Unreal Game Review: Dishonored

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.

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  1. @Shan: Because of people like you we can’t have nice things around here. It’s a story driven original IP, if you want multiplayer and 15$ DLC every few months go play CoD.

  2. Easy mistake to make, but you are incorrect in saying the game was developed by the same team who did Skyrim/Fallout 3.

    Bethesda Softworks is the publisher of all three titles, but Bethesday Game Studios is the studio that developed both Fallout 3 and Skyrim whereas Arkane Studios developed Dishonored. This explains why the combat feels completely different as well as the games overall engine…not related to Bethesda Game Studios whatsoever.

    Opinion-wise, I have to say I disagree with your criticism
    of character design and graphics, as they blew me away continuously when it came to uniqueness and environmental details. It didn’t aim for completely realistic and I’m glad.

    I think this game is an amazing accomplishment for being only the third full game in a young studio’s portfolio and makes me excited to see what they can do next.

  3. Honestly I tried playing this game the first way too Paul, silent sneaky and totally non lethal. And I kept looking at all the powers I wasn’t using and the cool traps I couldn’t do anything with. After the first level I really was starting to hate it and haven’t gone back since. I think I might go back and give it another try lethally and see if its more fun.

  4. Dishonored certainly looks unique and cool, but its reputedly short length gives me pause and makes me think that it’s probably a ‘rental only game’. I suppose I’m a bit cynical after some highly anticipated games that didn’t live up to my expectations have left me feeling like I’d bought an incomplete game (seriously, what kind of ending was that in Deus Ex: Human Revolution?). These days I follow some advice I got from one of my coworkers at DISH and I don’t buy a game until after I’ve rented it and had a chance to log some hours on it. It’s saved me a good deal of money in the past six/seven months. So Dishonored is already in my Blockbuster @Home queue, and I’ll get to play it soon without the risk of dropping sixty bucks on it.

  5. I ALMOST got the “Clean Hands” achievement. ALMOST. But there were two people (TWO!!!) that I couldn’t seem to get around killing. I’ll probably give it another shot after enjoying a super-crazy, lethal run-through this weekend.

    Well-worth the sixty bucks, considering how often I intend to play it.

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