A Watercolor Painting of Revenge
|Behold! The beautiful, but troubled city of Dunwall.|
The first noticeable feature of the game is the design and the amount of thought put into it. Although for the most part, objects are rendered realistically, there's a layer of cel-shading, creating a beautiful watercolor effect over the environment. Body forms are exaggerated to have overly broad shoulders and large hands on men and skinny legs and long necks on women. The effect enhances the fantasy but also creates an internal dilemma between the violent actions you're asked to perform and the actual impact that killing caricatures could possibly have. Still, the game is a marvel to look at, and all elements of the design serve each other well. After the opening moments, Dunwall becomes something of a military state, mostly defending the rich from the diseased poor who wander the streets like zombies. During the course of the 15 to 20 hours the game could take you to finish, you will see both plague and opulence juxtaposed in colorful glory next to the military machinations and decorations of the ruling party.
|He's thinking, "I'm a knife, knifing around. Cut cut cut cut cut cut..."|
Gameplay seems most akin to Deus Ex: Human Revolution in terms of the options set before you. You become an assassin like those who wronged you, so you're mostly expected to lurk in the shadows. However, compared to it's half-brother, Dishonored leaves you better prepared to handle enemies when they are alerted to your presence or, at the very least, prepared to disappear from their view and lay low. After completing an introductory level (Sneaking 101) and some exposition, the game gives you a magical ability, Blink. This is granted courtesy of The Outsider, a character who is much like Satan in the Book of Job in the way that he opts to meddle in human affairs from the sidelines. Blink allows you to teleport to a location in view and ultimately becomes the most useful traversal ability in your possession. As you progress, you can find runes to gain more abilities or upgrade existing ones, both active and passive, and there are bone charms to discover which provide buffs to combat and magic as you equip them. Like receiving a treasure map, The Outsider also gives Corvo a standalone beating heart which can point out where to find these collectibles. It is strange, to say the least, and the voice inside it is never clearly explained.
|No, nothing seems right about this at all.|
Stealth itself is handled gracefully, and I encountered no omniscient AI. For those who are interested, I was playing on Easy mode, so it is possible the NPCs are all-seeing gods on the harder difficulty settings. Although a first-person perspective makes it troublesome to know when you are out of view, the game makes it simple - if you can't see an enemy, he can't see you. This is made fallibly untrue when using the lean mechanic, though, which allows you to peer around objects without being seen even though your head would technically be sticking out. I won't deny its use, of course, and I can only assume it makes up for your ability to see around the protagonist in games played from a third-person perspective. Other abilities also help out stealth, such as Dark Vision, which lets you see people through walls along with their cones of vision, and Bend Time, which lets you slow down (or stop with an upgrade) time to navigate around obstacles quickly. Another rule set clear is that stealth mode mutes your footsteps while it reduces your speed and vision height. All of these things work to make first-person stealth very satisfying while maintaining the challenge of remaining unseen. Another compensatory gift Dishonored offers is an extended reaching distance, both for grabbing items and dispatching foes when sneaking up on them. The reduced guess work is a great bonus.
|A beautiful shot from my favorite mission in the game.|
Furthermore, if not suggested to you by a primary character, Corvo will typically come across additional side quests. Some of these have multiple tracked steps while others are a matter of being in the right place at the right time, for example, to stop an over-zealous guard from killing a civilian for a health elixir. The rewards for completing these tasks range from safe combinations to runes to newly revealed ways to reach and complete your objectives. I talked to every NPC I came across on one mission, and that resulted in finding a man willing take my target away instead of performing the kill. All of these are nice touches, which encourage exploration and reward completionists for their extra efforts while not penalizing those who opt for the quick and dirty. The game is essentially yours to shape. While not a negative, the amount of abilities you unlock along with the weapons you find will outnumber the amount of either that a typical player will use during a given play session. Mission structures are fluid enough that no one ability or weapon is required to move on. As a designer, I would be disappointed to create a neat ability only to see someone ignore it, but it also speaks volumes about these designers that they are willing to let players arm themselves as they see fit. I can't think of a single moment where I was funneled into doing something specific to finish what I was doing.
Speaking of shaping the game, your actions do have a binary set of consequences, though. Killing your targets alone will not have much of an effect, but going on killing sprees increases the chaos level of the game. This results in a larger level of armed guards and plagued citizens as Corvo reaches the final hours of his efforts. Reaching the last level of the game is vastly different depending on whether the overall chaos level is considered low or high, and your objectives will be satisfyingly altered to compensate. While I won't speak to the specific details, I would like to note that the ending to the game is clearly biased towards the low chaos approach, resulting in a more rewarding though equally brief cinematic at the end. In contrast to the slew of trailers and demos Arkane Studios provided demonstrating the multitude of fun and fulfilling ways to dispatch your enemies, the game ends up admonishing you for doing so. My personal suggestion is to try for a no or low kill playthrough first for the achievements, the challenge, and the "good" ending and then follow it up with as relieving a slaughter as you can muster. Dishonored does warrant multiple playthroughs if only to exercise more choice and change your overall approach.
However, don't let this rather specific problem sway you from playing an immensely satisfying game. The amount of choice it affords you is better than other games that force the player into trial-and-error situations until he or she discovers the developer's intent. Here, every way you get there is the right way, and every action you perform is rewarding somehow. There's nothing like playing a game that is adept at both conflict and stealth and keeping them fun.
Go for the beautiful kill (or don't)!