Once in a while a game comes along that gets you excited and no matter what, you want it, hoping against all hope that it’ll be worth all of the scrimping and saving; all of those dodgy back alley dealings and brutal killings. Worth the blood, bile and wretched screams – those pitiful cries for mercy from the unfortunate victims of your wrath. Or just worth the cash you stumped up to buy it online or in-store. Either way, you hope.
Dishonored is a game that contains all of the above and much, much more.
When your Empress meets an untimely end all fingers wrongly point to you – Lord Protector, one of her most trusted bodyguards. As you would expect, retribution is on the cards for the swine responsible for putting you in jail with the death sentence hanging over you. Incarcerated, you wait as the city of Dunwall (a Victorian style steam punk hellhole) slowly dies from the plague and what’s left of its people’s spirit is crushed by a cruel tyrannical government run by religious zealots. It’s a festering wound in want of some cleansing and when a group interested in bringing back the old ways help you escape, the choice is yours to cause mayhem or do things neatly and quietly in reaching those goals.
That’s a major part of Dishonored – as you progress through this first person stealth game your choices affect the city and its populace. Have too high a kill count and your enemy gets more defensive and numerous. Leave those bodies lying around for the countless rats to feed upon and more will come. The city changes over time, with people disappearing or relocating due to your actions. The crumbling red brick façades, peeling signage and large factories belching smoke into the sky make for an ominous and immersive world in which to go about this nefarious business.
“One man’s magic is another man’s engineering.”
You are not without ability either. As long as you keep your Mana levels topped up supernatural skills aid you at every juncture; each very different but all important. Dark Vision allows you to not only see your enemy in the dark and through walls, but which way they are looking to let you sneak by or assassinate them. Upgrade your skill with Runes found around the city or given for services rendered and you can even see a visual representation of the sound you create, as well as useful or interactive objects. Blink is your ability to teleport short distances in any direction, although going up shortens the distance you can travel. It’s invaluable to any would-be assassin, allowing access across balconies, rooftops and other normally inaccessible places.
You will earn other skills as you progress such as the possession of animals (and later on, people) which will open new routes of entry and escape during an assassination. A sinister semi-mechanical heart helps you find Runes and Bone-Charms throughout the city, as well as steal the darkest secrets from the minds of those you point it at. Bone-Charms give many different bonuses, such as finding more ammunition when looting or raising the chance of enemies missing when firing at you. You will of course have gadgets and weapons at hand alongside your paranormal skill set and can strike back in kind, using either a stealthy crossbow, a more percussive pistol, grenades or a little apparatus to turn security mechanisms to your side to name a few.
No assassin worth his or her salt would fight with just one hand though and with your trusty folding blade in your right hand and a choice of all the former weapons in your left you are a force to be reckoned with. Guards speak of you in cautious tones, hoping somebody else finds you first, but when you can teleport unseen from a dark ledge above to within a hair’s breadth of a guard’s vulnerable back, dispose of them (via fatal or non-fatal means) and disappear just as quickly, it’s not surprising. Bodies should be hidden either way in case they’re found or eaten. Even though it’s slower to use non-lethal methods and therefore increase your chances of being seen, it’s more satisfying. Each mission has so many ways to complete it too, adding even more variety over time and making every one feel more personal.
It looks nice, but I wouldn’t live there.
Everything in Dishonored looks gritty and slightly larger than life, with a graphic novel feel not unlike Bioshock, with a morsel of Half Life 2’s visual style thrown in and mixed with the meaty mechanics of Thief (if you can remember that far back). Characters have the chiselled look of hard living and the mark of weary desperation in their voices. The soundtrack itself deserves a mention with some truly eerie music that reminded me of the melancholic Dear Esther one moment and a B-movie horror the next. It all goes so well together and the ease with which you can pull off a string of different moves (with practice) and look as skilled as the best assassin is sublime.
Arkane has conjured up a weird, unnerving and brutal tale of a land and people at the end of a time of plenty, struggling for survival. It hits hard and gives you ample choices for change, but even those made with the best of intentions can end up with disastrous consequences. Dishonored, although influenced by some of the best games ever made, doesn’t just ape them, but carries them further up the evolutionary ladder in terms of style and execution. It’s quite possibly my game of the year so far.