If you’ve ever listend to one of our podcasts or dropped by our site, you’re probably aware that we’re huge fans of Bioware and their games. I was surprised to see that Bioware’s Dragon Age Panel was so late on Saturday night (9:30) and didn’t expect much of a crowd… I was incredibly wrong. The Dragon Age panel was a very honest, and revealing, look at the future of the franchise… Oh yeah, the future looks bright.
If you have been waiting for a game that combines the stealth play of Metal Gear and Thief, the supernatural abilities of Bioshock, the Story of, dare I say, Bioware quality and a setting unlike much else, then the game you have been waiting for is here. Bethesda has unleashed the surprise new IP Dishonored and it has taken over my life. You play as Corvo, the Empress guard who has the unfortunate circumstance of being framed for his own master’s death and the disappearance of her daughter. You then must choose your path by allying with a rebel band who is looking to take out the new Lord Regent. Now how you reach that goal is where things get interesting.
I am a gigantic fan of stealth games. There is something thrilling about looking for patterns and figuring out the best approach to move through the game and achieve your goals. What I usually dislike is when a game feels like it is on rails. Maybe not one set of rails but maybe 2 or 3. You can leave one set only to get on another. The shocking realization in Dishonored is that there are many, many ways to get through a stage and not all of them even require sneaking. I often found myself reaching the area I needed and while exploring, discovering 10’s of other ways to get to where I was going. Paths upon paths. The sewers, the roofs, end arounds, there are very few limits to how you may want to traverse the stage. Some require patience, others precise skill with the tools at hand. At no point do you feel like you hit an imaginary wall, there is just enough space on the map to allow you to attempt a different point of entry and sometimes surprise yourself with how far around or up you can go.
There are choices to be made on how you want to play as well. You can run and gun, sneak, kill, be merciful, the choices are yours to be made. Those choices affect the world around you in a very natural way. Kill a ton of the bootleggers men? Well there is a solid chance they won’t be too fond of you later. These are the things that make decisions sometimes difficult. You may want to do nothing more than kill those disgusting twins, but showing mercy may wrinkle time in your favor down the line, or it may not and you can get your blade on without worry. Dishonored brings in this notion of chaos. Something you create by your path of destruction on each stage. If you cause a lot of chaos, you will end up with more enemies with heightened sense of your presence on the next level. While it sounds like it is encouraging you not to kill, and it does, this does not mean you can’t. You aren’t punished for killing unless killing isn’t what you want. By that I mean if you hack and slash your way through the stages and enjoy it, they present you with more things to hack and slash through on the next stage. This may be your style of play and it does not punish you for such. Now if you are attempting to be perfectly quiet and merciful and you get in a situation where you rip through 10 guys, you aren’t immediately punished, but staying quiet and merciful will become more difficult.
Dishonored is a classic first person stealth game. Evoking memories of Thief or even early Deus Ex at most times. Movement is fluid and unencumbered, although you can feel sort of “glidey” because of it being first person, but this does not get in the way. Combat can be employed at range with a crossbow or pistol. Aiming is pretty straightforward with a good retical, and given you upgrade your mask, you can zoom in and use this as your scope, firing from the zoomed in view. Sneaking is not done through hanging off of buildings or some secret shadow mode. It is done how you would sneak in real life. Avoiding paths and hiding behind walls. There is no stick to cover, but you can effectively lean around corners while maintaining your stealth. Sneaking around groups of guys and running to your target, or crawling up behind someone to choke them out is visceral and exhilarating. Firing a crossbow and pistol was fairly accurate and worked much like any other first person shooter.
Hand to hand combat, on the other hand (pun fully intended), was much more frantic. If you got in close you immediately had to react and fight with your assassins blade. It felt clumsy when I was caught off guard and deadly when I was prepared. The mechanism, much like Assassins Creed, of timing a block to effectively parry an attack works well when you pull it off, but when you don’t, man, you are in trouble. In general you can take about 3-4 hits before you have to use a health potion. This is easy enough with the d-pad, but if you forget, it can make for a lot of restarting. Death comes swiftly it seems for both you and your prey. Depending on where you hit the enemy you can cause more damage. Land a head shot and sometimes you get the special feeling of decapitating your foe. The grisly deaths were a surprise, but enjoyable (in the way that attempting to not feel like a sociopath enjoying death can be).
