Dishonored: A nice change of pace

Warning: minor spoilers follow. If you haven’t beaten the game and want a completely untarnished experience, don’t read this!

Good single-player games are somewhat of a rarity these days. Way too many titles emphasize multiplayer over single player, and those that don’t usually offer frustratingly linear experiences, with cut scenes punctuated by hours and hours of repetitive gunplay. (I’m looking at you, Max Payne 3.) Notable exceptions include the handful of open-world RPGs out there—but those are repetitive in their own way. After so many side quests and dungeon cleanups, the Skyrims and Fallouts of this world start to feel like second jobs.

I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up Dishonored last week. The game has no multiplayer component—the developers say they were never pressured to add one—and while it’s very much story-driven, Dishonored gave me free rein to approach missions as I liked. I could jump from rooftop to rooftop and silence guards with sleeping darts. I could sneak through the sewers and try to avoid the zombies plague victims roaming there. Or I could stab and shoot my way from start to finish, taking down everyone who got in the way.

The game offered an impressive set of tools to speed things along, too. After a few upgrades, I was able to teleport silently behind enemies, stop the passage of time, and briefly possess foes, The Exorcist-style. If I’d favored aggression over sneaking, I probably would have chosen some other powers—like the one that conjures a swarm of plague-infested rats to devour an unlucky target. Mmm.

That’s only part of the reason I enjoyed Dishonored so much, though.

This game has a unique, captivating atmosphere, which is something few other titles get right. The designers managed to put together a totally believable alternate universe that is different enough to feel otherworldly but consistent enough to seem genuine. All that talk about getting an industrial designer on board wasn’t just a load of hot air, by the looks of it. Everything in the game world, from the costumes and architecture to the furniture and whale oil-powered electric devices (don’t ask), feels like it belongs and serves a purpose in that strange, pseudo-19th-century universe. The fact that everything is so well tied together is pretty cool, and it makes you want to explore and discover—not just cruise along to the next checkpoint.

Some have poked fun at Dishonored‘s plot for mixing and matching disparate elements, but I think it works, if you suspend your disbelief just a bit. More importantly, the plot isn’t about a cartoonish struggle between good and evil. If I had to sum it up, I’d say the story is about how power both attracts and corrupts. There are shades of gray here—moral dilemmas that have no easy solution; characters that do bad things despite good intentions. The protagonist may be an assassin, but assassinations are only one way to dole out justice. Usually, you can snoop around, learn a bit about each target’s backstory, and find a non-lethal alternative to their murder.

I got drawn in so much that I balked at killing pretty much anybody. Could I justify murdering city guards who were misled into believing I killed their empress? Could I assassinate a noblewoman simply for being the antagonist’s lover—or kill a brilliant scientist for serving the wrong cause? At one point, the game even gave me a choice between torturing a character and finding a way to bribe him into revealing sensitive information. I picked option B. It involved a little more effort, but it worked, and the character ended up joining the resistance later.

It’s refreshing to see a video game story try for a little nuance and complexity, and I think Dishonored‘s makes a very respectable attempt. Of course, you don’t have to be the good guy. The lethal approach is just as much fun as sneaking around, and judging by some of the videos on YouTube, it’s possible to become quite a prolific killer. (I expect I’ll start a second playthrough to try that out soon.)

If I had one complaint, it’s that Dishonored‘s developers made their inspirations a little too obvious. The game looks an awful lot like Half-Life 2 in places. Yes, I know the art director is the guy who designed City 17, but it feels like he should have mixed it up a little more. Also, following the non-lethal path feels a bit too much like playing a Thief game. I’d have appreciated some new twists to character AI beyond the same old basics—multiple levels of alertness, pre-programmed patrol routes, and so forth—that are the bread and butter of seemingly every stealth action game.

Oh, and why the heck is the left mouse button bound to the weapon in your right hand, and vice versa? Come on.

Comments closed
    • yogibbear
    • 7 years ago

    Only just came back to this article as I finished Dishonored yesterday (hard mode, 13 hrs… as I heard normal was a cakewalk)… I went the same all non-lethal, ghost route for my first playthrough (and am contemplating doing a full lethal one on the second go around… though not sure I have the time)

    My thoughts:
    -AMAZING gameplay
    -Excellent art, and in-game things to look at. Helps those doing a non-lethal playthrough as you will literally stop and stare at some of the stuff once you’ve made sure you’re not going to be spotted doing so.
    -AMAZING feeling of that you are in control
    -AMAZING sense of multiple possibilities, always. If you think it’s possible it almost always is.
    -abilities are good, and it is tough to unlock everything… I only just managed to unlock all the stealth stuff I wanted near the end (freeze time Mk. II 8 runes my ass!)

    Buttttttttttttttt in order to make money, and make this game look OK and sell well on consoles, they have the typical issues of stealth being slightly TOO easy (though at first you think it’s really hard, but by the last mission you are basically possessing one dude, teleporting into a open sewer gate, flipping on wallhacks, possessing the next dude and then casually walking up to the end of the game… going “Oh is that IT?!” “COMMEEEEE ON!”….. Getting 0 kills, 0 alerts, perfect score without really trying using 1 mana potion thing and 0 sleep darts.

