Armed with a diverse toolset of supernatural abilities, weaponry, and smarts, Corvo Attono, once Royal Protector to the Empress, makes his move on an unsuspecting target. Shifting swiftly from shadow to shadow, capriciously determining the fate of any who stands in his way, Corvo travels seamlessly and silently through the open environments in order to claim his kill. Looting, stealing, or gaining favor with the various citizens of Dunwall, you manage to set your eyes upon the man you have been searching for. Do you kill him in cold blood? Or do you ruin his name, forcing him to live the life of a worthless outcast and stripping him of every material possession and political edge that he had been desperately clinging onto for so long? Dishonored’s system of simulation, choice, unique mechanics, and player directed gameplay are the fundamental ingredients to its success, making it a truly memorable experience for all first-person action and stealth fans.
The game’s muted and delicate opening acts as calm before the storm, introducing us to Corvo Attono as the Royal Protector to Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and her daughter, Emily Kaldwin. It’s not long before all goes awry, and after the Empress is murdered and her daughter abducted before your eyes, you find yourself framed and imprisoned for both vile acts with only one thing in mind. This sets in motion a quest for vengeance and justice, and though you will not hear him utter a single word throughout the game’s entirety, Corvo is a strong protagonist whose personality is heavily dictated by the player’s own gameplay style. His presence in the plot is primarily quite simple. Teaming up with a small group known as, “the Loyalists”, a gathering of highly respected individuals who seek to rid Dunwall of its corruption, he is quick to make friends. They provide Corvo with gear, upgrades, a central hub, and his creepy mask—all in service to repair the plagued streets of Dunwall, and to exact your revenge.
How you embark on that revenge is largely up to you, and this is where Dishonored sets itself apart from the competition. Despite its beautiful, open environments, Dishonored follows a linear structure. Not to say you won’t be making use of the game’s huge levels; rooftops, alleyways, drains, mills and more are all interactable and usable as routes around the stage, but the linearity is present in the overall structure. You are given missions and objectives, and this keeps the narrative focused with no room for padding. For the most part, a level will consist of a target or targets, and it is down to you to investigate, infiltrate and ultimately do the deed. The majority of missions follow this system, although one stand-out assassination taking place during a masked party gives you the opportunity to mingle and blend in without the need for cover. Of course, even in this situation, you can take the old fashioned route and sneak up to the top floor to find the information yourself, and this sense of freedom permeates the entire experience. A viewable map would have been a nice addition, as we sometimes found the objective marker a bit confusing at points.
This type of exploration does not simply provide you with a practical advantage during the mission either, as you’ll also find books, journals, audio logs, and upgrade materials for your powers. Some of these journals and audio logs contain some very enlightening content concerning our good friend Corvo.
You’ll likely find a lot of these extras should you partake in the various optional quests woven into the main objective. These side missions are much more than mere diversions. Many of them will have a great impact on the main mission and events later in the game. In fact, the option to eliminate your primary target(s) non-lethally will often only become available once an optional objective has been finished.
Given how much detail and love was poured into these levels, we only wish there was a bit more development for the actual assassination targets—at least during the first half of the game. The missions themselves are incredibly well-crafted, giving you the chance to enact some true poetic justice on your foes. But without a more fleshed out and robust picture of our targets lives, it can be difficult to revel in the misfortune that we inflict upon them. However, the story begins to pick up during the second act, and you’ll more than likely wish it continued. With varying outcomes that alter depending on your thirst for blood, a second and third playthrough is encouraged if you want to explore everything Dishonored has to offer.
At its core, Dishonored will appeal to the stealthier of us, though it is perfectly viable and satisfying for the action hungry gamer as well. Along with Dishonored’s wide and interactive level design, Corvo is granted supernatural abilities by an intriguing character known only as: The Outsider. These abilities cover all the lethal to non-lethal bases and many of them can be used in either situation. Summoning a swarm of flesh eating rats may sound lethal, but use a group of these babies to consume the body of a fellow you just offed, and the power takes on a whole new meaning as portable body-hider. Other abilities include possessing the body of humans/animals and the power to stop time, but two powers in particular stick out as staples for anybody wishing to ghost their way through the game. Blink and Dark Vision will be the two main tools for the shadow lovers, with the former allowing you to move from one point to the next at breakneck speed, and the latter granting you the power to see enemies through walls.
All these powers can be used in combination with one another, giving way to a myriad of creative, tactical options for each mission. You will be unable to simply spam these abilities, as useage of any of them requires mental power (mana), denoted by a small blue bar in the top left-hand corner of the screen. After using some of the simpler abilities, your mana will regenerate, but for the more taxing powers you’ll need to use potions to refill.
Accompanying Corvo’s supernatural powers, Dishonored offers the bread and butter for any stealth-action fan. Equipped with blades, crossbows, pistols, sleepdarts, traps, and explosives, old-schoolers might want to feast on their vengeance using only this type of gear. The game allows you to effectively dual wield blades and crossbows/powers/pistols, and selecting exactly what you want in your left-hand is painless. A press of the shoulder button slows time, enabling you to cycle through the menu and select exactly which weapon you want at any given moment. Assigning up to four different types of weaponry to the d-pad will allow you to switch powers on the fly, making it that much easier to combine and create as you go.
The powerful cocktail born from these abilities is not only useful when creatively eliminating your targets; it is a vital tactic for traversing the open environments found in Dunwall. Bleak, but beautiful, the steampunk-styled city of Dunwall has fallen victim to a plague that is spreading across the empire. The water-color art style gives Dishonored a look of its own, and the striking visuals suit the setting’s feel and mood—almost as if you were living in one of Sokolov’s (the genius behind the Whale Oil industry found in Dunwall) paintings. Some jaggies will occasionally butt their heads in, and the unique art can initially look blurry, but when the lighting hits the right places and you have a good vista to gawp at, Dishonored’s presentation will make its mark.
The abundance of choice and multitude of approaches to Dishonored’s main and optional objectives make its gameplay addictive, unique and meaningful. The narrative harbors some untapped potential, and certain characters could have used more development, but Dishonored’s vengeful plot is the catalyst for everything that makes it great. Every stealth, action, and adventure fan should consider adding this one to their library, and it is likely that each one would have a personal experience that becomes their own in the city of Dunwall.