There’s something that bit extra special about a game that doesn’t force you down a restricted path, or tell you what to do and when to do it. These are games that let the player decide on the best course of action, leaving events open to their own, individual techniques.
We all love to play epic, scripted event-laden blockbusters that delight in assaulting our senses with collapsing buildings, explosions and gun fights on moving trains, planes or automobiles, but the ability to take a game at your own pace, soak up the atmosphere and dictate the action, that’s the stuff of true immersion.
Dishonored is a game that claims to offer gameplay consisting of the latter. A game that gives you the tools, in the form of wronged royal bodyguard-come-assassin, Corvo Attano and his not inconsiderable range of supernatural abilities and gadgets.
Set in the distinct, steampunk city of Dunwall, which is ravaged by a deadly rat plague, Corvo is a man on the run, and his mission is simply, revenge. With dark powers, and stealthy skills, he stalks the crumbling dystopia, hell-bent on taking out those who wronged him. It’s not long before he joins a resistance cell, and discovers some truly special abilities.
Have it your way
As we’ve discussed on Den of Geek recently, Dishonored is a title that defies classification. At its heart it’s a stealth-heavy FPS, very similar to the Thief series (especially Thief II: The Metal Age), but it stubbornly refuses to be labelled. There’s shooting, melee combat, sneaking, adventuring, puzzling, strategy and even platforming (don’t worry, not in a dodgy, Half-Life Xen way). All of these elements are melded together to create a Deus Ex-level of choice, in a world that simply begs to be explored, and choices that scream to be tried out.
The game is, essentially, level-based, not open world, but each mission, as with Thief and Deus Ex, is pretty much an open book. There’s rarely a funnelling along a single route, and you’re left to plan and execute your own approach to each situation, which includes how you tackle your goals and assassinations.
For example, in the game’s first real mission you have to assassinate the leader of a military faction. This unsuspecting soul resides in a heavily guarded compound, surrounded by soldiers and plans to poison one of his guests during a meeting. On approaching the facility, you can opt to go in with some of the old ultra-violence, killing all in the open, before mashing in your target’s face, or you can look for one of the many alternate routes, such as high up open window, side entrance, or, powers permitting, could even possess a guard and simply stroll In unhindered. Then, once you get inside, and find the target, you have to decide if you’re going to kill him, or take care of him in a non-lethal manner (of which there are choices). Also, depending on your previous actions, you may have the choice of saving the life of his soon-to-be dead guest, and this alone has a few options on how you’ll accomplish the task.
It’s all very impressive, and although there are still a finite number of pre-scripted outcomes in many situations, how you reach the goal and how you decide to tackle it does make the adventure your own story, which makes for a much more interesting experience than simply hoofing it from A to B and killing target C.
Swiss army assassin
What adds to this impressive openness is the skill set and abilities available to Corvo, and how well Arkane Studios have implemented the whole system. The controls, although not of CoD tightness and fluidity, are great, certainly much improved on the average Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and the way that the various abilities are implemented is superb.
Basics powers such as Blink, which lets you quickly teleport from one place to another, are both intuitive and supremely useful. Blink, and other powers, may initially feel like it has one or two specific uses, but it’s not long before you begin to formulate your own creative strategies. For example, Blink lets you teleport from one place to another, or to climb to high reaches of the city, however, when teleporting you’re also invisible until to arrive at your destination. So it’s a very useful tool for sneaking past open doorways or areas. In one situation, I had to carry a body to a nearby location, and wasn’t sure how to go about it, due to plenty of guards patrolling the area. Then, I realised you can use Blink whilst carrying a body. Problem solved.
Likewise, other abilities, such as possession come into their own in so many ways, and players will no doubt find their own little tips and tricks on how to use them to suit their playing style. It’s this flexibility in the use of powers and gadgets, such as traps and bombs (which you can place on a mouse, possess it and turn it into a walking explosion) that really makes Dishonored open and unrestricted.
And the little things, such as being able to lean around cover, peek through keyholes to see what’s on the other side of a door and pick up and throw items to distract guards, all add to the whole.
The genuine choice of to kill, or not to kill is also welcome, and not only does Corvo have both lethal and non-lethal weapons and gadgets, but most situations even make it possible to avoid contact with enemies altogether, not even requiring that you knock them out. If you opt to dispose of guards though, be it merciful or merciless, you’ll have to carefully hide the bodies, lest they be discovered and alarms sounded.