    They also do the typical thing of giving you too much information and the UI by default just telling you where everything is… which would be OK on normal and yeah I know you can turn it all off… but now that I know it is there i find it hard to purposefully hinder myself (even though I know the game would be more fun because of it).

    But if anything I am so glad that a new franchise (not a reboot) has made a bold, nice first step and that hopefully any sequels that get produced can push the stealth mechanics a little further and introduce slightly more interesting combat from a stealth perspective beyond (Oh they spotted me… let’s go crazy then reload a few mins later, or just hit reload straight away… ). Would be nice to have a blackjack or something meaty.(Though once you get the strong arm bone charm I guess that would be kind of moot).

    • swaaye
    • 7 years ago

    Quality game. I do wish it was a touch longer though with one or two more missions. However the replay value from the game world reacting to player choices helps with that.

    Try out Arkane’s Dark Messiah game if you haven’t and you like Dishonored.

    • Vrock
    • 7 years ago

    Anybody think this will run at a decent framerate on a Radeon HD 4830 at 1280 x 1024?

      • swaaye
      • 7 years ago

      I run it on a 3850 occasionally and it runs well enough at 1680×1050. Well actually it’s more a 3870 since it has 512MB and I run it at 800 MHz.

    • oldog
    • 7 years ago

    The Shakespeare line “brevity is the soul of wit” does not apply to video games. This game is just too dang short.

    I do like all the “non-lethal” options but $60.00 for the PC version is very steep.

    Verdict: brief fun.

    • maroon1
    • 7 years ago

    People who say this game is a console port are lying

    My brother has this game on xbox, and it looks shit compared to my PC version. The trees, characters, buildings all look better and more colorful than the console version.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    I think more powers to help facilitate the stealth playthrough might be nice.

    • Kaleid
    • 7 years ago

    This is awesome:

    The Many Deaths of Lady Boyle
    [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk4V43m0TDs[/url<] Good game, but not a classic in my view. Love the ability to customize so much of the settings. Now bring us Thief IV!

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    That picture of the guy, inserted into the blog text is all that’s wrong with graphics today.

    Look at that man. Full of makeup and his teeth are glowing subtly. This is why computer graphics won’t be “photorealistic” as long as Joe Designer keeps getting ideas from Hanna&Barbera cartoons.

    The guy’s entire eyesockets are [i<]almost black[/i<]. What's with the makeup overload? Surely things need not be so dramatic, even in this game?

      • Cyril
      • 7 years ago

      Character designs in this game are stylized. Huge hands, exaggerated features, etc. Definitely not meant to be photorealistic.

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        I see. Well according to the screnshot, they took great pains to make the environment and the atmosphere receive realistic colouring and scale, so I guess that misled me to think the men won’t wear eyeliners.

      • tanker27
      • 7 years ago

      Hanna & Barbera still make cartoons?

      The style to me is more of Sid and Marty Kroft. (yeah I just dated myself)

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        I mentioned them because I assumed the designers grew up on that sort of thing, much like I have.

      • Washer
      • 7 years ago

      The goal isn’t photorealism. Frankly I wish less games went that direction and instead tried for truly unique art styles.

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        If they want to make it look like a contemporary cartoon, then have them go all the way like Borderlands has.

          • clone
          • 7 years ago

          given they are the ones making the game how about they do it exactly the way they want?

          photorealism may be a goal for some to be sure but the closer you get to it the more ppl will nitpick it apart… eye shadow, teeth are too white?… sheesh.

          watch tv or walk outside in the real world…. makeup is everywhere, for fun look up an old episode of Knight Rider and balk at the amount of lipstick David Hasselhoff is wearing, I was shocked and didn’t notice when it was first on.

            • Meadows
            • 7 years ago

            Sure they can do it “the way they want”, but then I’ll complain.

          • Washer
          • 7 years ago

          So the choices are either photorealism or the opposite extreme like Borderlands? That’s ridiculous, there’s tons of artistic room to explore. I fail to see the point of boxing it in.

            • Meadows
            • 7 years ago

            Not at all, I’m just staggered by a game posing a bleak and hopeless environment and then putting character faces into it that are “cheesy” at the very best.

      • WaltC
      • 7 years ago

      Come on, Meadows! You’re one to talk.

