the acquisition of ancient runes, found scattered across the city. To help me find these runes, as well as special bone charms to accent my abilities, the Outsider gives me a still-beating heart, which will beat faster the closer I am to one of these arcane items. The heart can also whisper people’s secrets to me when used. It’s creepy, even for a magical organ.

My first target will be Overseer Campbell, a devout believer in the zealous Abbey of the Everyman and one of the men directly responsible for the assassination of the empress. He’s tucked away in his offices in Holger Square, a fortress in its own right. The trusty boatman, Samuel, delivers me to the Distillery District, where I will make my way on foot to Campbell’s offices. Unfortunately the district is under heavy surveillance after my recent jailbreak.

The city of Dunwall, where Dishonored takes place, is depressing at its best. A plague has recently broken out and everyone’s either dying or killing each other to get some of Sokolov’s Elixir, a preventative of the plague. While the bleak setting makes sense on paper, with quarantines and a totalitarian leadership answering for the game’s almost complete lack of NPCs, it would better sell the theme of the city if we saw more of how the population lives. As it stands, Dunwall feels even more deserted than Half-Life 2’s City 17.

Samuel has left me under a bridge, where two guardsmen are tossing corpses down onto a boat. I take out the Heart and it shows me the general location of a few runes and bone charms.. The nearest bone charm is at the foot of a small tower at the end of the bridge. I’ll have to get past those two guards. Dishonored does a great job of creating both satisfying combat and rewarding stealth gameplay. You can mix and match, or champion a single approach. The game doesn’t track how stealthy you are, but how lethal.

If you start racking up a kill count, the city will slip further into chaos. Murderous players will see an increase in swarms of hungry rats and security throughout each mission. While some might look at this as the game penalizing combative players, I like to think of it as a reward tailored specifically to your play style. If you’re the type who goes in sword drawn, killing everyone in sight, then it’s very likely you enjoy the game’s combat and a higher chaos rating means more guards to fight. On the other hand, players who want to slip unnoticed through the game will see more routes open to them if they keep a low profile.

I slip into the water and swim to the end of the bridge, right under the noses of the city watch. From there I climb up a chain to a small alcove where some poor soul has died by his campfire. Beside him is my first bone charm. While runes allow you to unlock special abilities, both active and passive, charms are more like gear. You can equip up to six by the end of the game and each will make minor adjustments to the overall gameplay. This first charm gives me more health from any food I eat.

The corpse also has a coin pouch by it, which I can use back at the pub to pay for upgrades to my gear (such as a quick-reloading mechanism for my hand-crossbow), and a songbook. Dunwall is littered with books, notes, and messages scrawled on the walls in paint and blood, all of which tell the story of Dishonored’s world; a world of superstition, paranoia, and plague. And giant tanks of explosive whale oil that power things like the Wall of Light, an electric field that will fry you to a crisp if you pass through it.

Further up the street, just such a wall is erected and my first goal is getting around it. There are several ways to bypass this Wall of Light: I can climb up some boxes to its side and hop over unscathed. The whale oil tank that powers it is prime for the picking and if I wanted to, I could just unplug the thing. Down the street to the right is an entirely different path to Campbell’s offices. Hell, I can even use the Wall of Light as a weapon, rewiring it to kill any guards who pass through. However, I’ve opted for a non-lethal playthrough, so I just possess a nearby rat and crawl through a tunnel beneath the street.

Possession is one of six active abilities you can purchase and upgrade with runes. Other powers range from a teleport for moving around undetected to summoning a swarm of rats to attack your enemies and devour nearby corpses. You’ll even be able to see through walls and redirect incoming projectiles with a heavy gust of wind. Passive abilities you unlock will allow you to run faster, sustain more damage, deliver punishing melee fatalities and even turn enemies you kill into ash, leaving no trail behind.

On the other side of the Wall of Light is Clavering Boulevard, a branching area where a few side ventures await. Missions in Dishonored usually have smaller subplots to explore, such as helping Granny Rags, a homeless nutter voiced by Susan Sarandon, get some thugs off her back or helping a few distressed citizens with their guard troubles. These smaller avenues often link up with future missions. For instance, later in the game I found an invitation to a party which would allow me easy access to a prime location in a following mission. While you can certainly head straight to your target, Dishonored has a lot to offer the curious explorer.

