- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Arkane Studios
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Role-Playing/First-Person Shooter
- Pros: Gorgeous Graphics, A-List Voice Work, Ambitious Gameplay
- Cons: Repetitive Missions, Dull Storytelling, Abundance of Trial-and-Error Gameplay
With echoes of “Deus Ex,” “Bioshock,” and “Assassin’s Creed,” you take on the role of Corvo Attano, a bodyguard to the Empress of Dunwall, a Victorian British whaling city with elements of Steampunk that has been overrun by the plague. You have just returned from a mission to investigate how to stop the disease when the Empress is killed in front of you, her daughter is stolen, and you are framed for the murder. After a hasty escape from jail, you’re united with a resistance front who task you with assassinating the key targets behind the reason for your downfall. The game is then comprised of story missions (with optional/side missions/objectives within them) in different settings around the city that change depending on how you accomplished the previous assignment. Leave a trail of bodies and make future assignments more difficult due to increased guard quantities and the rats that death brings. “Dishonored” is one of those games in which nearly every choice has a result and it could even be one you don’t realize until hours later.
“Dishonored” is what you make it. Some have reported it’s very short in length and those players simply must be using crossbow bolts, grenades, and bullets instead of stealth and ignoring side missions and general exploration. If you kill everything in front of you including the fish and rats, it probably won’t take you long. Others will explore for hours, even days, finding different paths from point A to point B and the game’s many, many secrets. “Dishonored” is the kind of game in which you come to a door that can’t be opened and you’re surprised since so much of the city can be explored. You can use a power to blink up to abandoned apartments to loot or sneak through the sewers to find people trying to live down there. In general, stealth requires high or low paths. Going through the middle leads to beheaded guards.
As the game progresses, “Dishonored” has echoes of RPG elements in that you can upgrade your equipment and switch out your supernatural skills. Combat doesn’t change drastically throughout the game but your new abilities can often give you new ways to avoid it. In one situation, I was on the upper floor of a party and had to get past four guards. Their rotation through the hallways was too precise to sneak by and I was discovered on multiple attempts, only bringing more guards and absolute chaos. I tried various options, including throwing bottles to get one to come, knocking him out, and trying to hide the body. Didn’t work. After some frustrating options, I landed on a brilliant scheme to use my Bend Time power to go all Neo (or Max Payne) on three of them standing together with my sleep darts.
I offer this “Dishonored” anecdote for two reasons, the different responses to it that have left me as conflicted on my overall reaction to Bethesda’s game as any in years. On one hand, there’s something incredibly satisfactory about figuring out an action-based puzzle after an hour of struggling with it. On the other, spending an hour trying to get past four guards is simply annoying. There are multiple times in “Dishonored” (unless you’re big on many saves) in which you’ll find yourself stuck in a situation that requires a ton of trial-and-error. There’s no way out, I’ll try A. And then B. And, eventually, H. I wished that “Dishonored” had more room for error and didn’t feel so often like I was trying to solve a puzzle that gave the illusion of multiple answers but really only had one or two that would keep me alive.
I also wish “Dishonored” had more variety in its gameplay when it comes to the mission structure. “Go find this guy. Kill him.” It’s often the optional objectives and exploration of the city of Dunwall (trying to find Runes, Bone Charms, and the hundreds of books & notes that can be read in your spare time) that’s more captivating than the actual missions. Too much of the story of "Dishonored" felt like it was being told to me in cut scenes instead of something I was actually experiencing. The gameplay here is stunningly ambitious and the setting is one of the best of the gaming year but they serve an overly familiar story.