There have been many games about being an assassin, but almost none where it truly felt like you were being an assassin. What I mean is that while titles like Hitman and Assassin’s Creed are great games, playing them in third person didn’t usually make it feel like you were the one getting up close and personal with the killing. The same goes for Deus Ex, which though largely in first person, cut to an outside shot showing Adam Jensen doing some fancy arm-breaking or throat slicing combo.
Not so in Dishonored. Third person isn’t even an option, and there’s not even so much as a mirror to show you what you look like in the game. I suppose that’s what the cover art is for. But the end result? You feel like a powerful assassin throughout the game. It’s one hell of a badass FPS/stealth hybrid, and there isn’t much like it out there.
The world the game occupies is the steampunk industrial age city of Dunwall. You, Corvo, are the empress’s bodyguard who does a pretty shitty job of protecting her, considering she dies in the first two minutes of the game. Not only that, but you’re framed for the crime. Surprise!
“I will prove my innocence by sticking this through your neck!”
You’re sprung from custody with the help of an underground resistance group, and tasked with hunting down and murdering select higher ups of Dunwall who were responsible for the empress’s death and your framing. Additionally, they’ve taken her daughter, Emily, the rightful heir, and as she practically treats you like a brother, you’ll be damned if you’re going to let them get away with that.
Now, like in many stealth games, you have a choice to make. Do you want to play through the game sneaking around, knocking guards unconscious and taking back the city in a non-lethal way? Or do you want to get your murder on and slit the throats of every living person you see?
This may be an obvious choice for some, but it’s more complicated than you think. When I did my first playthrough of Deus Ex, I went the nice-guy stealth route and probably killed three people in the entire game. I tried that for the first level with Dishonored, but quickly realized that I might end up hating the game if I continued on that path.
Why? It’s simply not as fun. You have an array of magical powers and killing devices at your disposal that are just too hilariously enjoyable not to use. Going non-lethal, you have exactly two moves at your disposal, a chokehold and a sleep dart, and the annoying prospect of having to hide every single guard’s body you render unconscious. This worked in Deus Ex because the alternative, the noisy gun route, just made that game into an FPS like many we’ve played before.
Finally, a game adaptation of Willard!
But that isn’t the case here, going the violent path is amazingly fun. First, the practically level one ability “shadow kill” has bodies turn to ash when you kill them from stealth, meaning you almost never have to worry about hiding a dead body again. Gadgets include an explosive crossbow, a revolver, grenades and razor traps that tear guards up if they look at them funny. You can also rewire enemy security devices to turn on them, which is absolutely hilarious as the electric field generator they’re standing to suddenly vaporizes them. The magical powers you acquire like the ability to summon rats to eat nearby guards or the ability to stop time and slit four people’s throats before they even know you’re in front of them are exactly as much fun as they sound.
In reality, there are three ways to play, not two. Non-lethal stealth, lethal stealth, and lethal non-stealth. I never found the last one particularly enjoyable because as much fun as it may be to slice the heads off eight guards surrounding you, it kind of negates the purpose of the game, which is sneaking around and killing people from the shadows.