Betrayal, Chaos, And Disaster .
Read Time 11 minutes
Moment of revelation: stealth has been one of my favorite genres since… well, since forever. In fact, looking back, most of the first few video games I ever tried were almost all stealth-based! Seriously, I just cannot tell you how fantastic-sounding was to me the idea of sneaking around places, taking down enemies one by one without ever being noticed. The thrill behind every step, the short bursts of adrenaline, the roller-coaster of emotions that is succeeding, being happy, then getting sad again knowing how many attempts it took getting to that point–oh, the good ol' days. Anyways, memories of a time long past aside, you can barely imagine the face I made when I found that the game I've been ignoring my entire life as a young teenager would turn out to be one of the most remarkable stealth title of an entire decade.
The name of that game is Dishonored by the way, and for those of you unfamiliar with it, on October 9th, 2012, one, if not the most well-received title in the action/stealth scene would be born; one that would top many popular game ranking lists, rubbing shoulders with true titans such as "Stealth Archer ftw", as well as "Tailing Mission 4", favorites from a community of avid home invasion, and mid-night tiptoeing enjoyers such as myself. So, to say expectations were at abnormally high levels when first touching the game knowing of its tremendous potential, would be at the very least a tiny little understatement.
And now, after playing the entire thing myself, I come here with hopes to share with you my experience venturing the plague-ridden city of Dunwall, in what was an extremely fun to explore tale of conspiracy, betrayal, and of course, dishonor. So hold on tight onto your seats ladies and ladsies, for this will be a turbulent descent, a spirit-cleansing dip into the twisted, morally ambiguous world of unparalleled beauty — and ugliness —, as we attempt to clear our name from accusations mischievously placed over our heads in the earlier minutes on the body of Corvo Attano, former blade of the empress, and a man that has been through more ups and downs in life than many lift attendants.
“ ...Vengeance comes at midnight, (more) backstabbing in the morning... ”
Climbing Back From The Shadows Below: Echoes Of The Past .
To start things off, I want to say right off the bat that in my experience Dishonored was indeed an amazing game, and in saying that there should be no doubt remaining over the length of this review that, as it stands, it is truly deserving of the position it acquired at the top of its category. Squeezing in an incredibly tight space enough content to make a full tart with almost all the deliciousness one could ever want, it'd feel uncanny to place it anywhere lower than at that mark. With that said, it’s also important to note that the game still had its fair share of underlying deficiencies — shortcomings, mostly character and story related, that as problematic as they were, were by no means enough to drag down the entire experience by any significant amount.
Taking place in an industrial setting on the rise of revolutionary technological advancements, Dishonored adopts the term I like referring to as Oilpunk to portray the fictional whaling city of Dunwall, region the roughly 15 hours long story-focused adventure takes place, and where the booming cases of a rat-spread plague is used as a hook to put Corvo Attano, the game's protagonist into scene. Upon returning empty-handed from a diplomatic mission he was sent in the Empress' authority to obtain information regarding the affliction, Corvo goes straight to the encounter of his leader to deliver the news, without the knowledge that a carefully planned attack against the Empire was about to be set in motion, leading to the death of an Empress, the temporary disappearance of her daughter, and framing Corvo as guilty in the process.
Following a quick descent from the heavenly fortified walls of Dunwall tower, we are taken into prison, to pay for the crime of staying loyal until the bitter end.
Claiming for itself the mantle of a definite voyeur master with this title, Arkane made no short work of the play field it was given. Separated into chapters, the game sells itself in parts, following a rather linear, consistent, and also quite diverse format that employs a multitude of artifices to really grab, hold, and (spoiler alert) slam dunk the player's attention somewhere down the road. Levels, for instance, laid out in a most impressive manner, make for a play that is sure not to disappoint even the savviest of explorers, as seemingly every corner has been treated to special attention, so to make them at least worth the visit. All in all, a ride that entices for its meticulous world-building, flexile combat AI, fluidity of controls, impeccable ambiance, alongside a simple yet efficient method of storytelling.
