Dishonored Review: A Rat-tastic Experience
Release date: Oct. 9, 2012
Genre: Action-adventure, stealth
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: Microsoft Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
Dark. Sinister. Smelly—I swear a whiff of wet rat lingers in the air.
Story. Meet Corvo Attano, all-around respectable bodyguard to the Empress. A rat plague is devastating the city of Dunwall, and Corvo’s been traveling overseas to seek help. Just as he returns home, the Empress is killed by assassins, who also kidnap her daughter. Corvo is blamed for the attack and sentenced to death, hence the “dishonored” title. But with help from allies, Corvo escapes, setting into motion his quest for justice—or, if you prefer, revenge.
Played from a first-person perspective, nine missions take you all around the city—from the sewers, to a ritzy mansion, to a bridge crawling with soldiers. The artistic visuals are stunning. Dunwall is modeled after seventeenth century London, with mixtures of steampunk and industrial designs. And the music is spot-on, often creepy enough to make you stop dead in your tracks—from the moans of the infected to the eerie song of magic runes. Yes, this is an imaginary city, but it’s a breathing entity.
As far as game play goes, it’s all about choices. Your choices. Stealth versus kill-everyone-in-sight. You can talk to people or discover secrets on your own by reading books, journals, and notes. You can solve puzzles to unlock safes. Loot abandoned buildings. And there’s always the choice to help fellow citizens—or let ‘em suffer.
It’s all about creating your own story, even when it comes down to which pathway you’ll take to the objective—crawling through underground passages, to hopping across rooftops, to busting in through the front door. But beware! The more chaos you create, the greater the plague becomes, i.e., the more rats roam the streets and infected people lurk in the shadows just waiting for a chance to attack.
The powers in Dishonored are pretty cool, too. Dark vision let’s you see through walls and identify key objects or people; blink allows you to move very fast without being seen–perfect for climbing; possession lets you inhabit the bodies of rats, hounds, fish—even people; bend time slows or stops time around you; and devouring swarm summons a horde of carnivorous rats that will attack any living thing in sight, like your enemies.
And that’s just a few of the abilities you can harness by collecting runes and bone charms. With the guidance of a creepy thumping heart, you can explore the city to find these magical items that unlock special abilities, like climbing faster, or perks, like finding more ammo more often. Basically the more you collect, the more ways you can get creative with killing.
Then there are side missions, which are great because, like most games, you don’t have to complete them, but in Dishonored, you should. See, most of Dishonored’s side missions will affect at least a small outcome of the game. And these side quests are pretty unique. (None of the stale, redundant crap in games like Assassin’s Creed.) Instead, you have chances to torture your torturer, teach some low-life scumbags not to pester an old witch, rescue allies from gangs, release test subjects from brutal scientific experiments… you name it.
There’s little redundancy, and you can discover side missions various ways–by talking to people or reading notes or simply stumbling upon one by accident. Depending on how murderous you’ve been, some missions may not even appear at all. So choose your actions wisely.
How choices affect the story.
Harvey Smith, Arkane Studio’s co-creative director, said in an interview with IGN.com that players can “slaughter everyone or ghost the game,” meaning you can beat it without killing anyone. That’s impressive. You can basically create your own story line.
“Minute-to-minute gameplay story is important,” Harvey said via Twitter. “(We’re focused on) the story that results from the player’s actions, path through the world, and system interactions.”
Curious to see the differences, I played Dishonored twice.
The first time, I took the honorable route. I was stealthy. Respectful. My profile was low; killing minimal. People respected me, and eventually the rat numbers dwindled. I saved the world, and everybody turned out relatively OK. Alive and hopeful. Granted, some people I left alive lived miserably, but alive nonetheless.
The second time through, I was less honorable. I let Corvo loose. And there was blood. I chopped-off heads. Used rats as walking grenades. Dismembered dogs. You know. It was nitty-gritty. I shot anything that got in my way, and when I ran out of bullets, I sliced, sticky-bombed, or summoned a swarm of hungry rats to devour guards. The results? Surprisingly, not much changed—except the sanity of a few characters.
So there were differences, but nothing too drastic. I’ll admit, though, that the second ending wasn’t quite so heart-warming.
Closing comments: 90%
As beautiful and unique as it is, I wouldn’t say Dishonored is a perfect game. I would have loved to have more areas to explore, so it wouldn’t feel so linear. I would also have loved a longer story line and more challenging bad guys. And I would have loved to see bigger differences in the story based on my actions.
But the music was Oscar-worthy, the character development was deep, and the possession of rats was rat-tastic! It won Best Action Adventure Game for 2012 at the Spike Video Game Awards for a reason.
Choosing your path and dealing with the consequences was definitely the highlight. While it’s possible to choose a nearly fluffy, go-happy conclusion, ultimate destruction and failure leave you with a very intriguing ending–maybe Arkane’s way of toying with us for a sequel… but that’s to be determined.
Either way, Dishonored is a lot of fun, especially to play through more than once just to see how your choices shape the dreaded rat plague.