Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dishonored: Definitive Edition review

    Dishonored is a difficult game to rate because when I initially started the game, I absolutely loathed it. The controls were difficult to learn, the combat was unwieldy, and I was disappointed with the level design. I was ready to return the game midway through the first assassination mission and annoyed I'd wasted the thirty or so dollars I'd lose in trading in a new game. We had a new puppy, however, so I didn't get to go to Gamestop that day. So, just because I had nothing else better to do, I decided to continue playing. Once I passed the initial learning curve, the game started getting much more enjoyable. By the time I completed the final level, I was genuinely hooked.

    So, really, this is going to be one of those odd reviews where I encourage gamers to check out the game for themselves. I, personally, recommend gamers who enjoy stealth combat like Deus Ex: Human Revolution to do so. Just note there is no melee-based method of taking down people and there's a limited number of people you can knock-out with sleep darts every level, which makes pacifist runs harder. I think I would have enjoyed the game more if they'd given Corvo, the protagonist, a cudgel and the option for player characters to beat down people non-lethally.

Ah, another day of attacking mecha with a steak knife. Hint: it doesn't work.
    The premise of the game is a not-so-simple revenge quest. Corvo Attano is the bodyguard for the Empress of a Steampunk version of early 17th century London that seems to be suffering from a second Black Death. He is promptly framed for her murder after a supernaturally empowered assassin kills her and kidnaps the Princess. After six months of being tortured and electrocuted, he's really itching for revenge. Who comes to help? The setting's equivalent of the Devil.

    I'll spare you the rest of the story. The plot's not particularly deep but is perfectly serviceable for the kind of game this is. There are a number of twists despite the straight-forward plot and these add spice to what could otherwise be a very simplistic premise. The tag-line: Revenge fixes everything turns out to not be as true as the developers would have you believe. The real star of the game is the setting. As mentioned, Dunwall is an alternate history version of London that puts the crap in crapsack world. Racism, classicism, plague, poverty, animal abuse, and worse are common features on display. Even the heroes aren't necessarily good; they're just not actively evil. Some of the options for disposing of your opponents during the game are distilled nightmare fuel.

Murder, murder, murder!
    The really sad fact is that, despite all these terrible things, it's not that far from how the real world was in the 17th century. The game shows just how far we've come when you have a butler berating a young woman for not knowing how to courtesy and generally behaving as a boorish snob simply for being a higher-class manservant. That's in addition to the slightly more fantastical but, depending on your feelings on Ireland, all-too-realistic elements of covert genocide against the impoverished underclasses.

    The rich environment of Dishonored is enough that I wish we could have had an open-world environment where Corvo could wander endlessly around Dunwall and meet with its various inhabitants. A free-roam world of Dunwall would be against its stealth-heavy gameplay but I think something like Arkham City or Assassins Creed would be among my top-ten games of all time. Ah well, maybe that can show up in Dishonored 2. [Note: This didn't happen but Dishonored 2 turned out to be great fun anyway.]

The decadence of Dunwall.
     The gameplay for Dishonored is the heart of the enjoyment factor, however. As mentioned, the gameplay has some similarities to Deus Ex: Human Revolution but the addition of short-range teleportation, possession, and summoning swarms of rats means things get very different very quickly. I, personally, ran through the game using my Blink ability constantly. It made the game play like the villains were trying to deal with Nightcrawler from the X-men. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to figure this out and the game was torturous until then.

     A big part of what makes Dishonored good, however, is that you can solve many of the games levels in a variety of ways. At the risk of spoiling a level, it's possible to deal with one target by switching his drink with a man he's about to poison or framing him as a heretic. You can also  just shoot him or stab him. I don't know if I'll be replaying the game but the fact I'm actually considering it is a huge change from my usual gameplay practices.

Emily is an adorable character I learned to love.
     I developed an especial fondness for several of the NPCs during my playthrough of Dishonored. I truly enjoyed Callista (voiced by Lena Headey) the governess, Pierro the mad inventor, Slackjaw the Dunwall gangster, and Lord Pendleton the stereotypical upper-class twit. Some of the villains could have used a touch more characterization but I suppose there's only so much you can do with the fact you're supposed to stab them when you see them.

    The game is extremely dark and enjoyably grim. While you can play with a pacifist run and never kill anyone, the fates you can inflict on your target approach Count of Monte Cristo levels of sadism. You can brand a man as an untouchable enemy of the church, shunned by all. You can sell a pair of nobles into slavery to be worked to death in silver mines with no tongues. You can also give a woman to a deranged stalker who will keep her prisoner until she dies. Corvo is a deeply ambiguous figure who has justifiable reasons to want revenge but his actions can leave Dunwall a blood-soaked ruin (in addition to it being a plague-ridden ruin).

At one point, you can imitate Masque of the Red Death.
      In addition to the unwieldy controls which took a long time to master, I think the game also suffered for the fact Corvo is a silent protagonist. While I was still able to project myself onto him, I would have appreciated a voice as well as conversation options in the story. Still, there's a great number of good design decisions with the character such as his clockwork skull mask and the immense number of fanciful ways to murder people. I, myself, mostly relied on sleep darts to keep my Chaos rating down.

    The Definitive Edition also comes with the DLC The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which are stories about antagonist Daud (voiced by Michael Masden). These are arguably levels more enjoyable than the main game and could easily have been the basis for a sequel.  These follow a conspiracy against the kidnapped princess which is going on during the events of the main game. There is also The Dunwall Trials which lacks story but adds further replay value to the main game.

    Overall, Dishonored is a good game and my initial impressions didn't reflect my later feelings on the game. Still, the game could have used a bit more polish in my opinion. The characters could have been a more developed and the setting a bit more varied. I think I read the same books like eight or nine times. Still, a very positive gameplay experience.



  1. I am going to pick up Dishonored but right now Borderlands 2 is taking up all my time. I have to decide whether or not to play this or X-Com first.

    1. I think if I'd gotten into the game earlier, it'd be a 10 out of 10.

      So I heartily recommend it.

  2. I think that was a good, fair review, and I much prefer critical reviews like yours than a lot of the ones I’ve read where the writer is basically just fawning all over the game. You know the kind where it just seems like they were ready to call it a ‘masterpiece’ before they even put the disc in? I’m hesitant to buy it; mainly because past experiences (like Deus Ex: Human Revolution) blew me away early, then left me feeling ripped off and cheated out of a proper ending, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Dishonored’s story is going to do something similar. These days I follow some advice I got from one of my coworkers at DISH and I don’t buy a game until after I’ve rented it and had a chance to log at least a handful of hours on it. It’s saved me a good deal of money in the past six months or so. So Dishonored is already in my Blockbuster @Home queue, and I’ll get to play it soon; I’m still busy with Borderlands 2 anyway.