Shhh! I’m hiding from the rats.
Playing hide and seek with a child in the early stages of the game really doesn’t set you up for the grim reality found in Arkane Studios’ Dishonored, but it does a great job of introducing the player to the very simple concept of staying hidden. The child in question, a young girl, is in fact the Empresses daughter and serves as one of the motivations for sneaking through the cursed city of Dunwall.
The player takes on the role of Corvo The Protector, personal bodyguard to the Empress and most trusted, loyal servant. The steampunk styled city of Dunwall is in trouble, a plague is spreading through the streets unchecked, bringing the city to its knees. Gameplay begins with the player returning from secret meetings with other nations, asking for help with combating the plague. Acting as a small tutorial, this early stage of the game will see the player playing hide and seek with the Empresses daughter, exchanging gruff pleasantries with the other members of the Empresses court, and finally meeting with the Empress herself to deliver the bad news that no one is willing to help.
As I have already mentioned, the player is introduced to the most basic stealth aspects in these early moments. But Dishonored is an open world game which allows the player to make their own choices as to how they approach any given situation. After sharing the bad news, the player is then given a quick run down on combat as assassins seemingly appear from no where and successfully murder the Empress, making off with the daughter in the process.
As a game of choices, Corvo’s combat skills make a handy safety net. If the stealth, or other aspects, fail, then a swift sword to the gut will overcome most problems. As the game progresses, Corvo will gather all manner of death-dealing tools, from the most basic sword, through guns, grenades and entertainingly effective ammunition. The fighting techniques are far from basic, but are explained at a leisurely pace that allows the player time to learn the buttons. The combat in Dishonored is very satisfying, but players concentrate too much on the fighting will not only find themselves easily over run by adversaries, but will come across other hurdles in the game – more on that soon. Essentially, relying on only one method to get through Dishonored will prove difficult to even the most experienced player, but will provide a worthy goal for subsequent playthroughs.
So, with the Empress dead and the daughter missing, things go from bad to worse when Corvo himself is blamed for the attack and placed in a cell. Through some brutal torture, it becomes apparent that there is a conspiracy here and Corvo is being framed. However, it seems that some citizens are at least suspicious about the truth and a mysterious friend soon aids Corvo in his escape from the cell. From there, the only thing on Corvo’s mind is revenge.
It is not until a bit later in the game that Corvo is introduced to another set of abilities to aid in his quest. Thanks to the mysterious Outsider, Corvo is granted certain supernatural powers which can be unlocked and upgraded by using Runes that can be found throughout the city. Once again, the freedom of choice comes into play where the powers are concerned, with some powers favouring the more stealthy approach whilst others are much more blatant.
Being able to see enemies and where they are looking through a wall is certainly handy when it comes to the stealthy approach, as is the ability to turn your enemies’ corpses into ash when you make a kill. For the more upfront approach players can summon packs of rats to swarm over a victim, or violently take out a target thanks to a burst of adrenaline. Then there is my favorite power, possession. With this players can actually take control of animals or other people for a short period. It is as much fun as it sounds.
With the combination of combat skills, stealth and supernatural abilities, there should be nothing standing in the way of Corvo’s quest for revenge. However, the game itself deals with the more destructive player through a Chaos system. The actions of the player and the effect that those actions have on the world around them can, and will, change the game. Leave a stack of bodies lying around and the rats will increase. Trigger an alarm and more guards will be found patrolling the area. Cause too much chaos and the game simply gets more difficult. This can result in the game being very different depending on how you approach it and the effects can carry on through the rest of the game.
The gameplay in Dishonored is smooth and satisfying, giving the player plenty to think about as they play through Corvo’s quest for revenge. That being said, the setting for the game is also a highlight. The city of Dunwall is quite stunning to behold with its 17th Century architecture, whilst also feeling gritty and downtrodden in places. The entire place is filled with character and life. I wouldn’t say that Dishonored is the most graphically advanced game I have seen, but that doesn’t stop it from looking impressively rich and detailed.
Dishonored is all about freedom and choice, and that is the games real strength. Players can approach any given situation any way they see fit, as long as they are willing to deal with the consequences. Trust me, you don’t want to deal with the consequences of not buying this game. Pick it up now!