Dishonored, by Texas developers Arkane Studios, is reminiscent of other action/stealth games like the Hitman, Thief and Deus Ex. Sadly, this is likely to mean Dishonored will follow in their footsteps another way: It’ll be a critical darling, but won’t have enough widespread appeal to garner much more than a cult following.
You play as Corvo Attano, Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall, a man who’s recently discovered he isn’t terribly good at his job. The empress has been murdered, and Corvo is framed for the deed by an opportunistic group of conspirators. Corvo must work to clear his name, bring down the illegitimate government in control of Dunwall, and rescue the late empress’ 10-year-old heir, Emily, and return her to her rightful throne.
How you choose to accomplish these goals is ultimately up to you. After gaining allies, both conventional and supernatural, Corvo becomes a force to be reckoned with. You can teleport around stealthily killing your targets one by one, you can wade into battle with a sword in one hand and a pistol in another, or you can act like some dreadful pied-piper of the damned, and summon swarms of flesh-eating rats to strip your enemies’ flesh from their bones.
Alternatively, though labeled an assassin by his detractors, Corvo can get through the entire game without killing a single person. Each of your targets can be “dealt with” in a non-lethal way, yet their fates will often be such that they would have likely preferred death.
One of the most interesting things about Dishonored is that it forces you to think about tasks and situations like an actual assassin. If you’re taking a non-lethal route, you can choke patrolling guards into unconsciousness instead of utilizing your myriad other horrific avenues of homicide. However, you might actually find yourself second-guessing whether you should let him live.
What if he woke up? What if a patrol happened across his unconscious form? Surely they’d sound the alarm. Wouldn’t it be better to kill him, quietly, right here? But he’s just a guard, just doing his job; maybe you could just tranquilize him and find a better place to stash him.
The word “immersion” is thrown around a lot in video game marketing and journalism, but when a game has you debating whether to let a pretend person in a pretend game live or die, that right there is immersion.
It’s just a shame that this immersive consideration is mostly hollow. You don’t have to worry about the guard’s friends finding him, because you can just memorize their incredibly rote patrol patterns and stash him in a place they never visit.
What’s more, Dishonored introduces the concept of “city chaos,” where the more guards you kill and mayhem you cause, the more your chaos rating increases, which will affect the game’s ending. In essence, it’s a binary “good” and “evil” system of morality, but is easily gamed.
You can lure a target into a room, freeze time, shoot a bullet and flaming arrow, posses your target and walk them in front of said projectiles, place a few mines that shoot razors when they explode, and then unfreeze time and watch as the unfortunate fellow is essentially liquidated.
But as long as they’re the only person you kill, you’ll get a “low” chaos rating. Right.
There really isn’t enough motivation to be creative in your modus opperandi other than personal curiosity. A knife to the neck works just as well as a swarm of plagued rats, and is often more expedient.
Dishonored is a wonderfully atmospheric and well-realized experience, but players looking for instant and concrete gratification will be disappointed. However, for those willing to find enjoyment through exploration and experimentation, Dishonored accomplishes this goal like few others.