Sometimes I feel that not being able to review games the day/month/year they come out plays to my advantage. It means that I can step back from the pre/post release hype and I hope it gives me a more objective view than it might in those early halcyon days. I think we can all point to games that blew our minds in the first few hours, we rave about them, then jump back on to finish and get a distinct sense of ‘meh’.
The above mini-narrative sums up my experience with Dishonored (curse your American spelling) rather aptly. I can see why people like it and I can see all the bits they like. Upon completing the game however, I was left with a huge sense that rather than an amazing classic, Dishonored was a missed opportunity that could have been the new Thief. Dishonored is a fun game and will entertain for the 8 or so hours the campaign lasts, but it is ‘good enough’ rather than being ‘truly brilliant’.
It takes balls to have such a grey logo
The player dons the mask of Corvo, Royal Bodyguard turned conspiracy victim. Corvo was sent on a mission by the Empress of Dunwall to discuss solutions to the Rat Plague that is devastating the Island city. The game starts with Corvo arriving back at Dunwall, but his mission debrief is cut short by a group of assassins who proceed to murder the Empress. A beaten Corvo is accused of the murder by the Royal Spymaster and thrown in prison. Some time later Corvo escapes with the aid of a resistance movement formed to oppose the Lord Regent (unsurprisingly, the Royal Spymaster.). As he arrives at the resistance HQ, he is declared their chief assassin and immediately sets about wreaking politically motivated vengeance.
This is really where the problems with Dishonored’s overall narrative start. After the Resistance has decided that Corvo’s job history as the Royal Bodyguard that got the Royal Body stabbed to death qualifies him to be their chief assassin, Corvo is visited by the Outsider, who grants him a magical mark that allows him to use mystic powers. Think on that. They decided to make him their chief assassin (and immediately task him with taking out the leader of Dunwall’s warrior monk sect) before he randomly acquires the magic powers that enable him to do the job. It seems like a small thing, but it annoyed me no end and became a symbol of a number of narrative inconsistencies as the game went on.
Hey look! It’s Daniel Day Lewis!
Dishonored’s levels take the form of a series of small hub-like areas in which side quests, collectibles, power upgrades and world flavor bits and pieces can be found. For the most part they are well designed with plenty of opportunity to fight, evade and teleport around like a loon, however they are extremely linear. The game does a decent enough job of obfuscating this for the first few levels, but soon gives up and levels devolve into a fairly straight forward trek from point A to point B.
There are still multiple ways to navigate between target points. Players can choose to level into a teleport ability, can possess animals to reach otherwise inaccessible places or stop time to run past guards. Unfortunately this is one of the bigger missed opportunities as it is all rather obvious. Every level has clearly been designed with a Low/Mid/High route and often it appears that the level designers have gone to work thinking ‘this is how you will get there if you choose possession, this is how you get there if you choose blink.’ It is still enjoyable, but doesn’t require a huge amount of creative thought or input from the player. It’s a far cry from the hub design of games like the original Deus Ex.
NPC mentions that another NPC is taking a bath? I’m on it.
The linearity also contributes to the general lack of challenge. Dishonored is a very easy game on the normal difficulty, with very few moments where guards patrols overlap to cause any real problems. Enemies have almost no Z axis line of sight, meaning the slightest elevation will render you all but invisible. The static hostile traps tend to cause more difficulty, though most are neutralized by removing their power source. Bizarrely, when the player takes out a power source a nearby guard may comment on the equipment going down but then make no effort to repair or investigate.
For a game that sold itself on stealth and multiple choice task completion, Dishonored imitates life in that being a murderous, balls out psychopath is the most fun. Whilst the stealth game very quickly devolves into ‘blink here, blink here, blink here now’, the rudimentary combat is supplemented wonderfully by the unlock-able abilities Corvo makes. It is hilarious to (if rather overpowered) to rewire a security tower and watch it fire rockets into enemy patrols, or to stop time and place a bomb on a guards back, primed to explode in among his friends.
When sex games go wrong
There are things that Dishonored does very well. The main story remains interesting even if the attentive player will see the eventual outcome from a mile away and the smaller stories dotted around the game range from the sad and poignant to the outright absurd. The art direction is very good, even if a little too Bioshock at times and the internal science/logic they created for the world definitely adds to the overall context of the game. The canonical reasons for health and mana potions in particular is a great touch.
It was annoying when, in the games final sequence, there was no mention of two major assassination targets that I opted not to kill – especially as the scene discussed some of the very minor things that I had done very early on in the game. This missed opportunity is indicative of my total Dishonored experience. I picked it up for a fiver in the Steam Sale and I enjoyed it, but I was expecting the GOTY, critically spooged game to end all games.
As with most games of this type, you’ll be spending most of the time in ‘detective mode’
Instead I bought, enjoyed and completed a decent game with some nice ideas but one that suffered from a limited scope. The game has ‘franchise’ written all over it so it will be interesting how the sequel takes this framework and develops on an encouraging, if flawed start.