Dishonored | Gaming reviews, news & interviews
Arkane's creative tale of revenge is all about multiple choice
You're on the roof of an abandoned apartment building, eyeing a couple of thugs that stand between you and a kidnapped shopkeeper. Do you (a) rain merry death down upon them via a stylish blade-pistol combo, (b) snipe from afar with your crossbow and incendiary bolts, or (c) possess a nearby rat and attempt to find a crack in one of the walls? After much experimenting, and much reloading, I finally settled on (d): drop a plague-ridden corpse at the guards' very feet, silently knocking them out with sleep bolts as they separate to discover the body's origin.
Dishonored is a game about choice. I could just as easily have left the man to his fate, killed everyone in the vicinity, or taken a different path entirely to my next objective. In every mission of this dark, intoxicating blend of stealth, action and role-playing, you're presented with multiple routes, a variety of options, and the means – supernatural or otherwise – to achieve them, all while looking like a steampunk Batman.
You'll come to forge your own code of ethics over time. (Every good assassin should have one)
The game takes place in a brand new fantasy world, the four-leaf clovers of the current gaming landscape. Dunwall is a city in the midst of rapid technological innovation, thanks to the strangely potent properties of whale oil, and the mind of one brilliant scientist. It's also a city on the verge of collapse, as the Rat Plague (pictured below) claims more and more citizens each day. You, Corvo Attano, enter the scene after being framed for murder and sentenced to death. Escaping from prison, you take on the mantle of assassin, and begin to put the city to rights.
It's a great setup, perhaps slightly rushed in the beginning but with a world that's enriched no end over the course of subsequent missions thanks to eavesdropped dialogue, stray notes and books, and the faded posters and graffiti that adorn the city's walls. In each (huge) stage you're given a target to achieve – or more likely to assassinate – but you're left to conduct this in the manner of your choosing.
Do you head straight for your mark, blasting him square in the stomach with a pistol, or do you comb the world for clues, trinkets, magical runes or side-quests, many of which relate to the main event? Do you make the death look like a terrible accident, or remove the target without spilling any blood? It's possible to complete the game without killing a single person – perhaps preferable, as every dead body contributes to the spread of the plague. The game doesn't judge you for killing or not killing, for being stealthy or running everywhere with your sword drawn, so you'll come to forge your own code of ethics over time. (Every good assassin should have one.)
If you're looking for a pure stealth game, the glorious Thief series is still your best bet. Likewise, Hitman has perfected the art of creatively eliminating another human being. Dishonored is a bastard sword compared to the pure steel of either, but it has a flourish and character all of its own. Despite the plague, the corruption, and your unfortunate prison sentence, Dunwall is simply an extraordinary place to be in. It's a rich new universe adrift in a sea of sequels, with a level of design that doesn't just encourage creativity, it rewards it tenfold. So whether you go in guns blazing, sneak in via the roof, or hitch a ride through the sewers by possessing a nearby fish, make sure you break into Dunwall somehow.
Dishonored (Bethesda Softworks) developed by Arkane Studios. Platforms : Xbox, PS3, PC
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Tiny dungeons on your phone, done well
Short bursts of fun, but playing for free is a long haul
Live as a deer. Survive as a deer. Fall off tiny ledges... as a deer
The wastelands have far too much going on in this generic action-adventure
Ludicrous, over the top, brilliant stealth action
When is a game not a game? When it's better than that
Purist stealth puzzles with too glossy a sheen?
A simple but challenging puzzle with terrific good looks
Winter is coming, but what about gameplay?
A meditative and artistic puzzle game
Fairytale wanderings with a semi-comatose telekinetic - *Nnnnh!*
The search bar as thrillingly brilliant videogame