Dishonored Review: Revenge is Almost as Good as Freedom


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When I finished Dishonored well ahead of the review embargo, I suddenly came to realize that there were a number of things I hadn’t done in the game.

Despite being a supernatural assassin outfitted with some seriously deadly steampunk gadgets, I’d never thrown a grenade in the game. I’d never possessed anyone with my power to overtake their minds. I’d never thrown anyone out a window. I’d never fought a tall boy, one of the stilt-walking enemies that can be the bane of a player’s existence with their explosive-tipped arrows. I rarely fired my flintlock pistol, I was responsible for as few deaths as possible, and I never actually killed a single assassination target.

The great thing about Dishonored is, I didn’t do all these things, but I could have. They didn’t fit my nonlethal, sneaky play style on my first run through the game. They were tools I personally didn’t need to get the job done or enjoy Dishonored. And I can go back and invent entirely new ways to utilize them, because they make a number of different playstyles possible.

And that’s really the power of titles like this. Like the games from which Dishonored draws obvious inspiration and pays homage — games like Deus Ex, Thief, and BioShock — what the developers are really selling here is freedom. The creativity of blazing your own trail through the game is what makes it incredibly fun, and Dishonored delivers this experience in myriad intricate ways.

Dishonored
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: Oct. 9, 2012
MSRP: $59.99

The primary thrust of Dishonored is to assassinate folks. As Corvo, the Lord Protector of the Empress of the city-state Dunwall in an alternative reality, you find yourself on the wrong side of a conspiracy to assassinate the sovereign and take over the city by members of her court. Suddenly, attackers show up and you’re unable to fight them off; they kill the Empress and abduct her daughter Emily, and when the guards finally make it on the scene, it’s too late — you’re the one they blame for the crime.

Corvo already is an accomplished fighter and kicker of asses, and through the course of the game, he’s contacted by a group of conspirators who call themselves The Loyalists, who seek to enlist his help in displacing the new Lord Regent and returning Emily to the throne. These guys provide Corvo with the means to escape the prison, and set him on the path to assassinate the men in power. You’re their agent, but you have another gift that allows you to do what you do: the blessing of The Outsider.

In the alternate universe of Dishonored, The Outsider is some kind of strange, magical figure. He visits you in dreams and at special shrines, bestowing you with supernatural powers. The first of these is a short-range teleportation ability (“Blink”), but as you collect special items called Runes, you can unlock additional powers like possession, the ability to slow down time, a blast of powerful wind that can send enemies flying, and the ability to see through walls or upgrade your physical capabilities. You also have a number of cool weapons, including grenades, shrapnel mines, and various brands of crossbow bolt.

With this big pile of tools, how you go about adventuring through the game is up to you. Missions put you in different sections of the city, but while you’re confined to a specific map when you start, you’re actually in a pretty open world in each one. Your target is marked on your HUD, as well as some other points of interest you might discover through observation, reading notes and books, or overhearing conversations, as you go. How you get to any of these points — if you get to them at all — is up to you.

The freedom that Dishonored gives you to work through the game is simply phenomenal. There were a pair of missions I’d played through during preview events prior to the release of Dishonored, so when they came up in the game this time through, I thought I was ready for them. But in both, I discovered completely new paths I hadn’t known existed. In one mission that requires you to abduct a key member of the Lord Regent’s inner circle, sending you to infiltrate his house and dodge maids and guards by the dozens, I managed to scale the buildings outside the structure, climb up to the roof, and abduct the guy undetected. I bypassed the entire interior of the building — a place that occupied most of my time during the preview experience. I simply had the right upgrades and discovered the path I wanted to take, and it allowed me to play through that level in a completely new way.

Not every situation allows you complete freedom, but the vast majority of everything, including simple side quests or momentary distractions in which you can break up a fight or save an innocent, offer a huge amount of creativity and personality in how you deal with them. Even combat can get extremely creative: your abilities allow you to do all kinds of crazy things. You can stop time when an enemy takes a shot at you, possess him, and stick him in front of his own bullet. Or you can blink behind, above, around and away. It’s completely possible to go through the entire game without spilling a drop of blood — it’s difficult, but it’s not nearly impossible.

Dishonored offers some great, disparate environments and quite a bit of content, too. The developers have been saying that a fast run of the game might last about 12 hours, while a slower and more methodical one could take as long as 24. I played nonlethal, sneaky and completionist (as much as possible), and clocked in at about 15 or 16 hours. I’m reasonably confident that I found and collected most everything; I’m pretty sure I got through all the side quests. So 24 hours might be a bit of a stretch, but you’ll get your money’s worth from Dishonored, and its level of freedom allows you to work through the game more than once and have some pretty different experiences.

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8 Comments on Dishonored Review: Revenge is Almost as Good as Freedom

Zach

On October 14, 2012 at 3:19 am

I just don’t understand why so many sites are raving about this game.

-The stealth is clunky and very trial and error.
-The textures are muddy and unfinished.
-The story is bland and the twist is seen a mile away.

