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Dishonored [2013 -- Arkane Studios]

Started by Starfox, Feb 19, 2023, 06:07 PM

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Originally Published on March 19, 2013

The city of Dunwall is plagued by... a plague... Well, OK, let me rephrase that...

You are Corvo Attano, The Protector (a bodyguard really, and when I mean bodyguard, the game makes pretty clear how close the bodyguarding was) of the Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. She sent you on a mission overseas to seek help against a plague that is ruining the kingdom and most particularly the city of Dunwall in which all of the game story takes place. The beginning of the game sees Corvo's return to Dunwall after a pretty unfruitful trip none of the contacted countries having a single clue about fighting the plague. Corvo is welcomed by Emily (the daughter of the empress and maybe even his -- even though that fact is not clearly established it is hinted at on some occasions throughout the game) whom proposes him a game of hide and seek. That's the first time the player is introduced to the stealth mechanics of Dishonored and unlike what some people might say... this is NOT Thief but more on that later. Anyway, after that bit, Corvo goes on to convey the result of his mission to the Empress and it's at that point that they are attacked by a bunch of assassins whom, despite Corvo's valiant defense, successfully deliver a fatal blow to the Empress and snatch her daughter.

Corvo is immediately framed (hence the title of the game) for the assassination by the real culprits, high personalities of the state who wanted to seize power and find in him the proverbial scapegoat. Six months later, after a lot of torture in an attempt to make him write a confession and about to be executed, Corvo unexpectedly receives some help from unknown "friends" to escape. With help from is new found allies and from a god-like character, the Outsider whom grants him magical powers, Corvo is set to take revenge and restore his name. Doing so will require him to abandon his bodyguard career and to embrace the life of an assassin.

Dishonored is a simplified RPG. There's no skill points but magical and inner abilities that you may acquire and develop by finding Outsider's runes throughout the game. The first ability Corvo's gain -- it is granted freely by the Outsider himself -- will certainly be the one the most used in the game whatever the player's choice (killing everything in sight or moving unnoticed) is. This ability is called "Blink" (and is also used under a slightly different form and with a different name by the assassins who killed the Empress). Blinking is moving extremely fast from one point to another without being noticed. And this is why Dishonored stealth mechanics is pretty much NOT Thief. Dishonored stealth does not significantly relies on shadows but on covers, rapid movements from cover to cover via Blink and generally staying out of the opponent line of sight. Attempting to play it like you'd play Thief will result in failure. Shadows are definitely not your allies in this game (not to mention that a lot of missions happen in full daylight). It's not to say that the game is bad, it is very good in fact, but if you intend to find an experience akin to Thief, you'll be sorely confused, no matter the apparent rapport that people are attempting to built between Dishonored and the next Thief game (Thief 4) that will release in 2014. It is obvious that the French developer Arkane Studio has a genuine love for Thief... they never hide that (like when they branded a "G" in the master thief armor of their Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic or even in Dishonored during a scene that strangely reminds of the tutorial mission from the very first Thief game). But it's not because Arkane pays respects to one of the most excellent series in gaming history that Dishonored is meant to be a Thief clone.

The universe of Dishonored is "oilpunk", by which one should understand that it is featuring the classical "steampunk" theme  -- mix of pre-industrial and industrial era elements -- but without steam. Whale oil (you'll hear a lot about that in the game, even more if you play the Knife Of Dunwall DLC; but that will be the subject of another QuickView -- is the all-in-one product powering the whole technology featured in the game. As far as Corvo is interested in that it's also a mean to progress through a mission either by removing oil barrels or adding some to disable or power devices. Oil barrels are also very unstable and explosive when thrown and so may act as grenades when needed. Of course the fact that the technology is based on whale oil also means that whales are a seriously dying species. "Endangered" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Another thing of note about Dishonored (and that will sum up the bad things I have to say about it) is that the world textures mostly suck... big time. As much as the textures of Dark Messiah were excellent (and still are) those of Dishonored are definitely not good. Apparently Arkane didn't bother releasing high resolution textures for the PC version of the game and just used the very low resolution ones from the Xbox version.  Either that or the version of the Unreal Engine used for the game cannot bear with a lot of high resolution textures at the same time. Whichever it is, it's kind of a shame as the level design is very good but looking at the bright side: a fairly recent graphic card will have no problem running the game with no stress of any kind and all bells and whistles on. Amazingly enough the first person textures (weapons particularly) are fine though which only make the world textures appear even worse. The other problem is with models most prominently male ones which all have enormous hands which seem to go with enormous cigarettes although you might not notice it at first (I noticed it because Silver -- damn you! -- pointed the thing to me).

