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Dishonored Review: Revenge or Restraint?

November 18, 2012

Two men are meeting in a grand dining hall to discuss something that they very clearly disagree on. They’d be happy to see each other dead almost as much as they’d be happy to see me dead. As they walk in, I lie in wait on top of a sturdy bookshelf.

They are pretending to be civil, but that won’t last, and to make matters worse, someone’s spilt the two glasses of wine they had prepared. That’s very inconvenient, as one of the glasses was poisoned.

“No matter,” my target says, opening the door to the hallway. He intends to kill the other person – a man I have sworn to protect, despite the fact that for all he knows, I could want to kill him. It is now or never.

Time slows to a crawl at my command, affecting everything and everyone but me. I fire a crossbow bolt, tipped with a tranquillising poison, towards my target. In that same second, I teleport behind my charge, his reaction one of (very) slow realisation. By the time my target hits the floor, I’ve choked the other man unconscious.

Or, alternatively, I could kill them all.

Dishonored is a game about choice, temptation and power. It’s hard to explain much about the theme without revealing a very major plot twist in the game, but to explain simply, in Dunwall, power can corrupt everything it touches. Including you.

This isn’t to say that everyone in the game is a Chaotic Lawful Big Bad who has no reason to rule other than I MUST CONTROL EVERYTHING. Far from it, in fact. Each faction and individual in Dishonored has their own motive and goal for doing what they do in Dunwall’s land, and you have the power to decide that fate.

You play the role of Corvo, the royal bodyguard wrongly accused of the Queen’s murder. You join a group of loyalists who want to see the Queen’s daughter returned to the throne, and insist that to do so, you must dispose of those who would conspire against you in any way you see fit. A shadowy being named the Outsider helps you further still by providing you with mystical powers that allow you to do all manner of inhuman things.

Anyone who has followed this game and its method of gameplay might be thinking of two words: Deus Ex. It was certainly what went through my mind when playing through the first assassination scene with the poisoned wine. With Deus Ex, you could choose to kill no-one or you could choose to slaughter anything with a pulse, and the game usually branched out quite radically depending on how you played the game, and what choices you took.

Dishonored is similar, with some interesting nuances. The game is clearly at its most challenging when you’re attempting a Ghost playthrough – that is, completing missions without being seen by any enemies – and without killing anyone. Taking out enemies takes far longer when choking them instead of slitting their throat from behind. There’s still the issue of the body, too. One of your powers allows your killing stealth moves to turn your enemies’ bodies to ash.

The game tempts the player throughout with interesting and varied ways to enact your bloody vengeance, trying to veer the gameplay away from a merciful no-deaths streak. You’re given grenades and incendiary arrows for your crossbow – but, of course, you can’t use them. Your powers can allow you to summon rats to eat your enemies alive, or to use a gust of wind to throw them from bridges, for example. The game’s main theme is how people can become corrupt through power, and this also extends to you, for if you decide to do just that and kill everyone you meet, your ending will be quite dark indeed.

The problem with games that emphasise the power of choice is apparent when someone posts a speedrun on YouTube. So much of the game can be missed out on simply by powering through the game and ignoring all of the sidequests. In fact, if you go on a murdering spree and ignore the multiple paths open to you, you could probably shave the overall gameplay time by about a third.

The game isn’t so generous as to allow Corvo unending power to complete missions simply by shooting everything in sight, however, and in some cases that might become galling for some people. Using your more creative and powerful spells, for example, will drain half of your total mana on use, and to recreate some of the ways of killing people that one of Dishonored‘s trailers details would need at least two extra mana-restoring elixirs just to pull off. You can even hear the elixir sound in the video above at 1:10!

Combat is a similar affair. If you get caught, unless you take your enemies out quickly, they’ll shout for help and you’ll quickly be swarmed. Your spells can help you, of course – most notably the use of teleporting and the Stop Time ability – but your enemies are good with their swords and their firearms. Escaping is also another option, and in some cases it’s really quite easy to evade your foes. Unless you use your powers to their full effectiveness, you’re essentially a glass cannon.

Personally, I prefer combat being a dicey affair, however. Skyrim felt easy after a while die to the fact that you could simply hack and slash your way through everything. Dishonored features realistic combat, with parrying, dodging and blade locking all featuring quite naturally into the mix, something which the latest Elder Scrolls game was criticised for.

Oh, and if you’re about to sneak up on someone and they turn around and see you? You have about a second to slit their throat from the front as they reel back in surprise, rather than instantly sounding the warning bells. A minor feature, but for me, incredibly authentic.

Dishonored is a game that, for me, is a sleeper hit. Most people would pass it off as an Assassins Creed clone just because of the fact that they released almost within a month of each other, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. The steampunk setting, the novel and interesting abilities and engaging plot all serves to make the game a memorable experience. The voice-acting is superb, and the freedom of choice is left to the player, rather than there being two set path to choose from.

You can tell that the developers of this game wanted to create an authentic, exciting experience, rather than wasting time on the industry’s favoured use of multiplayer, co-op and versus modes. It’s refreshing to see a game that doesn’t have to rely on these safety nets to try and reel punters in. This is a game to be enjoyed for its story, its gameplay and its freedom of expression.

My only main gripe is that the game is short. Shorter still if you’re not bothering to look for hidden extras and alternative routes. Th resource management of Corvo’s powers could also be fine-tuned, though it is entirely understandable that limiting how often the player can unleash havoc stops the game from becoming a silly slaughterfest.

That won’t stop me playing it through twice to see the different endings, though. And then once more for a no-deaths playthrough.

There are also plans for DLC on the way, too, including missions played through the viewpoint of Doud, one of the game’s early antagonists.

Can’t wait.

Original Source: Destructoid: Dishonored has three bits of DLC on the way

Image Links: The Guardian, Destructoid, Joystiq, Gamerant.com

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