Overall, the game’s mechanics are pretty iron-clad. Enemy AI is solid enough, and not only will they put up a fight, but the enemy is alert enough to spot you if you’re careless, and the controls work well, and using the array of abilities and skills is easy enough, without any unnatural finger contortions.
Nice place to visit…
Now, all the flexibility in the world isn’t worth a thing if the game itself is dull or unoriginal, and Dishonored certainly doesn’t come a cropper here. The city of Dunwall is a well-crafted and fleshed-out metropolis, and the character design and back story make the whole experience one that’s both unique and absorbing. The locations you’ll get to sneak around are varied and interesting, and the plethora of reading material and evesdroppable conversations further cram your mind full of the game’s deep an intriguing lore. Once again, Thief springs to mind when it comes to the atmosphere, and as a massive fan of the Thief series, this was one element of the game that particularly resonated with me. In fact, change the name of the lead to Garrett, and the game could well be a Thief sequel, they’re that similar. Hell, you’ll even spend a lot of your time rooting through drawers, lockers and chests, looting money and rare items, and will indulge in a bit of safe cracking on the side.
The quality of the world and its atmosphere is important, more so here than many other titles. Again, as with Thief, and other similar titles like Deus Ex, System/BioShock, and even The Elder Scrolls, the immersion is so important that the surroundings are more like a central character than a mere setting, and when the game so wants you to explore and delve into its secrets, this is essential.
The physical layout of the locations is also worth noting. Each area has been cleverly created to include all sorts of options, but much of the time, these don’t scream out at you, and the whole experience is far more organic. You’ll often stumble upon a useful, quiet shortcut, or find a secret hidey hole, and you rarely feel like the game is hand-holding you through the process. It’s your decision and your story, and this is made possible by great level design.
This design is also bolstered by a selection of optional missions, which you may or may not discover, or even choose to do. As with the main missions, many of these let you decide on the outcome. For example, do you poison a local gang’s supply of plague elixir or not? Do so, and you’ll get a good reward, but will have caused many deaths, don’t and you may get nothing. Let your play style and conscience do the talking.
When you’re not on an actual mission, there’s always the search for runes (used to learn and power up your abilities) and bone charms (stat buffs), as well as the aforementioned books and reading material and mountains of loot, which you’ll need in order to buy healing items, weapons, ammo and more from the various vendors, not to mention enhancements for Corvo’s mask and gadgets.
You even get a rather gruesome, but nonetheless cool, bionic heart artefact that can detect nearby items, and can also, when aimed at certain objects and people, provide you with even more insight into the world and its inhabitants.
It’s a theory
To further the game’s wish to let you play as you like, it features the ‘Chaos’ system. This is a fancy term for a stats page, essentially, and at the end of each mission you’re rated on various elements, such as how many times you were discovered, how many bodies (both dead and unconscious) were found, and so on. This helps enhance the game’s replayability, as you’ll want to better your results, either just to do better, or to return and complete the entire game without harming a single person (which is entirely possible).
Various other elements affect the Chaos rating too, some of which are out of your hands. For example, kill or knock out a guard and leave the body where a swarm of flesh-eating plague rats will discover it, and they’ll not only chow down (which has the added benefit of hiding the body, as it’s eaten), but this will count to your bodies found and killed tally.
This is realistic, and works, but it can be a little irksome. If you carefully knock out a guard, hide him and he’s eaten by some rats later, is it fair that you’re punished? Arguably, you could have hidden him somewhere safer, yes, but some may consider it a little unreasonable, and as the body is never actually discovered by people, should it raise the Chaos level?
Regardless, it’s a good system, and encourages careful, methodical play, and this is well worth any minor shortcomings.
Whale of a time
I was instantly interested in Dishonored when it was announced, as the game’s uniqueness, style and openness is something that I favour in gaming. The similarities to some of my favourite games helps enhance the experience, but even without that element, there’s no denying that Dishonored is a great game on its own merits. Whilst it’s all too easy to get caught up in noting the game’s many influences, the quality of the game shouldn’t be overlooked, and as a stealthy title, it’s up there with the best, and is free-form stealthy play at its best.
BioShock, another influence, came along with a very unique feel in a time when most games lacked identity, and was all the better for it, and this is also true for Dishonored. With so many sequels and real-world shooters around, playing a genuinely original game that isn’t afraid to do something different counts for a lot, and when that game is also of such a high quality, well, you just have to get some in.