But that's enough for the bad points, especially because the story and gameplay easily suck you in in such a way that you tend to overlook those problems. So unto the good stuff. The story is well crafted although a bit too obvious in one respect: you're going to be betrayed, it's not even a surprise (one realizes that about a fifth into the game as a matter of fact your new friends are not what I'd call subtle about that) only the how and when are the questions. To restore his honor, Corvo will have to achieve a number of missions which have all an elimination objective attached. No mistake though, elimination does not necessarily mean assassination. The point is just to take some people out of the picture and in fact you can perfectly do the whole game without killing anyone, including your targets (doing so will even unlock the "poetic justice" award on Steam).  For each mission, you are free to kill the target(s) or to find an alternate "non-lethal" way (with a result which some times is even more cruel than simply killing the guys but it's a matter of taste). The non-lethal method is not always obvious though and will require in some cases real thinking or even doing something special (generally non violent) to trigger the availability of the non-lethal method.

Beware however that in the best cases, not killing anyone during the whole game is a challenge in itself. For example do not knockout a guy at the border of a roof because invariably he will go down to his death 30 meters below and that counts as a kill against you. Do not knockout a guy in the immediate vicinity of a fire because chances are that plunging into the fire even briefly will kill him and that also counts as a kill against you. On one occasion I opened a locked door and involuntarily released a horde of rats; the bad part was that the rats proceeded down the corridor to devour the two unconscious guys I had stashed in a corner... Guess what? That also counts as kills against you. No need to say that I was pretty much pissed about that one because I was just EXPLORING dammit! Fortunately such "incidents" as long as they remain isolated does not affect negatively the chaos counter but they will forbid you to gain the Steam achievement for not killing anyone during the game (if you crave Steam achievements).

Depending on the path you choose the game will rate the level of chaos you'll cause either low or high. In turn that will influence the end of the game. A low chaos level (either kill no one or just your assigned targets) will result in a good ending. A high chaos level (for example killing everyone in your way) will result in a definitely grim ending. It will also influence some of the NPCs reactions toward you and seal the fate of some others.

Besides Corvo's magical abilities (which includes not only Blink but a way to see through walls, to seize control of the mind of other persons or animals, to send your enemies fly in a blast of wind, to briefly slow time, to summon hordes of lethal rats and other things) you also have tools. If you decide to go non-lethal you'll find most of those tools pretty useless because most are designed with the purpose to hurt and generally kill people. You'll find some use for them though in order to dispatch some wild life (that doesn't count as killing and thus does not affect the chaos level). Among those tools there is one that will be useful to the non-lethal player, it's the mini-crossbow that can fire (among other things) sleep darts.

One can upgrade part of the hardware during the game with the help of Piero Joplin, a scientist and inventor who joined "the cause". One can for example make the crossbow more accurate, with a longer range and less reloading time or do pretty much the same with the pistol (if killing is your way). The sleep darts which normally take a long time to put down alerted targets can be upgraded to take them down immediately... and so on. Throughout the missions, you may find schematics for better armor, silent boots, new ammo or weapon... all those schematics can be used by Piero to upgrade you gear during the downtime between missions. He can also sell you ammo and supplies.

Another thing you'll find throughout your missions are "charms" that are akin to runes (in the sense that they are linked to the Outsider) but function just by wearing them. You can wear a certain number of charms at any time (this number can be upgraded) and you can exchange a charm for another if you find one better or if you want to adapt your playstyle. Some charms will benefit combat ability while other will make you more resistant or proficient in some areas... For example one of them give you more arms strength so you can strangle guards much more quickly than normal while another make the guards miss much more often when they shoot at you. Some other charms have even more specific purpose. The order in which you find those charms is completely random though. You can tell how many charms are in a given level but not what they do; that changes with each new game.

So what's left to say? Dishonored is a very good game, the very bad texture resolution and models problems put aside. It is not Thief in any way, should not be confused with it and should be played on its very own rules unless you want risking to be very disappointed. But if you just play the game as a complete novelty without any preconception of what it should or should not be, you'll find it very satisfying. Re-playability is there because you can deal with a same problem from several directions (there's 3 ways to access a same location in the first mission for example each with its advantages and disadvantages). Or you could just go ballistic and spread the mayhem in Dunwall.

Arkane Studios is not known for being prolific (3 full games released in 11 years + 1 only available for smartphones) but each time they come as surprisingly good be it Arx Fatalis, Dark messiah or Dishonored. I can't wait to see what they will come up with next but right now they are putting the finishing touches to the second story DLC for Dishonored The Brigmore Witches that should be released next month, August 2013.

Meanwhile Bethesda which is acting as a publisher for Dishonored is considering the unexpected sales figures (Dishonored sold much better than expected) and might very well be willing (in fact they actually said they would) to shell out enough money for a sequel turning Dishonored into a third franchise for the studio (with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout) which would be a first for Arkane Studios which up to this point only released three single games with no follow up and participated on the side to some outside projects such as Bioshock 2. Finally, Dishonored could become the French studio big break. Hey, I'm crossing fingers for them. "Je vous dis merde les gars!". Maybe after that they could even put The Crossing (a promising game that was cancelled due to lack of funding) back on track, who knows?

DLC reviewed for this game:

The Knife Of Dunwall
The Brigmore Witches

Guess what it means!