There’s not a lot of games that I play that leave me already planning second play-throughs, but Dishonored is doing just that. Each time the mission-complete screen pops up, I’m torn between the incredible need to see what the game has in store next, and the competing desire to replay the just completed mission to find the rest of the loot, hidden items, and new ways to defeat each challenge.
Hell, I’m already thinking about a completely new playthrough, so I can try out powers that I’ve not even touched yet. In a lot of ways, it’s about the highest praise I can think of for a game.
Each mission in Dishonored is like a puzzle, and in turn part of a larger puzzle itself. The game has been finely honed to such a degree that the level design, skill interactions, and everything else that interacts with you as a player, seems truly seamless. Then there’s the story, too – it’s not the strongest, or most original of plots, but it creates a great framework for killing (or not killing, as the case may be) a lot of dudes in fun and interesting ways. But each mission and level fits into that story wonderfully, and the game takes you from one fully realised location to another with almost breathless speed, building up a complete picture of the city of Dunwall that is really quite vast.
Basically... Dishonored delivers on pretty much every front.
A stabby jigsaw
The way playstyle, skills, and equipment all interact in Dishonored creates a game with amazing depth. Even in the simplest of missions – go kill guy X – become masterful puzzle-games, and also very different kinds of challenges, depending on what kind of skills or equipment you favour. As you embark on your quest to avenge the death of a kindly Empress, and uncover the conspiracies within conspiracies that has seen you blamed for the death, you also go on a spiritual journey of sorts, and this is where the game’s many supernatural powers come in.
Via hidden magical runes – the left over detritus of a now extinct culture – you come in contact with the not as mythical as many think Outsider, a kind of neutral spirit that thinks you’re a lot of fun to be around. With each rune you find, you can unlock more and more powerful abilities. Each has two levels, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get even close to unlocking all of them in a single playthrough.
There’s a good range of them, too, from simple health-buffs (essential for those who like to get in close and fight), nasty ones that can turn enemies to ash when you kill them (thus removing the need to hide bodies), or the very flashy ones like the Blink short-range teleport, or Devouring Swarm which – while very nasty – is simply too much fun not to use.
These skills get layered with equipment, each of which has a range of upgrades, which you can either buy outright, or find blueprints for while exploring. Again, all of those go toward complimenting how you, as a highly skilled assassin, wish to play the game. If you’re fond of lots of shooting, you’ll likely invest in your crossbow and pistol, while someone who wants to stay in the shadows can work on especially sneaky boots.
All this player customisation then comes alive, thanks to some amazing level design. Dishonored’s not an open world game; rather, each mission takes place within a distinct area. You might traverse some of these multiple times, though, so it feels like a real, contiguous place, especially as the city starts to change based on how bloodthirsty you are in your missions.
But it’s the way each of these levels is a marvellous blend of verticality and rich interiors that really impresses. They’re just so much fun to explore, with all kinds of cool ways into and out of each situation. You’ll also uncover new ways to use each power as you progress through the game. Blink, for instance, while basically a movement skill, also becomes a very handy offensive power, when combined with fast turns and accurate pistol shots or swordstrokes – there’s nothing quite like Blinking right in front of someone, surprising them, and then slitting their throat.
Though, too much of that, and the game will definitely have a much darker ending.
Dishonored is a marvellously fun experience, but there are a couple of caveats. For one, the game’s textures are decidedly low-res, though the painterly artistic style of the game does make up for that, and on the upside there are some lighting effects that are quite jaw-dropping. Nonetheless, any suitably modern PC will have no issue running the game.
Also, the somewhat compartmentalised way the city of Dunwall is put together can make for some odd and disjointed gameplay. More than once we fled a scene of combat and quite a bit of carnage, only to find unalerted guards talking about how quiet things are, just on the other side of a single door.
It’s also one of the rare games that has crashed me straight back to desktop more than once. Though, in each case, I’ve been chain-blinking through a mess of guards, stabbing, rat-summoning and generally created raw, bloody chaos. I kind of don’t blame my system – I was having trouble keeping up, too!
Thankfully, while there are some aspects of the game’s UI that seem more than a little console-hobbled, the ability to save your game at any point means you shouldn’t lose much play-time at all.
Overall, though, these few niggles are minor indeed. Far more impressive is just how smoothly all the aspects of the game work to create a coherent and compelling whole, one that can be played and enjoyed in numerous ways.
After our list print-preview, we boldly called Dishonored a serious contender for Game of the Year. After actually playing the final release, I’m very happy to stand by that claim – Arkane’s created something very special indeed.