Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dishonored Review - Tread Lightly, and Carry Super Powers

Score : 8.75 / 10

PC - Xbox 360 - PS3
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 9th, 2012

  • Multitude of approaches for each mission
  • Powers and weaponry are diverse and work in conjunction with one another
  • Ability combinations open up multiple possibilities to dispatch an enemy
  • Lighting and shadows bring a sense of beauty to the dreary world
  • Rather short campaign
  • With hub world and missions - city feels closed off
  • Some character models and textures are a bit blurry

Dishonored is the epitome of a water cooler game, where discussing it with other players makes you appreciate it even more. Every choice and path you take can be substantially different than another player and there is no "correct" way to play. Want to be a relentless death machine that sounds alarms and sends troops flying with a wave of the hand? Perhaps you like to take the stealthy path, blinking between points without even so much as a single encounter to your target. Arkane Studios hands players the tools of destruction and leaves it to them on how to proceed, and it soon becomes an experience you will wish to play all over again.

Seriously, don't drink the water

The world itself is a captivating one. A steampunk inspired city of Dunwall is filled with dangerous thugs, a persistent plague, and an over bearing governing body. As you walk through each level you are subjected to loudspeaker announcements of obedience, run-ins with civilians berated by corrupt officers, and horrific crime scenes the plague has left in its wake. There is a sense of beauty within the madness, as lighting and environments bring the city to life, despite a few blurry textures and character models. Complete with a high end voice cast including Susan Sarandon (Granny Rags) and Lena Headey (Calista), Dishonored shapes a world that acts as a dreary reminder of your ultimate goal to restore order through death of those responsible.

You assume the role of Corvo Attano, bodyguard and personal friend of the beloved empress. Returning from seeking aid for the city's plague, you have a short blissful reunion before you are attacked. Framed for the murder of the empress and kidnapping of her daughter, Emily, you are placed under arrest and incarcerated for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After gaining help from an unknown source you escape and reunite with an underground resistance, where you act as their right hand - assassinating key targets to expose the true criminal and rescue the queen's daughter so she can rightfully claim the throne. The story became one of the less compelling attributes of the game, and many of the expected twists and turns played out and the targets you are assigned to kill were met so quickly that their importance barely had time to sink in. Still, the immediate bond between yourself and Emily and the instinctive nature to protect her gives a sense of purpose that hangs over your head through the course of the game.

Pistol beats sword! Who knew?

Once at the resistance headquarters, you begin your string of assassinations. A target is specified and you scurry off to an area of the city to gather information and find your method of approach. Optional sidequests or means of entry are discovered by listening in on conversations, stumbling upon characters of interest, or reading specific journal entries. There is never just one path to your target or means of assassination, and instead the game asks you to decide the best course of action. You can go in as loud or quiet as you want, because being caught in this game is not a game over. In one scenario I was required to enter a party at a mansion; in which I could scurry across rooftops to sneak through a window, steal a waiting couple's ticket to gain entry, possess a fish to swim through the sewers, etc. I could not help but compare it to Deus Ex: Human Revolution in its approach at letting the player decide the preferred path to take.

Choice not only affects how things currently play out, but the ripple effect of future missions. A "chaos" system is in place that echo your actions from previous missions. Sneaking in and remaining undetected puts the city at ease, and less guards or hindrances will be in your path. Going in loud, raising alarms, and killing civilians will add to the chaos in which patrols are stepped up and security is tighter. Even the litters of bodies you leave in your wake can attract substantially more rats in the area, adding another problem to overcome. It is an interesting cause and effect but in addition to the ghost bonus for never being seen at the end of the mission recap, the game tends to favor stealth more than brash combat. 

Getting to your target requires an arsenal, and Dishonored gives you a healthy supply of weaponry and abilities. Pistols are at hand for those hairy situations, or crossbows to quietly pick off enemies one by one. Near the beginning of the game Corvo is granted powers by an entity known as "The Outsider". These are tailored to give you the upper hand in any situation, opening multiple possibilities to how an encounter will play out. Coming across a patrol of guards can offer the ability to possess one to jump off of a cliff, summon a deadly swarm of rats to engage them both, Blink across rooftops right over their heads, or my personal favorite of using slow time and possession to have them shoot each other. With so many options, it is easy to see why Dishonored rarely gets stale. Even on the last mission of the campaign, I was still discovering new ways to dispatch enemies.

Wingardium Leviosa!

Upgrading and maintaining these powers requires the use of currency and collectibles. Items recovered in the field are instantly exchanged for a sum of money that can be brought back to the hub world to upgrade and maintain your arsenal; ranging from adding zoom range to your mask to upping the firing rate and effectiveness of your pistol. Your powers can also increase in their effectiveness by discovering runes and bone charms. Using an item in your inventory, you can scope out the position of the upgrade and must simply navigate to collect them. While runes upgrade a power, bone charms add an aspect of customization to your character. They assist specific actions like increased speed while carrying corpses or crossbow bolts that break less often. There is only a set amount you can equip, but it adds a further fine tuning of powers to work with your intended play style. 

Though your time spent is short, Dishonored is a game that begs another replay after the campaign's conclusion. The healthy mixture of powers, weapons, and mayhem opens up a lot of possibility. While I would have really liked open world exploration in comparison to the hub world, the missions are easy to hop into and open enough to beg little complaint. In the end Dunwall is a fantastic setting, and the playground of tools at your disposal keeps you constantly shuffling powers to see their potential. It is a healthy mix of FPS and stealth, and the path of vengeance turns out to be one incredibly fun experience.