Set in a kind of dystopian diesel-punk industrial city, Dishonored is a mechanical master-work of clockwork intricacies.
You begin your journey through Dishonored with a failure. Your in-game avatar – Corvo Attano – fails in his role as royal bodyguard. A team of assassins materialises from thin air, murders the Empress you’re charged with protecting and kidnaps her daughter Emily. Guards rush in, find you with the body of the Empress and immediately arrest you. You are, literally, Dishonored.
You’re tortured, imprisoned and quickly find out that you were framed (obviously) by a group staging a coup. But you have a mysterious ally who enables your escape and you soon meet up with a band of loyalists who have their own plan.
Richly Layered Settings
The backdrop to this twisting tale is a crumbling city state, beset with a plague spread by rats and ruled over by a mixture of strict military regime and archaic religious zeal. Dunwall is modelled as a curious mix of London in two themes: Jacobian architecture and social splendour mixed with the authoritarian dystopia depicted in V for Vendetta or Orwell’s 1984. It’s a port town and everything seems to revolve around their whaling industry. Fortunes are made from it, foodstuffs are predominantly whale-based and the oil rendered from these unfortunate beasts powers most of the more modern technology around Dunwall.
That technology includes Arc Pylons and Walls of Light which will hinder your progress through each mission, whether you decide to approach it stealthily or not. Both of these electrical marvels will mean a swift death should you encounter them unprepared but both can be turned on your foe thanks to the inclusion of rewire tools. Add one of these collectible – or purchasable – gadgets to the device’s fuse box and it will reverse the effects of the deadly apparatus in question. Arc Pylons guard an area and zap you if you get too close, a Wall of Light acts as a terminal barrier that allows enemies to pass but ends your life instantly.
Rewiring them turns their deadly effects on your enemies but there is another way around them. If you can locate the power source – a container of glowing Whale Oil, plugged into the wall – you can remove it and shut off the deadly device completely. Whale Oil containers are also volatile, so it’s possible to shoot them from a distance, with your pistol or crossbow, and explode them in your enemies’ faces – a trick which is particularly useful later in the game when you’re facing the iconic “Tallboy” enemies. These are basically stilt walkers with armour and incendiary bows but they carry jars of Whale Oil on their backs, offering a convenient weak point with which to dispatch them.
Technology isn’t the only means to dispatch an enemy: you’re also bestowed with magical abilities very early on by a mysterious ally, called the Outsider, who appears to you from another-dimension. He marks your hand, awarding you with the ability to upgrade and utilise a series of supernatural powers. The most useful of these is the Blink ability, which allows you to teleport over short distances at almost instantaneous speeds. It’s imperative for moving between cover if you’re being stealthy and also for climbing to find new routes through and around guarded areas.
Other powers you’ll be able to upgrade include the ability to possess rats and other animals – even humans if you upgrade enough. You’ll be able to wield a whirlwind-like attack which works like a Force Push, call on a swarm of hungry rats to dispose of your slain enemies or to slay them for you, see in the dark and through walls and slow or stop time around you. You can also upgrade your abilities to allow you greater agility, health, combat skills or have your enemies turn to ash when you kill them – negating the need to hide bodies in order to remain stealthy.
These upgrades are paid for with discovered Runes that are hidden around the mission areas and can be searched for with a beating heart given to you by the Outsider. As long as it is equipped, the heart will reveal the locations of Runes and Bone Charms – which themselves offer a small boost to your abilities and can be stacked to give you many combinations of skill boosting powers. The heart can also be pointed at characters and it whispers their secrets to you, enabling the discovery of new ways through missions.
- You really can approach every scenario in a multitude of ways.
- The evolving setting is complex and interesting.
- Great use of supernatural powers to augment your skills.
- The crumbling city’s landscape becomes a little bland.
- Some elements of the narrative are left unexplained.
- Can be quite unforgiving on all but the easiest difficulty setting.
An Evolving Game World
Perhaps the most striking thing about Dishonored is the way the later stages of the game change, depending on how you’ve approached earlier missions. If you go through killing everyone and blowing things up, you’ll invoke a lot of chaos in the game world and later missions will be darker and more difficult to navigate stealthily. If you’re unreservedly violent, that pays off with certain dialogue at key points and with the end of game sequence drawing reference to it.
Although you’re never forced to play in a more subtle and quiet manner, it is encouraged that you kill as few enemies as possible and even attempt to traverse missions without being spotted at all. There are markers on the mission-complete round ups for this but despite multiple attempts, I was never able to complete a mission without being seen at all – indication that there are challenges there which will stretch the game’s playability well beyond the eight to ten hours it takes to run through series of missions. Or perhaps just indication of how much I prefer stabbing to hiding.
Dishonored is a complex game, although there are only nine distinct missions, there’s a lot involved in each one of them. The ability to return to any mission you’ve already completed and play through it in numerous ways not only provides plenty of longevity, it also encourages you to experiment and learn the intricacies of the game. This is not a first person shooter and it’s not a stealth game: it’s both and neither all at once. Dishonored is complex in its design and function but it’s also narratively smart and well scripted for its stellar cast of actors. Names on the bill include Lena Heady, Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Madsen and Susan Sarandon – all established, well known actors lending their considerable talents to this tale.