So, this is a game about some kind of Mortal Kombat style robot/ninja/Terminator hybrid? I’m not sure I’m interested. What, it’s not? Well why is there a picture of a Mortal Kombat style robot/ninja/Terminator hybrid on the cover? It’s a clockwork steampunk assassin mask? Oh, man that sounds awesome.
So really the only thing I dislike about Dishonored is the box art. It just doesn’t do the game justice. The silent, and mostly masked protagonist, Corvo is as cool as silent protagonists come. Everything about him is cool, everything he can do and everything he does is cool. He’s cool. I’m not sure how they could have sold that to me via the medium of box art but then that’s not my job is it? What I’m getting at is that this game is cool.
Corvo is, or should I say was, the bodyguard to Empress of Dunwall, a once great nation that has fallen to plague, political corruption and the assassination of the Empress for which Corvo has been framed. Having been sprung from jail on the eve of his execution it is down to him and the loyal political resistance to set things right in Dunwall. You will probably hear this a lot, I’m sure I’m not the only one to make this lazy comparison, but Dunwall reminded me of Bioshock’s Rapture. It feels alive, it changes and it’s extremely charming. The people that live in Dunwall, however. are miserable and rightfully so; it’s fallen hard. The leaders of the resistance are excited to have you working for them but there is a tired depression in everything they say. I didn’t feel I was avenging the murder of the Empress or even trying to clear my name. I wanted to help the people of Dunwall because they needed to be helped and they couldn’t do this by themselves. At one point early on you are sent to deal with the brothers of a key resistance member. He gives you his blessing as you leave to potentially murder his family but when you return you can see that giving that blessing has and always will weigh heavy on him. For something that amounts to just a few lines of dialogue the overall feeling was remarkably strong.
In what was at first a little jarring, the missions are presented as separate chapters in the game. I grew to love this setup. Before finishing up a mission and returning to base you’ve given a clear choice: are you done yet? It’s very clear cut and you never feel you are missing out on anything. You are given time to explore and while the same areas are used over and over in, or on the way to, various quests they are always changing and these changes are often a direct result of your previous actions. It’s a world you will grow to know your way around. The freedom is at first not all that obvious but optional objectives give you hints that there is always another way to traverse the environment.
This freedom is extended to the quests themselves. There is a good number of people that need to be dealt with in this world and killing them yourself is a valid route to your objective but not the only one. Talk to people and you’ll be given more options; ones that might leave less blood on your hands.
That said, you will probably need to get something on your hands. The end of mission summaries certainly hint that you can achieve your goals through perfect stealth and avoid killing anyone at all but killing people in Dishonored is so much fun I never even got close. When I took a non-lethal path to dealing with a couple of quite disagreeable bastards I ended up disappointed that I never got to kill them. Killing more people than necessary will raise your overall chaos level and this will in turn effect the world around you but ‘blink’ jumping out of cover into some unpleasant git’s face and stabbing them in the neck looks and feels great.
I found myself shunning the crossbows and pistols on offer and used magic and my sword to get the job done fast. Getting into melee combat is never a good idea, especially against any kind of group. You certainly can win these fights but you’ll have a good deal of mess to clean up afterwards. Again, it’s about choices: how do you want to get past the security? How do you want to take care of the target? How do you want to save Dunwall? It’s really up to you. Choose your skills well and you’ll be all set.
I had a fantastic time with Dishonored. The ideas and controls may be simple but the freedom to play how you wish makes every moment a delight and every mistake a lesson learned. The urge to replay missions is at odds with your desire to progress the story leaving you yearning for a second playthrough to show off your newly-honed assassin skills.