The other twist Dishonored adds to the gameplay forum is a set of special abilities. Each one adds a spin to how you can play the game. The most basic one is Blink, which allows you to sort of *bamf* to a new area. This ability is the linchpin to you getting up above, down below and around the obstacles in your path. Each special move can be powered up by collecting and applying runes that are scattered through out the game. Other moves allow you to possess rats, and eventually humans; gain better agility and health; make dead bodies disappear; bend time; use blasts of wind; and summon rats. Each one will enhance different ways of playing the game and it’s possible to get through the game simply using Blink if you wanted to. I recommend you spend the runes when you get them. They aren’t super rare and you will feasibly be able to max out 3-4 abilities with little to no effort. You find the runes through the use of a heart that you carry around, it is gruesome and fantastic. Special hint, that heart does a lot more than find runes, aim it at people, press down on your right stick and more little easter eggs exist with in it.
You can find as much or as little story as you want in this game. The main plot deftly introduces new side characters, some likable, some despicable, but each one adding a new twist to a great story. On top of that there is the now classic trope of books and notes being scattered about the stages. Each one encapsulating a little piece of some story to add to the depth of the world. Even NPC’s that have no relation to you or your story add bits and pieces to the world. Creating real dialogue with interesting characters that are just milling about or guarding your next objective. Emily, the little girl you are trying to find, can either be your best friend or you can relegate her to the side. These are the choices you have that can make you the calm uncle type figure or the silent guardian. All of it allowing you to make the story what you will, but I will give you this hint. Avoiding the notes and books, not interacting with Emily, may speed up your game but you will miss out on a lot of fun easter eggs and personality. The devil is so often in the details and this game is loaded with details. They do make the purposeful decision to allow you to interact as much or as little as you’d like.
The voice acting and animations for the characters are all superb, but this is where one negative comes across glaringly to me. Corvo is silent. He has no voice. In a world filled with voiced characters you remain the silent hero. If it were somehow in the same vein as the quiet Master Chief I may be OK with it, but it is not. Instead you have conversations with people, one’s in which you make decisions and none of these are voiced. It was a miss for me but may not bother you much.
I am not the latest and greatest kind of guy. If you’ve listened to our podcast you know that when it comes to graphics I am pretty well pleased by style over power. But even I have to admit that the 360 is starting to show its age with this game. While the world is still gorgeous and the style is spot on, the actual graphics themselves come off sort of old and stale. Sharp edges on hands and mouths and noses that look disconnected. Maps that kind of fade in. This has nothing to do with Dishonored, but it may push me to recommend this on PC if you have one with some power behind it. Beyond the aged graphics on the 360 lays a fantastic style. Exaggerated body types, elongated faces, the dress that is reminiscent of the colonies or old England. All of it combines to make this weird future past that fits the story beautifully. Not a single note on the art misses when it comes to direction. The game is beautiful when the graphic age is taken with a grain of salt.
Should you play Dishonored? Yes. There is no but about it. It literally stopped me cold in the tracks of playing Borderlands 2. It took over my gaming life and kept me up late at night to try and best each level. I cannot comment on replay-ability as of yet, but each level is select-able once passed to attempt to collect all of the secrets and find all avenues to the end goal. I absolutely loved the story, loved the gameplay and loved the setting. The beauty of Dishonored is that it doesn’t do anything wholly original, but yet feels 100% unique. It combines elements of stealth, RPG, and action gaming to make one of the most fun and stressful games I’ve played in a while. If you have a Thief shaped hole in your heart, I suggest you go to the store (be it digital or brick and mortar) and pick this up now.