I run a few errands on Clavering Boulevard, collecting all of the magical artifacts and helping Dunwall’s citizens, before I sneak into Holger Square. I’ve been asked to save another loyalist currently held captive in the middle of the square. A guard who foolishly has his back turned to me is interrogating him. I crouch into stealth mode (my sword flips upside down, ninja style) and teleport directly behind the target. A quick choke and he’s unconscious. I stash the body and save the loyalist, who heads back to the pub. I could have stabbed the guard in the back, shot him in the head with a crossbow bolt, or summoned a swarm of plague rats to devour him, but that all feels a little morbid to me.

There are several paths into Campbell’s office, from an open window, to fighting your way in. I take the stealthier route through the window and into to a dining room. On my way through Clavering Boulevard I overheard some guards discussing something called the Heretic’s Brand. It’s a mark of heresy and searing it onto Campbell’s face would see him exiled, effectively taking him out of the game without killing him. You’ll find similar non-lethal means of eliminating all of Dishonored’s prime targets.

I can overhear Campbell talking and he’s heading for the room I’ve just entered. On the table are two glasses, one of which isn’t what it seems. Another friend to the loyalists, Curnow, has been found out and Campbell means to poison him. I can swap the glasses, mix them to poison both Curnow and Campbell, or pour them both out. I toss the glasses and tuck under the table just as they both enter the room.

With the glasses gone, Campbell prepares to do the dirty work of killing Curnow himself, but I shoot a sleeping dart into him and Curnow flees the scene, calling for the guards. They scour the room, then proceed to check the rest of the offices, leaving Campbell asleep on the floor. They’re not the smartest lot. I pick up his body and carry him down to the interrogation room. After strapping him to a chair, I mar his face with the Heretic’s Brand and wave toodle-oo. Now I just have to get back to Samuel without getting myself killed. Mission one has been a success and no lives have been lost. The whole thing feels very Count of Monte Cristo.

Corvo’s quest for revenge is not a long one, but it’s sweet and this is one limited look at how it can be done. I clocked around 20 hours with the game and enjoyed every minute of it. While I felt Dunwall could have been sold better and the missions could have used more variety, Dishonored offers you so many options as far as how to get through each mission that I would say it warrants a second playthrough, just to catch anything you might have missed. Blade or shadow, the game is fun no matter how you play.

Final Score “What'd ya do with a drunken whaler?” 8.0
Dishonored is beautiful. Every frame looks like a painting and the character designs ooze style. Even the more handsome characters are a little ugly and it speaks volumes about the old world fisherman stories the game frequently alludes to.
I constantly found myself exploring areas only to discover several different ways I might have snuck in or taken out different targets. It’s easy to say your game can’t be played the same way twice, but Dishonored goes a long way in providing its players with as much variety as possible.
While a second playthrough is alluring, there are some impressive games on the horizon and without any substantial benefits to a second round (such as a New Game+ mode or even an Ironman difficulty alla XCOM: Enemy Unknown) it’s difficult to see many people picking up the sword for multiple playthroughs.
The game’s music is as haunting as its setting and different audio cues really get the heart pumping, such as the stressful piano riff whenever you encounter a swarm of rats. Guards throughout the city are constantly whistling “Drunken Whaler,” the game’s famous allusion to an old fishing song, and I gotta say, it really sets the mood.

Review by Jeff Ellis

I'm a freelance writer and game reviewer with a year's experience working in the game industry. I've been playing games longer than I've been able to read. In fact, I learned how to read by watching my brother play JRPGs on our Nintendo. I also learned geography from Uncharted Waters: New Horizons. Facts that I probably shouldn't be proud of, but I am. You can read more of my writing over at First Word Problems and keep updated on the site and me via Twitter @1stwordproblems. All Articles by Jeff. 
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  1. Thanks Daniel, I'm glad you liked it!

  2. The best coverage on the game I've read so far.

  3. Loving the first person perspective. Nice write up!

  4. @AlexxyaJen Wow, thank you very much :)

    @Jacqie Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Great Review! But I disagree that the game is short. Single player games these days usually average around 8-12 hours max. 20hrs for a game of this nature is actually very long. I'd rather invest in a solid single player experience than run around some stupid map in online Multiplayer.
    Here, you're at least immersed in a carefully crafted world and you get your money's worth. Calling this short seems a bit unfair, but otherwise damn good review! :)

  6. Thanks for the compliment Jamael.

    Looking back, I can agree that the game has an agreeable length for what it is. I think I was just prejudiced against it, being a fan of sweeping epic JRPGs of the 80+ hour genre, but if Dishonored were that might have got tiresome, haha!


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