-There is absolutely no attachment to your main goal
{who was honestly tearing up when the empress you just met died?}

-There is a serious lack of motivation
{You don’t really know any of the people you want revenge on, nor the people you are trying to save}

-It’s very short for something strictly single-player
{I looked for everything and tried my damnedest to complete ever side quest and still clocked in at under 8 hours}

-The end-of-level stats break down kills whatever immersion the game was going for.

-The powers are very limited
{I know some of them can be fun but only two tiers means you end up with a lot of extra abilities you don’t use that often}

The only things this game seems to have going for it is some player freedom about going about the task at hand. This game seems like it would have been impressive as a launch title but after Bioshock, Batman, Assassin’s Creed and Deus Ex {all games it borrows heavily from} I just feel like there is much better out there in the stealth and open world genres.

I’m not saying the game is horrible mind you I’m just saying I can’t see why something that borrows so heavily and looks so unpolished is running away with 9s and 10s.

Zorf

On October 17, 2012 at 9:18 am

Hi Zach,

I think they’re raving about the game because they disagree with you on many of those points. I do too, (eg. I think you’ve misunderstood the look they’re trying to achieve with the textures you described as muddy and unfinished) but each to his own, I’m sorry you don’t enjoy the game more.

Best regards,

Zorf

Phil Hornshaw

On October 17, 2012 at 9:28 am

@Zach

You’re not the first person to say the things you’ve said, and I think a lot of your comments are pretty valid — the game isn’t good at motivating you, and the story isn’t really all that good at keeping you engaged. I have a theory: enjoyment of Dishonored is directly related to how enjoyable you found the world, since you had to do a lot of entertaining of yourself through the course of the game. I liked the world and found it fascinating (and spent about twice as long in my playthrough as you did); others who don’t get grabbed by the world tend to find the game really flawed. This seems to be something of a personal reaction, but I think yours is just as valid as mine.

For what the creators were setting out to accomplish — Deus Ex, but with a different brand of superpowers and an emphasis on stabbing over shooting — I thought Arkane accomplished what they set out to, and I was really engaged by it. I have to disagree with you on the stealth, but for the most part, I think that personally the game resonated with me in a few ways that made me overlook the story weaknesses. But the more I’m reading and researching, the more I’m finding that a lot of people have the opposite reaction.

Faith in the Internet

On October 17, 2012 at 9:35 am

How refreshing it is to see someone (Zach) summarise their criticisms of a game in a pretty clear, concise, diplomatic and non-hyperbolic manner, and for the author to respond pragmatically and not take the conflict personally. This type of interaction is almost completely absent in every other mainstream videogame forum.

Zach

On October 19, 2012 at 5:35 am

@Phil Just a slight clarification about my comment on stealth.

When I mean Trial and error I’m referring to the fact tha if a single guard sees you the resulting cacophony {for me} was either a single teleport to a random corner to wait for several minutes or to engage half a dozen guards in a grand melee.

The issue I continuously had was one of two things happening when I stealth killed/knocked out people. Either they or a buddy saw me from way outside their field of view or I could literally kill rows of men walking one right behind another.

The mechanics are there for it to be wonderful but I never really came across anything other than the above scenarios which I think disappointed me.

@Zorf

The ascetic style of a game can set a tone and choosing the proper one is key to how your game will feel. My main issue is that it goes with a surreal steam-punk style {something comparative to BioShock} and it fails at making the texture appear clean.

I am aware that they are going for a water colour painting but that isn’t really an excuse to allow your textures appear so blurred and sloppy. If you are going to emulate a style similair to another game in this generation you’d best do a good job at it {especially of said game came out four years ago}.

Even ignoring the BioShock angle it’s easy to get a water-colour painted style to still appear clean and not suffer from the blurring I witnessed in this game. A perfect example of which is Skyward Sword the textures on the models are still crisper than anything in Dishonored which is astounding for the hardware the Wii has and I can’t stand Zelda games.

I will admit that the reason I’m so much more critical on this game is from my experience as a Texture Artist in the industry; knowing that they could have done so much better and being disappointed that no one seems to be calling them out on it.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 19, 2012 at 8:58 am

@Zach

Ah, I gotcha. I must say that I felt it was a bit more harrowing for me. Maybe amp the difficulty? Those guards are pretty effective when they surround you. Still, I see where you’re coming from.

Zach

On October 19, 2012 at 11:09 am

@Phil

I just want to say thank you for being the most polite person I’ve ever disagreed with on the internet and that our little conversation of opinions was actually something I enjoyed.

We both know how vehement people with anonymity can be and how many take criticism as a personal assault.

You have done neither in our exchange and so I tip my hat to you, sir.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

@Zach

Thanks! Personally, my favorite thing about writing about games is talking about them, so know that your thoughts are always welcome, even (or especially) when we don’t agree. Alternative perspectives should be encouraged, I say, and you’ve been polite and great to talk to as well. I’m always excited to discuss this stuff, so keep it up!