In being played from the same perspective as a first-person shooter, the magnitude of stuff we get to experience just walking around is magnified tenfold. Getting to see from the corners of our very eyes in full detail the kind of decadent, sickening state the streets have taken following the ascent to power of a man as repugnant as the squeaky rats that roam freely the unlit alleyways of the city is just… something else. From corpses rotting on open skies to corrupt guards that delight in blowing the sick who flee their terrible lockdown, there was a total of zero effort spent in hiding this awful reality, and I must admit, it is quite lovely to be on the sidelines, carrying the steel of change as events unfold.
Also, as a side mention–if you're the type to not get over with games after the credits first roll about, I've got good news for you, as Dishonored does favor multiple playthroughs. With a total of three different endings, all based on an overall chaos system that determines the 'colors' of the footprint the player leaves behind, it's easy to say there are indeed a few reasons to consider returning to the game a second or even third time after you've already beaten it once.
Viewing The World From Above: Everything The Light Touches .
Is our kingdom–or so said Mufasa, before free-falling dagger in hand onto the back of an unsuspecting wildebeest stampede; a truly spectacular moment in animation history.
As some of you may or may not already know, I am a huge fan of pretty graphics. Like, who isn't? They are a visual medium's ultimate jewel, afterall. The thing is that, despite my immense appreciation and love for this specific facet of video game development, I am also rarely sold by that alone. To me, it does not matter how insanely beautiful any given title might be on the outside, if everything else about it is shitty, then… case closed. For today's story, it was no exception. But, as I've attempted to make it clear from the very beginning, Dishonored was a pretty solid game altogether.
Continuing on this same positive note, I wish to extend some of the love to the visual aspect of the game that, as far as I've seen, has been somewhat looked over relative to the amount of effort put into it. Much to my surprise, and of others I'm sure, for a game released in what feels like ages ago, the visuals it brings out are nothing short of fantastic. There are a lot of things contributing to make the game what it is, but few equate to its visual uniqueness.
Alright, before we get to proceed, I want to try being a little more daring, if you wouldn't mind, by inviting you to focus on picturing in your mind a more perfect scenario than this:
On-point lighting, joined by an awe-inspiring combination of realism and a heavily themed art style create picturesque aesthetics even recent games are barely able to compete.
An Undisguised Change Of Tides: The Strangest Of Attractions .
Just now when talking about stuff the game does right, I showed dissatisfaction with two specific things: story and characters. To elaborate, while I do believe the game did present a narrative that gets the job done, it's annoying to me how such a nice plotline was handled nearing a critical point. First and foremost, characters, or the NPCs we get to interact (or if you want to get more poetic, "our only allies in a dark, cruel world" ), are as two-dimensional as the bright mountainous background from Super Mario, lacking the basic humane features that make us feel attached to fictional figures in books, movies, and novels. And we're talking main side characters here mind you, the ones who ride to battle with us, who stick to morals above their own safety, the people who, in theory, should be essential to the story.
Save maybe for old Samuel, the boatman, who is at least a tiny bit relatable and actually adds some form of value to the story instead of just rowing the damned boat, most characters are empty, uninteresting, and one could even argue pointless. Taking how there are perhaps one or two slightly more fleshed out NPCs whose reach travels beyond the concept of serve and provide as an example, it's not super difficult to see how replacing those beautiful strings of code with an even more lifeless version of themselves wouldn't be too bad an idea. I'm thinking maybe a interactible lifeform, possibly made out of metal and wires, that would perform the same basic actions sets with just as much effectiveness. Now, that's totally up for debate, and the point here isn't to dispute their usefulness, if there's any.
The key takeaway is that, while considerably bland, characters remained, to a certain degree, essential to how the story develops. Meaning, if there's one thing we can safely deduce is that these people are in the game for at least this singular reason: make the story more impactful, which is where it falls flat, because of how comically predictable the whole ordeal is.
