Welcome to the city of Dunwall! Where fascism lurks around every corner, the plague is in season, and conspiracy is omnipresent. You play as local badass and Protector the the Empress Corvo Attano. But none of that really matters as in the first 20 minutes of play you get punked by an assassin who kills the Empress right in front of you. To top it all off the Empress’ daughter, Emily, is kidnapped. In short, you’ve been Dishonored if you will. You must take revenge against the people who performed these vile deeds. By blade, shade, or spell you will eliminate those responsible — and maybe put Emily back on the throne… or whatever, I dunno.
Dishonored was developed by Arkane Studios lead by Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith and published by Bethesda. It seems like development began with the setting and world as a whole, followed by Corvo’s abilities, and then the levels were designed with Corvo’s capabilities in mind. Colantonio was quoted as saying, “we wanted to give [the player] very strong powers, to make [the player] really a badass, but at the same time we didn’t want the game to be too easy,”.
Fun Fact: The implementation of a morality system’s cause and effect was included after John Houston witnessed a tester infiltrate a masquerade ball. Instead of acquiring clues by listening to the other guests, the tester elected to kill them all and sort it all out later. Needless to say, Houston found this disconcerting and added consequences to actions like this.
Dishonored was released on October 9th, 2012. It’s competition was XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC, PS3, XBox 360), Hotline Miami (PC), and Assassin’s Creed 3 (PS3, XBox 360).
Dishonored is the first game that I completed out of spite. My friends and review publications gave it stellar recomendations so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’ll get to my disappointment later but the point is that I couldn’t review the game in good conscience until I finished it, so I did. Every mission I wanted to put it down but I thought, “It’d be a shitty review if I put the game down… maybe it’ll get better.” It never did. It just got harder and more frustrating. The quick-save key will be your best friend… until you save yourself into a shitty situation.
Dishonored is a first person action game with a heavy emphasis on stealth. You’ll have to sneak your way through the diseased and rotten city to reach the target of the day — or night. Whatever blocks you path you can sneak by, disable, kill, ignore, or outrun in any combination or measure. These guards aren’t dumb though, they’ll recognize when things are amiss. From seeing you to spotting bodies, the more alert they become the more aggressive and thorough their searching techniques become.
Corvo has a repertoire of magical activated and passive abilities. From the power to teleport, see through objects, and double jump Corvo’s magical powers will improve his chances of survival and eventually lead him to dominate his enemies — both figuratively and literally. Corvo can improve these abilities by finding Whale Bone Runes and Charms so keep an eye out for them.
One of the main aspects of the city is the Chaos level. Actions that Corvo take can increase or decrease the Chaos level. The greater the chaos grows the more plague rat swarms that will appear to feast on the living and the dead as well as an increase of Weepers — basically plague zombies. If you want to really get your murder on then it might have dire consequences down the line for Corvo and his allies.
The setting is gloriously atmospheric. The Whale-Punk aesthetic is something I might actually run a roleplaying game in sometime. It creates a world in which knowledge is great in certain areas and yet totally limited in others. I adore something about the absurdity inherent in a world with single shot pistols and giant lightning walls both being relatively recent discoveries.
Samuel, just Samuel. The only character I could bear to listen to for more than a few minutes. The only character I can think of who sounded like he gave a shit on a consistent basis. Samuel the sailor is Corvo’s main transportation and primary source of information. Samuel gives Corvo a short briefing of every area before they arrive and he’s got a sweet scruffy voice. I was always glad to hear him and have him by my side.
Actually assassinating people is incredibly fun. There are different ways to approach every target and elements of the stage you can use against them. Unfortunately, if you elect to dispatch of them non-lethally, most of these avenues are locked off to you. So… I guess it pays to be good.
In addition to different ways to dispatch your targets there are a myriad of ways to actually reach them. From sewer tunnels to kicking down the front door, there’s no wrong way to reach your victim. Unless you’re trying to be non-lethal. Then the right way is the incredibly sneaky way where no one sees you and you knock out every guard along the way.
Before I get to the Kvetch I’ve got to get mad. I’m mad because Dishonored is a game that lies to me three times in the first 30 minutes. Lying to the player is a dicey proposition that should always be approached with caution but is not necessarily a bad thing. I feel though that Dishonored does it wrong.
The first lie I was told was that Corvo Attano is a badass. He might be a badass when I’m in control but as soon as the cutscene starts I’m surprised he doesn’t choke on his own tongue. In the first scene of the game he manages to fail to protect The Empress of Dunwall, which I must remind you is his JOB as Royal Protector. Not only does he fail but he doesn’t even lay a finger on the person responsible. I know that it sets up the Assassin as a bad motherfucker but I’m certain Corvo’s Badassery and the Assassin’s bad motherfucker status could both have been maintained. What if instead of getting force choked and punked Corvo and that Assassin fight for a bit — maybe plug in a combat tutorial or something, I dunno — then when Corvo’s got this guy on the ropes he pulls out the force choke. Now I know I’m good at this whole Royal Protector thing, but I failed because my opponent straight up cheated. It also makes getting magical powers feel more important.
