Posted on October 7, 2012, Phil Hornshaw Dishonored Review: Revenge is Almost as Good as Freedom
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.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: Oct. 9, 2012
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.