Arkane Studios’ Dishonored has been riding high on gamers’ stealth action lists for some time now. Celebrating 10 years since the series debut, it’s time to look back at the original title. And for that matter, it’s subsequent re-releases, running on modern hardware. Thankfully, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One editions run perfectly well on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, respectively.
Dishonored – An Honourable Man Living an Injustice
Playing as Corvo Attano, you enter a world riddled by a plague. The disease takes the downtrodden even further down the sociological ladder; right to the bottom of the pile were all they can do is live off the scraps that they can steal. Or the weak that they can beat down. In order to find aid Corvo is sent abroad by his Empress, but upon his return not all is well. Upon informing the Empress of the intentions of other civilisations, which do not work in Dunwall’s favour, the palace is assaulted by an unknown enemy. Teleporting into the small space seemingly from nowhere you are taken by surprise, and trapped by a magical force while the perpetrators assassinate the Empress and kidnap her daughter, Lady Emily. Then swiftly disappearing into nothing just as they arrived. You are held accountable.
Six months later the time of your execution arrives. Coldrige Prison clearly isn’t the most hospitable of resting places, and you quickly learn that the wrongdoing was on behalf of your keepers. A conspiracy in which you are about to take the fall. That is, of course, unless you take matters into your own hands.
Murder Simulator, or Puzzle Game?
It’s long been said that Dishonored is an open videogame. It establishes equations and the tools to solve them, but leaves it to the player to decide when and how. This is evidenced in the very first mission; your escape from death row. You’re not under the same amount of pressure as you will be later in the game. However, you will still find a steady approach generally more beneficial than going balls-out action hero on the officers of the wall.
This may be the briefest of glimpses, yet there’s already opportunities to see combat facing-off against taking your time and eliminating foes one-by-one. That’s despite the fact that here in Coldridge Prison, the options are limited to climbing a wall or simply walking up the stairs. Later in the game, when more options are available, things become considerably more interesting. Yet these simple principles become rules to live (or die) by.
The elegant design of the videogame is first proven by its optional quests. Though linear in intent, methods and actions – or reactions – offer different results. It’s easy to find brand new opportunities away from the beaten track, too. These are noted as optional objectives. They can be either handed directly to you or discovered with a little investigative play.
In the opening moments of the game one such option falls before you. Lady Emily is delighted to see you return to Dunwall. React to her with the same enthusiasm and she will ask you to join her in a game of hide-and-seek. Doing so will simply deliver the stealth tutorial instructions. But it remains an acute example of how reaction is just as important as action in Dishonored. It’s most certainly not reliant solely on your trigger finger.
A World of Wonder. And Walls.
The world itself has clearly taken a great deal of inspiration from BioShock – not a bad thing in any respect. Dunwall provides as compelling a venue as Rapture, though for very different reasons. The world feels like a living entity, as if it would exist whether you were there or not. Everything has a rightful place. Food is stored on shelves. Weaponry is kept out of reach. Locked doors are locked for a reason, with only the respective authority figure or personal having the key required to access the location. There’s a reason and a rhyme to everything in Dishonored’s Stanislavski inspired world, and it’s all the better for it.
In terms of functionality the world offers the Hound’s Pit Pub as the hub for your adventure. Closed for business, but still operating as a resistance hideout. The pub is a safe zone in which the player progresses the story and takes on new missions.
Dishonored in Battle
While the combat mentioned earlier is one part of the Dishonored experience, arguably more important are the magical abilities at Corvo’s disposal. Your firearm and sword are a quick end to a bad attempt (or a breaking point for an aggressive one). But your magic provides further opportunities to conceal your actions. A small selection of magical abilities is available to purchase when collecting the appropriate number of runes (located throughout the levels through the use of a heart which indicates their direction) which when used appropriately can aid your progression significantly. When not used appropriately, they can be devastating to all concerned: friend or foe.
Ranging from offering the ability to see through walls to allowing the player to posses any living creature, the first few magical powers you will come across are a joy to use and grant you more options to plan your stealthy approach. However, there also come the abilities to bend time or call upon a devastating rat swarm. Both of which clearly have more dastardly implications from the offset. All of these magic powers are limited in use by a mana meter. But they are not limited in the option to combine their effects. Players can readily cast one spell followed by a second, providing yet further options for experimentation with each of Dishonored’s cleverly crafted set pieces.
Dishonored is a Technical Wonder from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Generation
From a technical standpoint Dishonored as a true showcase of just what was possible on older hardware. Though it’s easy to see the limitations in world design now, the game presents such a cohesive vision it’s hard to argue against it. The exaggerated style of human features recalls illustrations from Rold Dahl novels. While the sheer quantity of high quality characters marks Dishonored out as an aggressive push forward for interactive storytelling. It’s true that some textures are somewhat bland and many areas may feel a little empty, but the latter is undoubtedly a case of design decisions taking priority over appearances. The voice acting is also of the highest standard imaginable, with a cast of internationally famous actors delivering leading roles and yet never seemingly out of place.
Bethesda Softworks has developed a reputation for delivering some of the finest western RPGs and their role in bringing Dishonored to market did not go unnoticed. There are many techniques included in the design that borrow from The Elder Scrolls series, and yet Dishonored stands on it’s own two feet. It’s a wonderful example of just what is possible in the interactive entertainment medium, even a decade on. While there are a few moments in which Dishonored stumbles, the extensive campaign (lasting well over 20 hours for those gamers who check every nook-and-cranny) is never less than engrossing for its entire duration. Simply put, Dishonored isn’t just a leading title in the race for the best videogame experience of 2012. It’s also a contender for the best videogame of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era.