Lie the second is that leaving corpses makes the plague get worse. Rushing through the tunnels of the prison, a tutorial mentions that leaving corpses does just that and this rampant killing will lead to a darker conclusion. Aight, sounds good, leave no trace and all’s well. One of Corvo’s abilities he can put rune points into is called Shadow Kill and makes it so at the first level enemies who die via stealthy means are turned to ash. And at the second level enemies turn to ash no matter how they’re killed. Sounds great, no bodies, no problems. I had to spend eight points on it but it’s worth it to be able to play the game without as guilty a conscience. Wrong. It’s not leaving the bodies, it’s simply the act of killing the guards. Anyone you kill, whether they turn to ash or not, contribute to the plague’s worsening effects. So that’s a save down the tubes unless I feel like being a prick and continuing the murder cycle.
The third is much more intangible and definitely doesn’t constitute deception on the part of the game but I’m getting ahead of myself. When I saw the trailers and heard what people had to say about the game I imagined Corvo as a tragic hero. A prisoner taken from his lofty position to become experimental plaything for magic research and what have you. That the iconic mask was a byproduct of the scarring caused by the experiments, the knife being unkind to our dear Corvo. That’s not the case. Corvo is offered magic for… reasons… well no reason at all really. The Outsider bestows magical powers upon him cause they’re cool, yo. And Corvo’s tinkerer buddy Piero makes Corvo the mask for no real reason. Piero says It’s a sort of sentimental thing that will strike fear into Corvo’s enemies. Alright, I’m down, sounds good, maybe there will be like a Batman thing where I can spook guards to sow dissent in their ranks. I can dig it. I make landing in the first mission, choke out a guard, equip my still beating heart in my left hand, blade in my right. I’ve got my spooky mask on and I teleport up to a passerby in the street and she says…
That is the wrong fucking answer. That is a completely illogical and immersion shattering travesty of atmosphere and writing. The mask serves no purpose other than to be something cool to put on the front of the game box or to make the cosplay recognizable. Without the mask Corvo would be a cloaked guy with long black hair or something — I can’t even remember what he looks like. I know I can’t hold Arkane Studios to the standards of a game I created in my head but these narrative elements could have some heft instead of none at all.
Way at the end of the game Corvo encounters assassins that share in his magical powers. The thing being, they don’t take into account Corvo’s abilities in a scene where they imprison him. Well, I mean, it’s not as if you could tell the guy was magical just by looking at him except OH WAIT! The Outsider’s mark is blatantly on Corvo’s hand as a sign of his magical power. So… these assassins put him in a hole and expect everything to be fine — which leads me to believe they are incredibly stupid… or the designers plum forgot all this shit.
What is the Outsider’s deal? He gives Corvo magical powers to make things, “more interesting,” but has excessive boredom and simultaneously near infinite power. He gives Corvo ‘Great Things are Expected of You’ speech #385 and sends him back into the world with a nifty teleport. Seriously, this is a cool character, give him something to do.
I don’t know what to think about the moral decisions the game has you make. Oh wait, yes I do, I find them very unsatisfying. Assassination targets offer a lethal or nonlethal approach — kill them or soothe your conscience by knowing that they’re merely out of the way. The issue is that the non-lethal solutions often present a fate worse than death and penalize the player with a killer’s reputation otherwise. For instance, one of the nonlethal solutions was to send the targets shaved, mutilated, and mute into mines they owned to die slowly in the horrible conditions. Ironic but certainly not merciful — can’t I just shove them into a cell until we put Emily back on the throne? And I know we have a cell because it’s where we shove the man who’s killed hundreds in his ethically bankrupt experiments to cure the plague. There’s even a situation where instead of murdering a woman there’s an option to send her off in a boat with an admirer who will, “Make her love him.” And that’s considered the moral high ground, or something. I’m willing to choose the lesser of two evils but why not offer me a third legitimately good option? How about not framing non-lethal tactics as being inherently superior to simple and merciful murder? How about that?
If the aesthetic remotely interested you and you’re a fan of stealth games then you could do worse that picking up this game for $20 on Steam. I bashed it pretty hard but if I were better at stealth heavy games then I might have had more fun with it. That being said, the moral decisions are kind of crap and there are parts of the narrative that seem incredibly forced. If you’re able to ignore all that and just want to teleport around ghosting guards then I know you’ll have a good time but I’ll always see this game as something that’s too flawed for me to truly enjoy.
Next Week: Bioshock