Such vibrance, such irresistible palette… eugh. To me, what hits the spot home in it is the conflict of coloration, the dull, grayish tint of raw stone and concrete of the buildings contrasted by the aggressive, semi-intrusive glow of the sun peeking behind rooftops which complement each other so well that I almost lack in words to describe it. Throw in some shades of aged Victorian architecture, chimneys spewing smoke everywhere you look for that extra spice-up effect, and you've got yourself an awfully amazing boost to motivation that'll keep you company for the long days worth of dirty work. If I had to guess, maybe some people just don't understand how difficult it is for something that reeks of grease and filth to look this glorious.
A city put together by a perfectionist it seems, it's truly fascinating to me the amount of work that has been put into areas, including those we can't do much but watch from afar. An intricate arrangement, riddled with details that you are bound to miss if always rushing to the finish line. There are stories constructed within stories, housings where entire families have lived and perished inside, suffering which is both read and felt, among other things accessible to those who sail to find them. Needless to say, it takes some serious dedication to create immersion that is not made by the mere positioning of a camera.
Honestly, I could stand here for hours talking about graphics and neat things surrounding it, or other general aspects I liked about the game. But that would be neither useful nor interesting to read through in the long run. That's why moving forward, the topics I chose to discuss next will revolve more on the tangible realm; stuff like plotline, characters, progression, etc. In sequence I will expand on quests along with our primary motivator in the mission ahead of us, so to further amplify our knowledge on how the game pans out in the grand scheme of things.
Given a short window of interaction, there's far too little opportunity to bond and get to know characters better, making what happens down the line more odd than it is unexpected.
Although I have to admit quite fun to explore, thanks to a forced twist for the sake of ramping up excitement, the story of Dishonored is thrown out the window with no apparent concern for character development. The problem lies when the game straight-up ditches a few of the main characters' ability to think mid-playthrough by making the unpleasant situation that you are in even worse in a weird, hurried attempt to close the book on a high note.
A poorly baked turn of events that you can see coming from a mile away based on guesswork alone — the type you say jokingly in the first minutes of the game, and it somehow turns out to be the truth. There is no anticipation, no foreshadowing, no clues given, no nothing. Even notes added in the game for exact the purpose of giving context, none hint toward such dramatic change. It just comes out of thin air in a complete one-eighty motion that shocks absolutely nobody.
Pretty much common knowledge, but coming from the point of view that sharing is caring: a good story needs structuring, it needs foundation, unwavering control to deliver a strong blow that actually impacts the receiving end. And truth be told, the game kind of have it going–until it is brutally hammered into a gelatinous state that doesn't smell nor make noise. Sure, it reignites that burning sensation we have at the beginning of the game where our entire being lives to seek the sweetest taste of revenge, but at what cost?
Though definitely not as catastrophic as I made it look, story in Dishonored did feel a little underwhelming, especially when considering how rich everything else was in comparison. While I might have been a little harsh in my judgement, in failing to conclude in satisfying fashion what started brimming with potential, there's little chance you'll find anyone in their right mind willing to raise a flag in defense of a few, vastly dubious merits.
The Void-Touched Approaches: A Call From The Beyond .
Moving on, stepping into serious business territory, talking about our mission, it's seriously no joke if you think about it. I mean, we are tasked to take down some of the most powerful political figures out of an entire Empire! Add to it the fact we are armed by virtually nothing but stones and sticks, you can get the point that this is no easy task from a normal human being's perspective. The type of quest no one should be able to manage on their own capacity, unless they had a combination of monstrous talent, unbelievable luck, accompanied maybe by something a little... extra.
