Oh well honour for all,
Of the big and the small.
Well, the taller they stand
Well, the harder they fall.
It really says something for this game that I bought it release day when it originally came out in October 2012 (I got a cool pack of playing and tarot cards as a pre-order incentive), played through it twice, then bought it again recently on Steam…and have since played through it two more times.
Dishonoured (or Dishonored, if you’re ‘merican) was published by Bethesda – the studio that has given us masterpieces such as the Fallout games and the Elder Scrolls series (no, not you, Elder Scrolls Online) – and developed by the small French company Arkane Studios. It’s quite hard to define into one genre, so I guess I would have to go with stealth-action-steampunk-dystopian-adventure, if I’m being specific. Oh, and it’s first-person.
Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, capital of the Empire of Isles, Dishonoured has you take the role of silent protagonist Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress. After returning from an expedition to try and find a solution to the ever growing plague that inflicts the city, Corvo is framed for the Empress’ murder. The game has Corvo seek revenge against those that framed him, whilst tracking down and rescuing the Empress’ daughter and heir, Emily. However, one thing that makes Dishonoured stand out as a truly great game, with mucho replay value, is the way in which this revenge is executed. Stay tuned for more.
Visually, Dishonoured is like a water painting. With vivid colours (in the lighter areas, at least) and stroke like textures, Dishonoured isn’t going to win any awards for realistic graphics, but it’s very pretty and unique in its own way. Character proportions vary depending on the individual character’s class and profession – for example, city watch guards have big heads, shoulders and hands on a slightly smaller than average body. This experimental feature sounds like on paper it would break the immersion and just look downright silly, but it fits perfectly with the art style. Facially, everyone looks a bit like they’re chewing corn or something, but, again, it works. The city of Dunwall is apparently inspired by London and Edinburgh, which is very obvious in the Victorian-esque architecture. The steampunk (or rather oilpunk) influence allows the game to mess around with technology trees, incorporating gunpowder pistols and electrified walls. Dunwall is a city built around large bodies of water, and that is reflected in the city’s design. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into creating this world not just for aesthetic purposes, but also gameplay.
Near the beginning of the game, Corvo is greeted by an enigmatic figure known as the Outsider, who, to me, looks a lot like a young Joaquin Phoenix. He bestows Corvo with some supernatural abilities, adding a fantasy and sci-fi element to this game. These, along with various different weapons, allow you to traverse and complete each mission in your own unique way. The default ability, Blink, allows you to quickly teleport from one area to another. This, combined with jumping and the well-designed environment, enables you to climb high buildings or scurry across Dunwall’s rooftops in a wicked cool parkour manner. Each mission is set in a self-contained map, with access to various areas. Despite being restricted to only certain areas, each map is well designed and large enough that you have numerous routes to reach your target. The way the gameplay is designed feels a great amount like the Bioshock games, notably the way weapons and powers are used, with a bit of Fallout and Mirror’s Edge thrown in for good measure. It’s an interesting combination that provides the player with some truly unique play styles. I can’t really think of any other game that plays quite as Dishonoured does.
There are nine missions in total, which may not sound like a lot, but each offers a handful of side quests that generally reveal more information about this games in-depth lore. At the end of each mission, you are presented with a stats screen that shows how many people (if any) you killed, if you were spotted, whether you looted any safes, and if you collected any of the games collectables such as runes or bone charms – the former of which allows you to upgrade your powers, with the latter granting Corvo various attributes such as quicker swimming or mana regeneration. You’re also told whether you completed the level on ‘high’ or ‘low chaos’. The chaos factor is a hidden stat that determines how the next levels will pan out, and ultimately which ending you will get. For example, playing through the game without killing anyone (which is an enjoyable challenge – even better if you combine it with not ever being seen) grants a slightly more positive ending, whereas playing in high chaos (KILL EVERYTHING!!!) is ultimately a lot darker. Killing more people also results in more bodies which results in more plague rats which results in more infected which results in more guards which results in the city decaying at a more rapid pace. This isn’t just a case of ‘going left instead of right causes a slight change here but that’s it’ – you can actually see and hear how your actions have affected the city. Each target that you must assassinate comes with various creative ways that you can dispatch them, including a non-lethal method. For example, one target is the head of a cult, and the non-lethal method to be rid of him is to brand him with the “heretic’s brand”, essentially excommunicating him. These variables pepper Dishonoured with replay value like sprinkles on a finely iced lemon drizzle cake.
Dishonoured features an all-star cast, with big names such as Michael Madsen, Susan Sarandon, Lena Headey and Chloë Grace Moretz providing their voices to the game. A small gripe I have with the game is that in this British inspired environment, the characters all have American accents. Whilst the voice actors all do a brilliant job, I feel that the game would be just that tiny bit more immersive if they had incorporated English accents. Nevertheless, I have no complaints about the quality of voice work. Madsen especially stands out in two of the three DLC packs as the assassin Daud. Sound plays an important part in Dishonoured, both diegetic and non-diegetic (yeah, I did AS Media at college). Throughout the game, you can hear updates on how the city is faring via loudspeakers across the streets. Sound also, with many stealth games, factors into whether or not enemies spot you. It also acts as an alert if they do see you, with a jarring piano sound telling you to get the fuzz back into cover. The overall soundtrack, composed by Daniel Licht (notable for the Silent Hill and television series Dexter soundtracks), creates an uneasy environment designed to keep the player alert and unnerved.
There are very few negative things I have to say about Dishonoured. On occasion the AI can be a bit stupid and inconsistent, but that’s it really. I recommend playing through first as stealthily as possible, then again cranking up the difficulty and getting mad kills, as the combat is pretty fun and the gore extremely satisfying…. The characters are well developed and interesting, and cleverly often make you feel remorse for killing them (if it comes to that). Levels are long, with oodles of collectables and side quests to keep you entertained. The world is rich and well developed, and it’s worth reading and listening to the various notes, books and audio logs scattered around the levels to learn more of this rich lore. The DLC is also well worth getting – there are three instalments: one that features several interesting challenge maps, and two dictating a spin-off story featuring the aforementioned assassin Daud, as he seeks redemption after murdering the Empress. With a world so full of life and potential, I really hope that this rumoured sequel comes to fruition. Dishonoured seems to be one of those games that is loved by everyone who plays it, but isn’t played by nearly enough people! Like Final Fantasy IX. Go play that too. But later. Do this first.