Review by bbears
"Entertaining but not amazing as the hype would suggest."
Dishonored is one of the most anticipated games of 2012 from a relatively unknown developer Arkane Studios. But with the backing of publisher Bethesda a promise of an open world and interesting story I was myself looking forward to this game a great deal. After getting my hands on it and playing through the entire game twice I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. While the combat is great and the world is presented as a giant playground for you to explore and use your super natural abilities, the story falls flat on its face and the structured objectives are simple and can be completed rather easily as you quickly become an unstoppable juggernaut unless you put self imposed limitations on yourself (such as a no kill stealth play through). Within the decent sized levels and plenty of interior portions of the map how you get to each objective is wide open. Whether you want to be a murderous superhuman or a low impact ninja. But the world itself along with the narrative really falls short of expectations and there is little motivating you to go off the beaten path. So while there is other content besides the short assassination objectives in each mission. Dishonored feels like it is missing something but is definitely worth playing with tempered expectations.
The graphics presentation in Dishonored has a sort of water color look to it. I would not call it a cell-shaded style as some others have described it but I would say it has a pretty original look to it. Animations are great and fluid. Using your abilities and causing mass chaos looks great and the game manages to do all this without the frame rate dropping. Being a Unreal engine game you would expect there to be a lot of texture pop in and draw distance issues as that engine is well known for these issues. But with this water color art style this never really seems to be a problem. And while the levels are fairly large and open thanks to clever design creating there is not much wide open spaces in the suburban environment and is not an issue here either. The cityscape has a Victorian vibe to it with several steampunk cues populating the the city as the guards carry both swords and futuristic revolvers. The city feels very unique and there is many ways to explore it. Facial animations are superb with lots voice acting in this game. That said while they animate well they also look just a little to weird, most seem longer than they should be. A big part of how Dishonored achieves it technical success is that the textures are not impressive and just ugly at times, but you only notice this on close inspection. I have a high end PC and ran the game at max settings, while the game looked alright I wouldn't say it was impressive looking either. The voice acting is good and has a big cast of known actors pushing forward the narrative. The sound effects are good as well and I would the music is one of the highlights. The background music does not play frequently but when it does helps accentuate the epic moments.
Dishonored was simultaneously released for the consoles and was designed ground up with them in mind. However, you should be glad to know that the keyboard and mouse control method works without any major flaws. Game pad support is included but there is little reason to use it. The interface isn't overly complicated but fully rebindable keys are supported. Your abilities can also be hot keyed something you will want to do as the wheel that bring these up and pauses the game can be a bit unwieldy. Aiming and movement are precise and it will not be long before you are impressing yourself scaling buildings nimbly and pulling off brutal executions. There is also quite a bit of menus to navigate when dealing the all the books and upgrading your abilities. Getting through all these menus is relatively painless as you are never forced to do these things at a particular time so never messes with pacing of the game.
The mystery of your super powers in this steampunk lite Victorian era setting is one of the biggest reasons for my excitement for Dishonored. I was looking forward to exploration of this in the story and narrative. Probably the biggest disappointment for me is that all the sci-fi setting and lore they created for this game goes to waste as the story in Dishonored boils down to a predictable revenge story that won't get anyone excited. Dishonored starts off with Corvo (you, the main character) coming back from an intelligence gathering mission back to meet the Empress and the princess, who you have a strong relationship with. Shortly after getting back the Empress is slain by a couple of super natural assassins. After they disappear the calvary shows up and you are the only one on the scene so you get blamed for the murder. Once imprisoned the Outsider comes meet you, who is a sort of Demigod, and gives you powers for no other apparent reason then for his own entertainment since you are already an elite warrior he wants you to seek revenge and cause chaos. Corvo then escapes into the sewers and meets up with a group of like minded people who want to see the princess put back on the throne. This might sound like a lot information to give in a review, but this is all revealed in the first 30 minutes of the game and I think highlights a mediocre plot in a great universe. The characters while well voice acted all fall on their faces. The game desperately tries get you to care about the this plot and develop an attachment to the princess but I was never drawn in. And the motivations that original assassins and the Outsiders have are very unsatisfying. There are several books and a few audio logs scattered about to find that helps flesh out the world but even these failed to get me involved with story as well.
Dishonored has nine distinct missions that each take place over large areas that are only limited by natural surroundings. Each mission gives you a main objective and handful of side missions. All of the objectives boil down to either kill this guy or grab this sensitive item fare. This is one of the disappointment that you will notice quickly as the amount of enjoyment you get out of this game is more about how you approach it rather than completing the actual content of the game. Combat and exploration is the focus of the game. There are also some RPG elements that focus on how you improve and expand your abilities. Upgrades are done by finding runes in the environment that you can use to upgrade or improve your powers. Also you can collect fragments which give you passive buffs and must be equipped with only a limited amount being able to equip at one time. There is a merchant as well that you can upgrade your physical equipment such as your gun and blocking strength. All this adds up to a lot of customization and can make second play throughs drastically different in how you approach combat. Most characters, regardless of their approach, will most likely opt for the teleport ability and upgraded agility. Doing this will allow you to traverse the rooftops of the city and open up many areas you would not otherwise have access too. While navigating the city there are plenty of books and runes to find that will take up as much time as the objectives themselves. The combat has you always having your trusty sword in one hand with one of your physical weapons or powers in the left hand. In this way it feels a little like Bioshock. The different ways you can approach combat is impressive and the highlight of the game. You can teleport behind them and slit their throat or just shoot them in the face with an upgraded gun. You can posses one of the guards to cause a ruckus briefly or use a brutal force push to send everyone flying. You get the idea, the only limitations are your imagination within the confines of the game. Or alternatively you can eschew all these cool powers and go for a pure stealth no kill play through. Which is very possible as even the assassination targets have alternate methods of disposing of. This arbitrary limitation does increase the difficulty of the game but the game doesn't really reward you unless achievements are enough of a reason for you. All of this meshes well together but the game just never really lives up to the expectations I had for it.
Dishonored is a single player only game that can last you anywhere from 8 to 20 hours depending on how much you explore or if you alternatively just barrel through the main objectives. The different ways that you can approach combat or stealth definitely lends itself to multiple play throughs. The game also does sport multiple endings. At first this sounds cool but the endings boil down to cliched good or evil conclusions based on an arbitrary number of how many people you killed though out the game. With as hard as the game tries push it's theme of power and corruption this seems silly and doesn't help in it's quest to take the game seriously.
Dishonored is a fun and unique game. While it falls short and/or ignores several areas that I wanted it to explore I still enjoyed my time with it. If you like unique action games but don't care that much about story you will enjoy Dishonored and it's worth the asking price. But if you had high expectations then waiting for sale may be best.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/19/12
Game Release: Dishonored (US, 10/09/12)
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