If that sounds like too much, well, I hate to break it for you, but that's about as perfectly in line as it gets with how the wheel spins for our most honorable masked hero. First things first, the man was none other than the personal bodyguard for the crown, proving to be extremely skilled minutes into the game by single-handedly taking down a group of assassins sent after the Empress–that without breaking a sweat. Second, aided by a mysterious group of conspirators he manages to escape imprisonment a few moments before the day of his public execution comes down, which in my book reads as incredibly lucky all things considered.
And if that wasn't enough buildup for yet another of that wonderful "chosen one" archetype, I present to you The Outsider, a plain-looking young man that if not for the blackened eyes and the circumstances of our first meeting, you'd assume a completely fine lad. On the first night after breaking out of prison, during our sleep, we are taken into a place very, very mysterious…
More than a fitting stage for a fateful encounter, The Void serves not only as a major tool in moving the plot forward, but also as an entryway to a new world of *magical* possibilities.
Acting as a sort of in-between worlds, The Void, as referred to by multiple sources, is a dreamlike place that paints the picture of an ever-growing infinite space where everything we deem as real falls apart in a slow, silent motion. The reason knowledge of this place is so important for the progression of this review is that due to our unexpected encounter, odds of success in our future actions just went up by a great margin. That's because the immense scope of our mission got the attention of Mr. Outsider, who is, in reality, a godlike being that for whatever reason, has grown great interest in mortal affairs, even going out of his way to grant his mark to those he find suitable to obtain supernatural powers beyond convenient.
One hell of a flavorful addition when it comes to stealth, these abilities are, in short, basically passive /active enhancements that you can acquire pretty early on through the spending of Runes in a sort of perk-like system to obtain skills tailored towards improving our character's ability to quickly and quietly take down enemies. See through walls, summon a swarm of rats, possess living creatures, slow down time for a short duration–prime examples of what can be achieved pretty early on if you're dedicated enough to search for the location and find the aforementioned trinkets needed to complete the upgrades.
A straightforward system, with little space for major flaws, leaving even less space for criticism except for how it could have perhaps expanded upon the obtainable abilities, so to make exploration not lose its value halfway into the game, seeing as runes become practically useless after acquiring the desired skills. And even if the inclusion of blueprints and charms help create an alternate origin of upgrades, it's still not nearly as adequate as to have upgrade items remain impactful throughout the entirety of the game.
Liberty And Exploration Of Possibilities: A Choice We're Given .
As we've discussed earlier, Dishonored is a game of colors — multiple, to be precise. The most obvious of them being white. Yes, white. You see, while we might not realize at first, from the very beginning, when waking up in a humid prison cell, we have a discreet choice to make. And no, I am not talking about whether or not picking up the key hidden under the bread will result in a different ending (which it won't, in case you're wondering). The choice is on how we make our escape; if it's a cleaner approach we are looking for, or to wreak havoc with reckless abandon, killing any and everyone who dare stand in our path.
Whichever lane we decide to undertake, soon enough we are going to find the effects of that initial decision buildup to either haunt us, or to bring comfort by knowing we aren't psychopaths monsters. The game which starts on a blank, empty state, much like a white canvas, is open for whatever the player feels like throwing at it, and as time goes on, the final picture should be more or less aligned with our own personal sense of justice. So, should you paint the image completely red, without regard for details, or will you softly stroke the parts that need it most?
Shifting the tone a bit, but not completely breaking away from what we are talking about right now, is another thing I feel is pretty important to be addressed, which is the role we play in missions. So far we've seen the result of our actions, and what ends do they amount to, but still nothing on the roads we take getting there.
The lever that gets the world moving–granted the tools of a master assassin, there's ample opportunity for us to exercise what it truly means to be in the body of a living legend.
Be those paved with the bodies of our countless fallen foes, or just out of the thick black thingy roads are usually made out of, the terminus shall remain the same independently if we choose to take a darker turn, or follow the path which shines brighter as soon as the night falls.
