Dishonored is what happens when you take the people behind Bioshock 2, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series (Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks) and mix the gameplay of each, allowing it to amalgamate into a masterful non-linear, choice and consequence, stealth vs. berserker, chaotic vs. orderly experience.
The story takes place in the city of Dunwall, located on the fictional isle of Gristol, north-west of the even more fictitious Pandyssian Continent. Dunwall somewhat resembles 18th century England with a steampunk feel, but with whale oil instead of steam; Whalepunk, if you will. We find ourselves set in the midst of a rat plague, with infection spreading as fast as panic throughout the city. You play as Corvo Attano, personal bodyguard to the Empress. After a successful assassination of the Empress, and the kidnapping of her daughter Emily by mysterious cloaked figures with strange powers, shit hits the fan. Corvo is framed for this kidnap and murder and is thrown in prison awaiting execution. From here Corvo is contacted by an unnamed friend, offering the key hidden in food (in glorious prison escape tradition) and a list of instructions. This is where the game begins.
There is quite a large amount of characters; each with backstories, motives, compelling and condemning qualities and personality. From the beginning the comforting presence that Corvo holds with the Empress and Emily is clear, from playing hide and seek, to the empress’ desire to keep him close. Fortunately, all through the game with journal entries and second-hand conversations, this relationship is unfolded in a way that couldn’t otherwise, considering her assassination and all. The Outsider is another incredibly interesting character; an ever-watching all knowing trickster, said to be “Part devil, part angel and entirely ambiguous”, whose alignment can only be described as hard-core chaotic neutral. Then we have the man responsible for the assassination of the Empress. As we find out very early on into the game the responsible orchestrator, Hiram Burrows is a cold hearted villain, ambitious and tyrannical, whose many layers of conscience and reasoning are revealed later on. I have no doubt that many players, like myself, were seething, desperate to rip his throat out.
The gameplay is arguably the most important aspect to the game, forcing the player into the role of Corvo Attano. With the immense amount of choice, your actions will inevitably affect the world around you drastically. The developers have created a chaos system in the game which, interestingly, maps the stability of the world rather than morality, creating a feel of cause and effect rather than a karma system which has been implemented in other games. It gives the game a more legitimate role-playing experience, showing direct consequence to actions as opposed to the old “if you do bad things, bad things will happen” approach. With the arsenal of weapons and powers at your disposal, it’s sometimes hard to take mercy.
The game’s stealth and combat systems are simply brilliant, allowing adaptable styles of gameplay, regardless of what kind of character you want to play. The right hand is constantly mapped to Corvo’s blade, while the left hand is reserved for powers and weapons. There is a power wheel, somewhat similar to that of Bioshock, but including powers and weapons all in one. Obviously the most practically useful power for the game is Blink, the short range teleport, however, I found I constantly used Dark Vision, a power to detect items, enemies and points of interest through walls and other obstacles. There’s also a very handy stop/slow time spell and one for possessing creatures and people amongst others. The weaponry available is fantastic in the way it caters for strategic gameplay as well as power-housing; springrazor traps and sleep darts sitting alongside pistols and grenades.
The gameplay is helped along by the star-studded voice cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Carrie Fisher, and Chloë Grace Moretz to name a few. Some of the voice acting did sound slightly stilted to me though, mainly the voice of Piero, taking a strange style of delivery. The developers really went all out in creating a substantial world, however I couldn’t help but feel the use of Unreal Engine 3 may have been slightly dated by the time of release. Unfortunately for a game dealing in shadows, the lighting is sometimes a problem; the delicate subtle balance between light and dark not always fully realised. Luckily past the first hour things look a lot better. Overall, the world created ends up being so immersive in lore, story and eventually looks that these minor nuances can be overlooked.
The island of Gristol is so substantial it is a difficult one not to love and while I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I’d like playing; it will be priority on my gaming list for a while. Furthermore, depending on these next two months; this will definitely be getting my vote for game of the year.