By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
This review is fairly late in terms of the original release of October 2012 however the recent release of new Knife of Dunwall DLC has brought me back to it. Whilst I haven’t yet played the DLC through thoroughly enough to review it, I have played the original a great deal.
Dishonored is a first person stealth action game set in the alternate reality Victorian-era city of Dunwall, itself set in a rich and detailed game world. Dunwall is placed on the isle of Gristol and is the capital of the Empire of Isles; which consists of Gristol, Serkonos, Morley and Tyvia. Beyond the Empire lies the somewhat exoticised Pandyssian Continent, an Africa analogue. Whilst the game takes place within this world the player is limited to acting within Dunwall however the vast detail and lore on the game world is astounding and allows an immeasurable sense of immersion through flavour texts and the like scattered throughout the levels. The use of Tyvian wine for example or books covering the history of the Empire give the player a real sense of being a part of this immense world. The recent history of the Empire shows a massive move towards the whaling industry as discoveries in the field of Natural Philosophy uncovered immensely useful properties for the whale oil once refined. I will leave the background there in terms of the story because it is so much more interesting when uncovered naturally. If you play this game take your time to read everything and immerse yourself fully into the world because there is a great deal to be discovered.
The game story itself is centred around Corvo Attano, the Lord Protector to the Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. The game begins with the assassination of said Empress and continues to follow the actions of Corvo as he delves into the depths of the plot that killed his Empress, framed him and left him to rot in Coldridge Prison. The overarching plot has been critiqued by some as being fairly predictable but I found it perfectly engaging when enjoyed in addition to the individual story missions and the game-world elements discussed above. If the player takes their time to fully appreciate the environment and explore enough to discover the story elements then there is a great deal of depth. Whilst the significant proportion of the story cannot be changed, the actions of the player can create small changes in the world. This influence either a high or low chaos play. For example lots of fatalities, fights and the like will lead to a higher chaos rating which will alter how the game world in the missions spawns as well as changing how characters respond to you. On the other hand the careful use of stealth and non-lethal approaches will lead to low chaos a different game world.
The gameplay is a first person stealth-em-up in a style similar to Thief, however with the light meter substituted for a more dynamic system. In addition to your natural stealthiness are a combination of blade, gadgets and magical powers. The blade is an ever present reminder of the lethal option, and can be used to great effect to that end. The fundamental gadget is the crossbow which acts as a platform for the ranged attacks. This includes lethal normal bolts, incendiary bolts and explosive bolts as well as the non-lethal sleep bolt. In addition to this are a variety of grenades, mines and other such gadgets which can be upgraded using collected cash. Complementing the gadgets are the powers which were imbued upon Corvo by the Outsider and are not exactly common within the game world, making Corvo somewhat special. The only non-optional power is the initial level of Blink which is a set-range almost instantaneous forward movement to any visible location. From this point on the powers vary from summoning swarms of rats to possessing NPCs. The gadgets and abilities are great fun and can be combined with environmental variables to solve problems in intelligent and creative ways. These are not compulsory however, my entire second playthrough of the game (my high chaos playthrough) was completed without a single power or equipment upgrade leaving me with just the standard blink, blade and whatever base-level equipment the game made available.
The graphical style of the game is stylised with almost water-colour-esqe texturing. The game looks fantastic and the style combines with the not quite steampunk neo-Victorian look to great effect. The visual design director was Viktor Antonov, the creator of City 17 and the influence shows. Take City 17, throw it back to the Victorian era and then liberally add grime, grit, rubble and human detritus. This is not photorealism and I’m almost glad that it isn’t because of how easy that is to get wrong, instead I would describe this as playing within a painting. The sound and music is impeccable, with a cast that appears littered with well-knowns. The flavour conversation within the missions is written well and is long enough that it doesn’t become excessively repetitive, however it still can. I continually wonder what happened the night before that could be worthy of promotion and whether it was the planned whiskey and cigars. (It damned well should be!)
The game is Windows only on the PC and if you’re some scrub then apparently it’s also available on Xbox 360 and PS3, but for the sake of proper controls get the PC version if you can. In fact the chances are that you can get it for PC as the console-anchor means you’ll be able to run this on a pretty weak PC (I initially had it running on a measly 2.4GHz Core2 Duo, 2GB RAM and a Nvidia GTX260 which is actually below the min spec listed). The game is available from Steam on the PC and wherever it is console gamers get those circular things from for Xbox 360 and PS3. There are currently two pieces of DLC available, one of which is a challenge set which is ok but nothing to write home about and the other is the recently released Knife of Dunwall which I’m currently working through and initial impressions are that it’s great. The game is still at £30.00 (approx $46.00) but it’s worth it, I must have gotten 45 odd hours and still haven’t completed an undetected non-lethal playthrough.