Wednesday, 12 August 2015


Post-Launch Review
Dishonored (PC)
Developer: Arkane Studios
Released: October 2012
Played: story complete in 12h


The empress is assassinated and her bodyguard, Corvo, is framed for her murder by a faction of conspirators intending to use the empress' young daughter Emily to control the throne. Corvo is broken out of prison by a group of loyalists, armed with custom equipment by their scientist and granted mystical powers by the Outsider. Using his new gear and abilities, Corvo sets out to end the conspiracy, clear his name, and save Emily.

At Launch

Review scores averaged 90%. Opinion was divided on the plot - there was praise for the self-contained stories of each mission, and disdain for the overarching story. Many reviewers criticized the AI's vision, able to detect the player at long range but with no peripheral vision. The level and world design were highly praised.

Post Launch

A couple of patches were released to fix bugs.
All pre-order DLC later became available for purchase.
The Dunwall City Trials pack adds 10 challenge maps with varying objectives.
Two story-based DLCs were released. The Knife of Dunwall shows Daud's perspective of the campaign, playable with new powers. The Brigmore Witches follows Daud as he works against the witches' plan to kill him.

The very first thing I thought when I loaded up the game was... ugh, I expected this to look better. As of this review the game is 3 years old, but I expected more. There's an attempt at a painterly artistic style, and that does help, but much of the game feels sparse and drab and low-detail. Face textures are ugly and the world design is sometimes hurt by the poor graphics.

That said, the world design is incredible. The technology based on maybe-magical whale oil is great, as are the notes and documents on the scientific research and progress. I love that there are hints that no one really yet understands why whale oil is such a powerful energy source, and that it's dangerously volatile. You can see ships in the background hauling captured whales. The visual design of the technology is chunky and unrefined, and looks quite plausible for the setting. I'm torn between appreciating that it was mostly background worldbuilding that helped the world feel unique and wishing there was more direct examination of the tech.

The story isn't quite as good as the worldbuilding, unfortunately. It feels like a progression with no real excitement. I fully expected the "twist" based on how straightforward everything had been until then, and even that plot turn felt less like a sudden twist and more like a curve - no significant changes, just new targets. Though I did very much appreciate the (highlight for spoilers) return to the Hound Pit and cooperation between Piero and Sokolov. Probably the highlight of the second half. The final mission, unfortunately, has the exact same structure as every other assassination mission and doesn't really convey a feeling of impossible odds or finality.

But the gameplay is excellent. About half the powers are great utilities that work well for all play styles - stealth or assault, lethal or nonlethal. The other half of the powers are lethal, but still maintain that flexibility. I'm normally not a huge fan of stealth games, but the blink, darksight, and possession abilities create some really cool options that had me enjoying stealth a lot more than usual with the huge freedom of movement and escape capability. And since a nonlethal stealth playthrough is such a dramatically different play style from a lethal assault style, this is one of the few games I actually want to play again with a different approach.

I also really like how the world responds to Corvo's choice of lethal or nonlethal approaches. The more violence and death you cause, the darker the ending - which is pretty standard - but also the rat plague spreads, the enemy builds up more defenses, and you get more cynical, fearful graffiti on city streets. Death creates fear and more death. The story dialogue doesn't quite reflect a nonlethal approach as much as I'd like, but that's a minor point compared to the overall effects of your choices.

Mission areas are very well put together and allow many different paths to your objective. You can disable checkpoints, climb around or over them, possess rats to move through otherwise impassable gaps, talk to or work for citizens to learn about hints or alternate paths or even have them do some of the work for you. Possibly the best element of the level design is the verticality. Every environment has multiple different levels accessible via stairs, windows, chains, or leaps. There's always more than one way to complete your mission and that's fantastic.

As for the DLC, while the level design is a little less open, it's streamlined and still solid. Daud's two-part story in The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches is more cohesive and interesting than Corvo's story, and though it doesn't contain any major twists, works well as a short supplement that expands on the game lore and makes Daud more than just a bad guy. As for Dunwall City Trials, it does what you'd expect of a challenge pack - a variety of different challenges with no story support but lots of gameplay potential, plus leaderboards. Some of the challenges go above and beyond, though - not just time trials or killstreak things, there's randomized investigative stuff and puzzle-combat where you have to chain different moves. Good stuff.

Dishonored didn't quite live up to my expectations, with visuals and story that were weaker than I had anticipated. But the gameplay and world design are top-notch, very impressive and engaging. There's a solid amount of replayability with different character builds and combat styles, and the DLC is well designed and worth a play. I'd love to see more of this world... which works out great, because there's a sequel coming!

Recommendation: play it.

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