When you play as many indie games as I do, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype that the AAA studio process doesn’t have anything to offer discriminating gamers than rehashes, remakes, and sequels. Arkane’s Dishonored proves that to be completely untrue. It’s creative, engaging, and has a level of production value that you simply can’t get without multi-million-dollar budgets and 100-man teams, and is well worth your time and money.
Dishonored places you in the role of Corvo Attano, personal bodyguard to the Empress Jessamine of the city of Dunwall. The game starts as Corvo returns from a lengthy, though fruitless mission in search of a cure for a mysterious rat plague that threatens all life in the city. Unfortunately, he arrives two days earlier than planned, just in time to be framed for assassinating the Empress and kidnapping her daughter.
Thereby begins a by-the-numbers tale of political intrigue in which Corvo escapes from prison, joins up with a group of Loyalists, and exacts revenge on those who conspired against him. The story is formulaic and predictable—right down to the inevitable twist that kicks off the final act—but entertaining nonetheless thanks to some sharp writing and strong characterization. It’s also supplemented by a wonderful painterly art style along with the top-notch music, sound, and voicework you’d expect from a “AAA” title.
The real star of Dishonored is the world in which you play. Each of the game’s 9 missions is a fully realized environment designed to accommodate varying playstyles. Need to get into a building? Well, you can fight your way through the front door if you want. Or you can find an open window several stories high and sneak in. Or you can probably find a sewage outlet beneath the building and enter through that. No option is better than any other, and it all depends on how you want to play. Want to stealthily murder everyone in your path? Go for it. Want to avoid killing anyone at all? You can do that too. You could even run-and-gun if you’d like, thereby beating the entire game in under five hours. The choice is yours, and Dishonored is willing to let you make the decisions you see fit.
Your willingness to commit murder does have an effect on the game, however. The more violent you are, the more violent the world becomes. You’ll see more guards on patrol and areas that would normally be safe to walk through become infested with “weepers,” which are the game’s version of zombies. There’s a sensible explanation for this as well, so it’s not just a punishment for being bloodthirsty: Dunwall is being overrun by plague-bearing rats that feed on human flesh. The more corpses you leave behind means more food for the rats, which in turn means they can breed faster and spread the plague to more people. These infected people become the weepers who wander the streets and alleyways, attacking everything in sight, and with their presence comes an increase in guards to keep them at bay. I found this to be a very nice touch that added to the believability of the game.
Your chosen level of violence will also affect Corvo’s relationships with some of the minor characters you interact with throughout the game. It’s a subtle change that you won’t notice until the very last level, which plays out completely differently depending on how much killing you’ve done—so much so it’s worth playing the game twice to see the differences. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Dishonored is even better the second time you play it, because of the extra familiarity you’ll have with the world. My first playthrough was beset with the kind of bumbling missteps and reloads that normally plague me when playing stealth games, as I learned through trial and error how the game’s various mechanics worked. The second playthrough didn’t have any of that since I had learned to read the levels and I knew some of what to expect.
A second run also lets you try out the powers you didn’t get to try before. These powers—unlocked by finding magical runes hidden throughout the levels—allow you to perform supernatural acts like teleporting short distances in the blink of an eye, seeing through walls, stopping time, summoning hordes of rats to devour your opponents alive, as well as more passive ones like permenent health and agility increases as well as an brutal finishing move you can use in combat.
Dishonored also fares very well on the technical side. I encountered some very rare crashes to desktop, but 99% of the time everything ran without issue. Load times are almost instantaneous, although I suspect you’re actually allowed to start a level before the load is complete since every level had some frame-rate stuttering just after a load, which cleared up after a few seconds. There’s a plethora of customization options covering pretty much everything a PC gamer would want: resolution, detail settings, fullscreen, v-sync, and even FOV, although the FOV slider maxes out at 85 for some reason. I have no need to adjust my FOV in games, but from what I understand the most common settings are between 90 and 120, so the 85 limit seems like a serious oversight. You can also disable some or all of the HUD elements if you’re into the whole “clutter free” experience thing.
Arkane did a mighty job of making the controls work with a keyboard and mouse. The precision of the mouse is awesome and some functions, like leaning to the side and quick-selecting different weapons and abilities, are much faster and easier thanks to the keyboard’s numerous keys compared to the controller’s limited set of buttons. And, of course, you can remap those keys to your liking and find a setup that’s most comfortable to you. I opted for the Xbox Controller after a while however, primarily because it let me lean back and play. But, as with everything else about Dishonored, the choice is up to you and the game will accept your decisions.
Conclusion—Is It Worth The Money?
What we have here is an entertaining game that’s rock solid and seemingly built with PC gamers in mind. It has style, substance, and was engaging to the point that I’d spend many more hours playing per session than I had originally intended. I even completed it twice, back to back, in order to experience the two major paths the story could take. I’d say that’s a sure enough indication that Dishonored is worth the money.
Time Played—24 Hours (two playthroughs: 15 hours for the first, 9 for the second) Widescreen Support—Yes 5.1 Audio Support—Yes Bugs/Crashes Encountered—Rare crashes to desktop Control Scheme—Keyboard/Mouse, Xbox 360 Controller DRM—Steamworks System Specs—Win7 x64, Core 2 Quad @ 2.66 GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon 4800 1GB Game Acquisition Method—Review Copy Availability—Steam, Green Man Gaming, Local Retail Demo—No PCGamingWiki – Full Report
Time Played—24 Hours (two playthroughs: 15 hours for the first, 9 for the second)
5.1 Audio Support—Yes
Bugs/Crashes Encountered—Rare crashes to desktop
Control Scheme—Keyboard/Mouse, Xbox 360 Controller
System Specs—Win7 x64, Core 2 Quad @ 2.66 GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon 4800 1GB
Game Acquisition Method—Review Copy
Availability—Steam, Green Man Gaming, Local Retail
PCGamingWiki – Full Report