While not a pioneer in the art of making climbing 100ft high towers look like your everyday hike, Dishonored still holds a special place in my heart for being the first to introduce me to a mechanic called "wanna see me finish this game in ten seconds?". In seeing me put it that way, you're probably thinking I am joking somehow, but if not for the tiny exaggeration in timing, there's an undeniable truth to that headless claim. Even if there's no actual way someone can casually just decide to speedrun the game at the turn of a lever cake-walk style like that (none that I was made aware of), it's not too far-fetched to say someone could end a single level in a matter of minutes if, say, they were to be in a hurry, or their hypothetical wife is asking them to walk the dog outside.
Not me, nor anyone else can point out an issue with a design principle that allows players to solve the puzzle in a glance, if only it is to require a smart thought process behind what could have otherwise been a lucky guess at best. I personally find it really amusing how you're given the opportunity to finish missions as you see fit. The freedom you have, or just the reduced number of invisible barriers you find when walking around is quite phenomenal, for a multitude of reasons. There's got to be some unwritten beauty to a map that is set up so well it can be assessed and settled from any imaginable angle.
Besides, what would be the point in having a territory that goes from X, to Y, to Z if it's all locked doors? That's no fun! Just a quick recommendation, in case you plan on playing the game yourself — turn off quest markers as soon as possible, unless you really want to be spoon-fed directions everywhere you go. Gives you more of a reason to think, while making the game more interesting to explore, in my opinion.
Final Thoughts: Last Thing You See, A Blade In The Dark .
So, here we are, finally, after somehow managing to carve our way through the heart of that rotten-to-the-core empire. Can you believe it? Even though our final destination seemed so distant, it was actually right over there, the whole entire time. There were some pitfalls along the way, sure, but guess what, at the end of the day we still stood victorious. The hardships we faced in that journey of no return weren't for nothing. Not only did we dethrone an illegitimate ruler, but we also brought his crimes against the crown to light. In standing true to ourselves, we've called down justice upon those undeserving of a second chance. Without staining our blade with any unnecessary bloodshed, we purged the shadows left behind by pure neglect, lunging ourselves amidst the chaos to preserve the future of those so dear to us.
An overachiever for its time, Dishonored isn't a simple cheap shot at numbers that only gets positive appraisal due to how early it came to exist. No, it's a lot more than that. The game, which promises a shorter, immersive, seamless experience, delivers at every.single.thing with unbested grandeur. There are only a handful of games, a dozen few that are able to remain relevant for as long as Dishonored did, and even fewer are those actually able to have players feel proud of the time they spent playing.
If somebody was to approach me one of these days to say the most insane part of this game would be the amount of possibilities there are, I'd probably respond with something along the lines of "possibilities in a linear game? Yeah, alright". And boy, would I have made a clown of myself. To think this is a game I left to collect dust for so long–it sure does speaks volume about what wonders I can still be missing out on. I now find myself in a state of ecstasy, unsure about how to recover.
A game that proved itself to be a rare exception to the idea that high expectations will always undermine great experiences.
Incredibly fluid as well as responsive controls and commands that works wonderfully... most of the time that is.
Superb visuals in a marvelous setting, thanks to an out-of-this-world combination of realism and a heavily themed art style.
High replayability value, with new events that may unfold depending on your actions and how you approach missions.
Multiple alternatives to paths we can take to reach our goal; stuff like ledges, rooftops, open windows, among other things.
Instances where controls don't work as correctly as they should, often resulting in a failed undetected takedown when it happens.
Decisions not mattering a whole lot unless on the edge of the two prevalent extremes of the chaos system.
While quite fun to explore, story left some to be desired, in some areas more than others, one being in predictability.
A unique game that offers a memorable experience, and is really good at keeping players engaged with the story and how it unfolds. The game rewards strategy and creative thinking, as well as timing and precision which adds a lot to the overall experience and gameplay.
06/18/2020 - Caius, The Otherwordly Assassin
Not as challenging as is to be expected, with difficulty settings doing very little to help circumvent the problem.