New IP’s are risky business, many people don’t want something new and daring – they want something tried and tested; a familiar name, feel and experience. They want to be certain before they buy a game, that it will be just how they like it. But Arkane Studios and Bethesda have dared to be different, and have taken the risk of diving head first into creating a completely original AAA title in Dishonored, a revenge story with a hell of a lot to prove for itself.
Arkane’s Dishonored is a very story-focused game, and while it admittedly does take a while before the full scale and compelling nature of the narrative comes to light, the end result is a very well designed and developed tale of revenge, corruption, betrayal and humanity.
Players take the role of Corvo, bodyguard to the Empress of Dunwall – a city heavily inspired by industrial-era London – who is framed for her murder and the disappearance of the heir to the throne, young Emily. In order to clear his name and bring justice to those really responsible, Corvo must act as an assassin for a powerful group of conspirators known as The Loyalists.
Gameplay is delivered through a first-person perspective, and the player has access to a range of abilities, tools and options to play as they please. While stealth is one of the primary factors of the game, you can simply go on a ball-to-the-wall action-packed rampage if you so please. But this has an effect on the storyline and how characters talk to and treat you. It’s also possible to complete the entire game without killing a single soul, given the vast amounts of options you have at your disposal to complete the objectives.
Corvo is gifted with some supernatural abilities, but I was slightly disappointed how undeveloped their execution is. They’re all very different from one another, but none seemed really required to complete certain actions. What I mean is, you’re given a ton of different ways to approach almost all situations, but none of the powers make it any easier, with simply voiding all power and just sneaking around even being the easiest to properly utilise. For the most part, their inclusion just seems tacked on for an illusion of gameplay depth. You almost have to go unnecessarily out of your way to properly use a few of them. The freedom is nice however, even if there’s such little need for it.
Dishonored isn’t an open-ended or sandbox game, but it does give a limited amount of freedom to explore. Each level consists of a large and excruciatingly detailed area – some bigger than others, but all equally impressive and unique – and you’re set on your way to complete your objective. There are a handful of optional side missions throughout the game that can provide some useful information or items. I would recommend completing all these missions, to get the most upgrades and enhancements. There are a fair number of secrets and items to collect around the maps, too, making the exploring of the city as rewarding as it is fun.
An important aspect of creating a successful new gaming IP is an exciting setting and I think Arkane have really crafted a brilliant new universe. Like I touched on earlier, the city of Dunwall, where the game is set, is heavily inspired by the industrial-era London, only with a very grim dystopian Steampunk spin. It’s a mix that’s been done to death before, but I can’t think of any example that has blended them so perfectly without feeling forced. The visual design of not just the surrounding world and city, but of the characters and inhabitants themselves is superb. The character model designs and animations have a slight exaggeration about them, but it’s not overdone or to a comical extent, rather just reinforcing a sense of individuality.
While the game actually could use some more work on perfecting the models and smoothing things over visually, the art direction and style more than make up for what it lacks in these technical aspects. It’s a game that has its own identity, and I truly hope to see more of the IP, as I would love another taste of the world Arkane has created here.
An immediately notable feature in Dishonored is a quality voice cast of Hollywood talent; the likes of Susan Sarandon, Carrie Fisher and John Slattery all take a part in the game, with Chloe Grace Moretz also lending her voice talent to the kidnapped heir, Emily.
With famed games writer Austin Grossman (System Shock, Deus Ex, Thief: Deadly Shadows) leading the script, the storyline to Dishonored is exceptional. I don’t mean the general pretence of a framed murderer seeking revenge, but rather how the whole scenario plays out, especially in hand with how the player takes on the game itself. Through the writing and the talent bringing the characters to life, you really get a sense of moral ambiguity when it comes to how the different characters react to you depending how you go about seeking your revenge. Play it unforgiving and brutal, and you might find the impressionable young Emily becoming desensitized by your complete disregard of life. Keep the peace however, and she may come out of the ordeal with her innocence intact. It’s these kinds of characteristics that really make for a good story-driven video game, and it’s rare they’re ever pulled off with the finesse of Dishonored.
The musical score of the game is more about the ambience and setting the mood than it is about providing an epic piece to leave you in awe. The music is composed by Daniel Licht, who has a fairly solid background in horror films, and most prominently the highly popular TV show Dexter. I would have loved some bigger numbers, especially at certain points in the game that I feel would have been suited to it, but for what we get the quality is all there. It reflects the state of decay of Dunwall – infected by the plague with most citizens living in ruin and fear, with the rich controlling the state – and the raw emotion that comes with the characters tales. It’s a vast soundtrack, which I do appreciate when we have the different atmospheres and areas of the city to traverse.
- Polished gameplay
- Great storyline and narrative experience
- Awesome voice acting and soundtrack
- Stunning new game world and universe
- Underworked powers and abilities system
Dishonored is the most compelling original gaming experience since the first BioShock – another stunning example of a story-driven singleplayer experience with the gameplay to match. There are a few lacking elements that hinder perfection, but this is a thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and polished game that has just set a new standard of quality.