As the console cycle has gone on, fewer new IPs have been released due to publishers wanting to rely on established franchises. However, Bethesda has joined with Arcane Studios to take a risk with the new title “Dishonored,” a first-person stealth action game released in the most crowded release schedule of the year. So does “Dishonored” manage to stick out from such a busy time filled with other soldiers and assassins? The simple answer is yes, Dishonored does manage to deliver a unique experience for gamers looking for something different from the sequel filled holiday season.
“Dishonored” places players in the boots of Corvo Atanno, a royal guard for the Empress of Dunwall and her daughter, Emily. At the onset, the Empress is murdered, Emily is kidnapped, and Corvo is set up by the assassins that commit the act. Corvo then manages to escape from prison a day before his execution and is endowed with magical abilities by an individual known simply as the Outsider. From here, Corvo sets out on a path of revenge against those behind the conspiracy and to rescue Emily from her captors. This is a plot that has been played out in other games, as well as TV and film, and has plot twists that can be easily expected, however, it makes up for the simplistic story through the characters that Corvo interacts with during the story. These characters give the narrative a level of depth that would be otherwise lacking, given the predictable story and silent protagonist in such a bleak world. The characters also benefit from some excellent voice-acting, including stars like Susan Sarandon, Michael Madsen and Chloe Grace Moretz. The narrative of “Dishonored” is also aided by the realized world of Dunwall, a city inspired by Victorian-era England and steampunk fiction that has been ravaged by a plague spread by rats. This city in peril also helps in creating incentive to complete Corvo’s mission, to see if his actions help restore the city to its former glory.
While the narrative might follow a simplistic formula, the gameplay is where Dishonored truly shines, with customization and choice in style being the main focus of this game. While marketed as a stealth game, “Dishonored” is not a game that requires players to go through in a stealthy manner. However, gameplay style is then reflected in the state of Dunwall, with stealthy, non or low-lethal gameplay being rewarded with low chaos and a more action oriented, highly-lethal gameplay style being rewarded with high chaos. This chaos level is then reflected in the world, with low chaos resulting a Dunwall that is slowly improving, and high chaos resulting a Dunwall that sees the plague spread and the city getting worse.
This is then reflected in the endings, with one being reflective of how players approached the game. Lethal and non-lethal approaches are then supplemented by the array of powers that become available as players level Corvo up. These powers complement each approach and can give the players options when trying to reach assassination targets, which do not even have to be killed. Instead, the player can take approaches that, in some ways, are actually worse than simply killing the targets. However, these non-lethal approaches can also provide a chance to further explore Dunwall that, while not completely open-world, each mission is built in such a large space that it should be explored so as not to miss any part of the game, whether it be characters or collectibles.
Now, while the game is built very well, it is not without its problems, namely in the enemy AI. At several sections throughout the game, enemies would either completely ignore me when I was right in front of them, or swarm me after somehow seeing me through a wall in a completely different room or part of the city. While this would, in other games, be a small and reasonable complaint, it happened quite often and made it difficult at some sections to enjoy the game. Along with that, “Dishonored” also shows the age of the Unreal Engine 3, with textures not looking great when viewed up close and texture pop-in can occur quite a bit throughout the game. These problems, on top of the predictable story involving Corvo, hold this game back from being Game of the Year worthy, but does not keep the game from being one of the most unique experiences this year.
So overall, “Dishonored” delivers a fresh experience that gamers have been craving to break up the sequel driven market of the last few years. Between the characters, unique world and characters, and choice in gameplay, “Dishonored” is able to extenuate the positives and hides the weaknesses most of the time, but not all of the time. However, this is not a game to be missed and will, hopefully, become a franchise that will be invested in by Bethesda and Arcane Studios, especially with the next generations of consoles drawing nearer and nearer.