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Many games are marketed to be tailored to be played the gamer wants to play. Others follow a very strict path that makes the storyline appear to branch off into many different subplots; however, the game and its story is quite linear. In that case, the experience is not very unique nor does the game allow the player to make difficult decisions or feel challenged. Bethesda’s Dishonored performs the former, rather than the latter. An original role playing game, Dishonored throws players into a world with a steampunk-like style, engaging story, and gameplay that is fantastic. Dialogue choices will determine how the plot unfolds; however, the main focus is on the narrative: The player’s actions speak louder than his or her words. This is a game that is deserving of a second playthrough, and players will want to play a second time to see the different tactics and maneuvers one can pull to move the narrative forward.
Developed by Arkane Studios, Dishonored has veterans in the industry at the helm designing the game. The gameplay and story is reminiscent of the Deus Ex series, in which Harvey Smith, one of the Lead Designers, was involved in making. In addition, Raphael Colantonio, founder of Arkane Studios, is a Lead Designer for the Dishonored, as well, and is known for Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.
The developers created the world of Dishonored with the early 1900s London and Edinburgh in mind. Players are placed in an alternate world in a grim city called Dunwall, capital city of Gristol. Described as “retro-future-industrial” by Harvey Smith, the steampunk-look is all too real. The main character is Corvo Attano, a guard to an Empress. He resides in Dunwall, a city with a population that’s decreasing due to a rat-born plague. Plagues are not the only negative blight affecting the town: corruption, political upheavals, and power hungry men are attempting to take over one by one. The story takes a turn when the Empress, whom Corvo is protecting, is assassinated.
The futuristic Victorian-steampunk setting and the use of lighting is so subtle yet defining while exploring Dunwall. The player will feel as if he or she is actually walking through the gritty town. As Corvo Attano, players set out to avenge the death of the assassinated Empress; however, the type of vengeance that can be attained does not have to include killing. Players can go through the entire game without killing a single person. Of course, if being a pacifist is not in the itinerary, targets and guards can be taken out with traditional weapons (swords, crossbows, and pistols), or with special talents (i.e., teleportation, time stopping, and possessing humans or animals). Environmental opportunities can be used to eliminate targets, such as poison, as well.
Each of the areas that Corvo can visit are open to exploration and have been designed to be fully experienced by the player. Sewer systems, waterways, and rooftops are some of the obstacles that one would come across in other games, but becomes fun for players who use Corvo’s freerunning ability. The supernatural abilities that Corvo has, such as stopping time and teleportation, open up opportunities within each area to get to the next task. Scaling buildings is no problem and becomes useful while searching for the hidden rewards that are found throughout the levels.
The stealth system in Dishonored is like no other. A simple concept, such as looking through a keyhole, may not be a big deal to others, but it evokes the feel of being a true stealth killer–stalking out his or her prey and leaving no stone unturned. The leaning ability (using Corvo’s body to look around corners, down alleys, et cetera) can be troublesome, but it is much better than being spotted when trying to look around corners while squatting or kneeling, like in most games.
Combat is chaotic, but controlled at the same time, and sometimes unavoidable. Peeking through keyholes and veering around corners will help keep Corvo undetected, but not at all moments. Players must pay attention to the environment and surroundings, while also thinking of tactics to takedown opponents peacefully or attack targets with violence. Corvo can freeze time to hualt a bullet a guard is shooting, possess another nearby guard, and then move the possesed guard into the path of the gunfire. One guard is eliminated and Corvo is finally able to slip into the shadows and continue on his path of vengeance. Another less dramatic option is throwing guards’ bodies into dumpsters in order to avoid raising alarms, which will lessen the response from surrounding civilians or the environment.
Though the story is not groundbreaking (and I purposely tried to not spoil it in this review), the gameplay is some of the best from any game I have played this year. Very rarely do I find myself feeling as if I am a character that is walking around a new world. I was Corvo Attano avenging the Empress. I walked through the grimy town of Dunwall and chopped up rats into little pieces. Even if I took the pacifist route, which may be a little hard when used to stabbing or shooting whatever looks like an enemy, I had fun acting and planning in the shadows. The way a player interacts with the game decides how the game will play out, giving the satisfaction of a different playthrough each time.