Minor flaws are there but it's also one of the finest games
gameplay 85 / story 65 / graphics 90 / sound 75
The sequel is about to come out and I thought it’s best time to revisit this game from 2012. Dishonored is Stealth Action- Immersive Sim created by Arkane Studios. Despite being initially inspired by Looking Glass Studios’ Thief titles, the end result is a different beast, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
You play as “Corvo” a Royal Protector sent outside the city to seek help of other states and/or find a solution for Rat Plague killing civilians and causing civil unrest. During game intro, Corvo returns with a news that other states want the city to be quarantined.
After having small chat with some of the characters including the empress’ daughter Emily, you confront the empress herself and hand over the letter. It doesn’t take too long before the empress is assassinated in front of your eyes and Emily is abducted. You take the blame for murder and the abduction. Turns out people who arrested you are responsible for assassination and abduction.
After six months, Corvo breaks out of the prison with the help of unknown friends who deliver him the key to his cell door hidden inside his food as well as some weapons hidden inside sewers. Once Corvo escapes and meets his new friends, he is sent out on different missions to make sure that people responsible for these deeds are punished for what they’ve done to the empress, her daughter and Corvo himself.
The story is pretty straight forward and pretty forgettable. The writing isn’t that good either. Storytelling is pretty good since a lot of stuff is added to the story and lore by reading notes, diaries and letters during gameplay like original Thief titles, but I found myself skipping the reading part after reading couple of these things in early missions because the writing is not engaging. Most characters are pretty forgettable too and their dialogues aren’t interesting either. It’s serviceable storyline. Where the game really shines is the gameplay.
Dishonored took me roughly 12 hours to finish it on hardest difficulty and without UI (including quest markers). I completed 90% of side quests and collected 95% of Runes and Bone charms, collectables used for enhancing and upgrading different abilities. The game is too easy and I recommend very hard difficulty for best experience, which should’ve been at least hard difficulty if not normal.
Level design is pretty solid and gives you plenty of freedom to approach your objectives the way you want. I’ll discuss more about it in gameplay section later. Game controls are very fluid and the game is a lot of fun to play because of it. There is also huge replay value here because of the number of ways you can complete your objectives.
You can play the game in Stealth mode by ghosting through the levels and disarming your enemies as well as in Action mode by killing everyone who comes in your way. Unfortunately the game isn’t balanced properly in this regard. Most upgrades are for assassinations and direct confrontations, and there are very few of them that enhance your ghosting or disarming skills. Even traps that you lay for your enemies or equipment that you use for sabotaging opposition’s machinery is used for killing.
Sure you can upgrade your crouch movement and other minor stuff but at no point you receive flash bombs, invisibility potions, smoke grenades or gas mines. On other hand you get grenades, bullets, crossbow bolts, traps, tools for turning their machines against them, sword fighting upgrades, shadow kill ability that turns dead body into ash and so on. You also rarely find disarm bolts during missions but you find plenty of bullets and crossbow bolts when exploring environments.
While Stealth gameplay is still pretty good and enjoyable (I played in Stealth mode BTW and had fun), it noticeably lacks compared to Action gameplay and this is something that I want sequel to address because it was a missed opportunity. Last but not least, Action gameplay have its own set of consequences. More deaths give you more Rat Plague and innocent deaths in upcoming missions and leads you to bad ending.
Another thing I want to discuss is the UI. Even though the game was designed with Quest Markers in mind and there were two times when the quest wasn’t explained properly (during early missions) because the game expected me to follow the quest marker (which I’ve had turned off), which forced me to turn it on temporarily to complete those missions, for the rest of the game turning quest markers off works surprisingly well and makes the game more immersive. It encourages you to visit different locations, explore the environment and find stuff that you normally don’t when desperately following quest marker to reach your next objective. So kudos to Arkane Studios for giving us options to customize User Interface and making sure that the game mostly works fine no matter which options you choose to enable or disable.
Sound design is a mixed bag. Sound of weapons, interaction with UI, ambience etc is cool and makes the game immersive, but I rarely heard footsteps of guards which makes them harder to spot and forces you to use detective vision (Dark Vision in Dishonored) which in my opinion is one of the worst design choices along with Quick Time Events and forced Quest Markers in pretty much any game. It is easy way to cop out for sound department. In Thief games for example, the sound is designed to assist the player. Sound effects are your detective vision. It’s a lot more immersive than seeing your enemies and different objects through walls all the time instead of paying attention to your surroundings and listening to your enemies to mark their exact location.
There is plenty of variety in environments you visit. You visit plenty of different locations in the game including palaces, castles, giant bridges, prisons, sewers, cities, apartments and so on. So there is always something new to look forward to and these locations look real and believable due to great level design and art direction. Even though you go through different loading screens to reach your objective, you barely notice it since loading times are very fast and you mostly only progress forward, instead of moving back n forth between environments.
Most main objectives are about assassinations but there are number of different ways you can carry them out. There are also optional secondary quests that are very interesting and sometimes also help you to complete your main objectives. These quests are worth completing and aren’t there just to make the game longer. The way you complete objectives and what you do during missions can have an impact on the world around you and in some way even on the storyline, which is a nice touch.
Encounters are very good. Enemies are placed in different environments carefully which leads to some very interesting confrontations and challenges. There is also huge variety in enemy types. You have your typical guards with generic swords, gunners who can shoot from distance, giant robots with explosive arrows, rats that can eat you alive (when there are too many of them at one place), weepers who are infected with disease and act like zombies, overseers who can take away your special abilities and so on.