      I mean, look at you sitting there reading this post…your left eye has literally popped out of its socket and is hanging two inches down across your cheek, a stringy, wet and sinewy gelatinous mess; your nose in profile–well, OK, [i<]it isn't there at all![/i<] Like it's been sawed off with a hack saw, or something else with teeth--and, for crying out loud--Your entire lower jaw mandible is missing! Only thing that is visible when you try and talk is your tongue--which looks like a snake writhing in agony, all pink and wriggling and constantly drooling saliva. At least your vocal chords are open and exposed to the environment around you--if it wasn't for your [i<]lower jaw missing[/i<] we could understand you brilliantly! Instead, you keep saying "Urughghghg...guwaaa....gonlocleestrup!" over and over. So why the hostility about the way the guy in the screen shot looks? Next time you are tempted to lambast a fellow caricature for the way it looks--have a look in the mirror, 'kay? (Jus' watchin' out for my bud...;))

    • mkk
    • 7 years ago

    This game diserves mentioning even if it’s a fairly straight console port. At least with this game engine you can tweak the settings a bit in the DishonoredEngine.ini file, to get better shadows and some other stuff beyond the included options. But a texture package for the PC would have been nice. It’s still fairly okay looking for the most part, and at the same time runs very smoothly. I found it a stark contrast to how Borderlands 2 runs on the same system(i5, HD5850), without looking that much better. Sure, the latter game has a few more advanced techniques in there, but if the engine it runs on is a mess then one might not be able to see much of the good stuff anyway. The art design of Dishonored is extremely well made, even if what they’re going for isn’t everyones cup of tea. Personally I’m no fan of this victorian semi-steampunk style of world, but I have to admit that it has grown on me the further into the game I’ve gotten. Just some more medium res textures and sharper lighting, then wow.

    Gameplay-wise it has a lot of similarity to Undying from 2001, minus most of the horror theme, plus the sneaking. And I sure loved that game. If it wasn’t for XCOM I would have been on my second playthrough of Dishonored already.

      • xxxSakurachanxxx
      • 7 years ago
        • Sargent Duck
        • 7 years ago

        Please stop. My IQ goes down just looking at your post.

        • cphite
        • 7 years ago

        Do mommy and daddy know that you’re cutting school and using the computer?

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 7 years ago

      +1 for the Undying reference, and graphics info. The graphics were my major concern about this title, and after hearing about PC support I was expecting some hi-res textures. Now I know it’s a straight console port only worth buying after a price drop. I don’t have anything in particular against straight console ports, but I do refuse to pay full price for them. EG: Sleeping Dogs is $25 on a steam sale right now and even has a texture pack. That’s about what I’d pay for any worthwhile console port, slightly depending on the game. I’ll be picking this up eventually, just not right now.

    • xxxSakurachanxxx
    • 7 years ago
      • mjaybird
      • 7 years ago

      you are the first guy that doesn’t like the game. it is a good change and a great game and looks good on a pc

      • cphite
      • 7 years ago

      If you don’t like this kind of game then why did you start playing it in the first place? It’s pretty obvious even looking at the box what the game is going to be about. And once you realized you didn’t like it, why did you keep playing?

      I can never understand why people buy games that they can easily tell at a glance they won’t like, sit through hours of play that they aren’t enjoying, and then gripe about how bad it was.

        • willyolio
        • 7 years ago

        maybe he misread the title as “Dis Ho no red” and thought it was a gangsta game about a super-prostitute who was eliminating members wearing a different gang colour.

          • xxxSakurachanxxx
          • 7 years ago
          • indeego
          • 7 years ago

          I’d play this game. Especially if she not only made gang-signs with her hands, but feet and legs as well. Contortionist prostitutes that are in gangs is kinda my thing.

          • cynan
          • 7 years ago

          Judging by the level of literacy indicated by the OP’s comments on this page, I would have gone with “Dis ho no read”.

    • Derfer
    • 7 years ago

    Anyone else get a B-team bioshock vibe from the commercials?

    And the mouse issue shouldn’t be surprising. Skyrim had that and we’re still dealing with Bethesda here.

      • PrincipalSkinner
      • 7 years ago

      You’re “dealing” with different dev team and a different game engine than that of Skyrim.

      • DPete27
      • 7 years ago

      Can you not change the key bindings to make the left mouse button control your left hand weapon?

        • Ihmemies
        • 7 years ago

        Yeah you can. It does not mess up with anything and works perfectly. After wasting countless of crossbow bolts because I throught I was swinging my sword I flipped the mouse buttons in game options. It is really counterintuitive to operate the left weapon with right mouse button and vice versa…

        My only gripe besides the absolutely terrible windowed mode support (cmon devs it’s super easy to do right with Unreal Engine, don’t be jerks) is textures which are designed to fit to 256MB of memory. They are like 1/4 of the resolution of what would be acceptable in a modern PC game.

    • Arclight
    • 7 years ago

    [quote=”Cyril Kowaliski”<]If I had one complaint, it's that Dishonored's developers made their inspirations a little too obvious. The game looks an awful lot like Half-Life 2 in places. Yes, I know the art director is the guy who designed City 17,[/quote<] But, but i absolutely love that art style.....

    • AntiSp4wn
    • 7 years ago

    The mouse thing threw me too, such a weird choice. That was the worst of my complaints outside of the sometimes cartoonish graphics which can at times ruin the sense of time and place this game gives you. The gameplay and art direction of this game, built on cryENGINE, would be a gamer’s dream come true for me.

      • Kaleid
      • 7 years ago

      I would have preferred a darker world with more real time shadows:
      [url<]http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-09-29-why-dishonored-ditched-its-thief-shadow-stealth-mechanic[/url<]

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