Artificial Intelligence is pretty good too. Enemies can spot you from pretty far like someone would in real life and aren’t blind to your actions. They can hear your footsteps and take notice if you knock out an object by accident. As usual if they spot dead body or disarmed ally, they go in search mode for couple of moments before returning to their regular patterns. They use everything they have during direct confrontations. For example, Gunners will fight with sword when you are close and shoot you if you are far away or engaged with other enemies.
The game also allows Manual and Quick Saves which is good for a game like this. It encourages players to try different approaches and discover new things through experimentation.
When it comes to gameplay, this game is absolutely brilliant, despite some noticeable flaws. It gives you plenty of tools to complete the game the way you want. You get sword for silent takedowns and direct confrontations, sleep darts for putting choffers to sleep, crossbow bolts for killing them from distance silently, gun for (duh) shooting (which makes sound BTW but who cares when it’s so cool to see it being reloaded with style), blink ability for covering big distances at almost lightening fast speed, dark vision for seeing through walls (ugh), grenades and incendiary arrows for cool explosions, Time Bend ability for stopping time for few seconds and so on. You can select different tools quickly by assigning them to your quick selection bar with 10 slots. There is plenty of cool stuff here.
Gameplay mechanics are solid and fluid. You can do multiple actions at once and the game responds to your every input immediately which really makes this game a joy to play. I can use Time Bend ability to stop time, use Dark Vision to spot enemies, shoot sleep darts at multiple targets, use Blink ability to get out of the area, hide behind cover and lean through corners to see event play out once time starts moving again. Stuff like that really leads to some of the most memorable moments and leaves room for emergent gameplay which is one of the strong pillars of any Immersive Sim.
Level design is also pretty solid. You can take any path you want to complete your objective and there are plenty of different paths to choose. You can gain access to different rooms even through drain pipes and small holes by taking over fish and mouse with your Possession ability. Extra upgrades allow you to take control of Humans for few seconds as well. It’s nice ability for Stealth playthrough and allows you to get inside through the front door like a boss.
You have two bars. Red displays health, blue displays mana. Mana is necessary for using special abilities, however Blink and Dark Vision abilities can be used at any time. These abilities don’t use too much mana from the pool and there is always a little bit of mana for you to use for your basic but very useful abilities like Dark Vision and Blink. You have to find Health and Mana Potions by exploring the environment to fill those pools. You can also buy these potions at hub area (more on that below). You can carry up-to 10 potions each, at once.
You can earn money by finding coins and looting expensive items. It can be used to buy bolts, bullets, gadgets and potions. You can also spend the money to upgrade your weapons or to unlock new gadgets provided you have blueprints for those, which you have to find. You can also find Bone Charms and Runes by equipping special ‘Heart’ which guides you towards them. Limited number of Bone Charms can be activated at once for enhancing some of the abilities like movement speed, making health pool bigger, protecting yourself from rats and so on.
The number of activatable Bone Charms can be upgraded up to 6. You also find Runes that can be used to unlock and upgrade supernatural powers like Whirlwind which allows you to throw your enemies against wall or from high ledges, Blink which allows you to travel long distances, long jumps for reaching places that normal human can’t reach, movement speed, Time Bend that allows you to slow down time or completely stop it and so on.
This buy/unlock/upgrade mechanic is very interesting and rewards you for your exploration. However when it comes to money, towards the end you have way more than you can spend. I was decent enough at collecting money (but not as good as collecting Runes and Bone Charms), so later in the game I ended up spending that cash on upgrades and items that are in place for players who prefer Action playthrough, even though I was playing in Stealth mode. So my point is you can unlock pretty much everything you need a lot sooner than final moments in the game. It can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing, which depends on a point of view. I’ll leave it for you to decide. I think that the game is a bit too forgiving in this area.
Dishonored’s art style is unique and it helps it standout from rest of the crowd. Some of the high tech environments look similar to the Combine technology in Half Life 2 and my guess is it was done on purpose since Half Life 2 artist was hired by the team to work on Dishonored and that’s a good thing since these environments look stunning.
Soundtracks are good and ambient sounds make the game more immersive. UI is responsive and great to look at. Just like Thief, when you read notes, diaries and letters, time stops around you and ambient sound kicks in, which encourages you to take your time and read everything. Unfortunately writing holds it back and makes things less interesting to read, even though other elements are solid.
Sound is a mixed bag as mentioned earlier. Interaction with UI and world is great, so are sound effects of gadgets, abilities and weapons but you rarely hear guards walking towards you or giving you hint about their location by clearing their throats or talking to themselves etc. Voice acting is superb and every character, even the extras are voice acted by very talented folks. Game’s production values are high and there is a lot of written and voice acted stuff in the game.
The special Heart that you use to find Bone Charms and Runes can also shares its thoughts with you when you use it on characters and environments. Even characters that aren’t part of the plot have their own nature and background that the Heart shares with you by speaking to you. Same goes for the environments.
The game comes with plenty of options for you to customize. You can customize your User Interface and plenty of Graphics Options to suit your needs. The game comes with FOV slider which is nice but I wanted it go higher that 85. Still even at that value, I was very comfortable at playing the game. The title is also optimized very well and even back then on my mid range PC it ran really well and now it runs even better on modern machines.
Character animations are great too and fit well with the art direction of the game. Main plot moves forward through first person cutscenes, which can break immersion when used too much in games like these but fortunately these cutscenes aren’t lengthy and get the job the done very quick. Overall, Dishonored is good at presentation.
Dishonored is a solid game despite serviceable at best story and some flaws. It’s one of the more intelligent AAA games out today. What I like about the game is emergent gameplay, environments, soundtracks, voice acting, replay value, atmosphere, level design and plenty of tools, abilities and upgrades at your disposal. What I don’t like about the game is writing, plot, characters, limited tools for Stealth compared to Action, detective vision instead of better sound system, and finally forgiving difficulty.
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