Dishonored (Low Chaos) Xbox 360 Review
When you think of action adventure games, there tends to be the expectation that there will be a large amount of violence, including plenty of weapons use against enemies, and lots and lots of killing. After all, why do you have a gigantic arsenal if you’re not going to put it to good use? Well, it seems that Arkane Studios has decided that the best way to handle temptation is to look at it, understand the consequences, and either go on a killing spree that screws over everybody, or to actually work within the genre. Technically, Dishonored, a game published under Bethesda Softworks (you know, the guys that made that one game that generated the “arrow to the knee” meme a while back), is a stealth action adventure game. Sure, going on a killing spree is still an option, but sneaking around and finding ways to take out targets without actually killing them off is a far more interesting challenge. Of course, given that it’s using the Unreal Engine, the gameplay style is fairly familiar compared to other games, so the learning curve isn’t too extreme.
You play the game as a man who starts out as the Royal Protector, i.e. the personal guard to the Empress Jessamine Kaldwin (get used to the odd spellings), by the name of Corvo Attano (it’s a reference to crows because murders; James O’Barr says hi). He bears bad news, after a goodwill mission to seek help because his nation is suffering from a plague, the rest of the surrounding nations have decided to quarantine the country. After getting blamed for the Empress’ assassination and Princess Emily Kaldwin’s (she’s about eleven) abduction by way of a group of guys that can teleport via puffs of smoke (Marvel Comics says hello as well) almost immediately after delivering the letters, he gets imprisoned. With a little help from a group called The Loyalists, consisting of Admiral Havelock (Terry Pratchett sends his regards), Lord Pendleton (a member of parliament), and Overseer Martin (a member of what is basically the government’s religious order), with support from various others, he manages to escape.
The rest of the game is based around taking down the individuals truly responsible for the assassination and abduction, and rescue the princess while you’re at it. (Why is there always a damsel in distress in these things?) It seems that the orchestrators of the plot have taken over the government because they held high positions before the whole snafu. Your targets happen to be the new Lord Regent Hiram Burrows (former Spymaster), and High Overseer Campbell (think the Pope, but without the dressy robes and big pointy hat), as well as their allies in other government positions. Every mission has certain side quests that you can complete, either for the sake of getting an achievement (Note: it’s impossible to get them all in one play-through, for the simple fact that half of them are about upright killing everything in sight that’s an enemy) or in order to find methods to eliminate your targets without actually killing them. Figuring out how to sneak around and get everything done in a way that doesn’t leave a large trail of blood behind you provides far more background on the game world, even if it doesn’t have the same open-world feel or play style as Skyrim or the most recent Fallout games. Ultimately, your actions determine the ending, as well as the game world around you, with murder turning everything to hell while sneaking about keeps things at a fairly even keel of, “Well, this sucks, but it could be worse, right?”
Along the way, you meet a supernatural being called The Outsider, who gives you special abilities. You start off the Bamf skill that was used against you (okay, it’s actually called Blink). but there is a full tree of abilities that you can unlock with items called runes that are scattered around each level. You find them with a clockwork heart, which feels a bit like cheating once you get a feel for the construction of each level. Extra abilities on the non-combat side include something called Dark Vision (think Detective Mode from the Batman: Arkham games), an increase to speed and jumping height, the ability to slow or stop time, the ability to take possession of animals and, at some point, people, and bonuses to health. This reviewer did not take advantage of the other abilities, as they’re only useful with a play-through involving lots of killing, but they seem to be quite vicious. Chances are, regardless of your play-through style, you’ll be using the Bamf (sorry, can’t help it) and Dark Vision skills frequently. Also, finding some runes gets you additional interactions with The Outsider.
As far as your regular arsenal goes, it’s fairly standard for a game like this – sword, pistol, grenade, explosive trap, lethal crossbow option, non-lethal crossbow option – but with the stealth approach, you typically only use the Sleep Darts (the non-lethal crossbow option), and then only if you can’t figure out any other way around or get caught at an inopportune time. Luckily, because of the power swapping and weapon choosing, there is a quick access tool used via the D-Pad, although with only four options you really need to pick what you’re going to be using often for a mission and stick with it. Accidentally hitting somebody with a crossbow bolt when you meant to knock them out isn’t going to win you any favors at the next dinner party – and yes, your character does in fact go to a dinner party or two during the game. However, you also can find items called Bone Charms with the Heart, which give you bonuses such as choking somebody out faster, moving more quickly in stealth mode, recovering health and mana in various ways – and those are just some of the basics.
The side characters actually are just as interesting as any of the main conversations, mostly due to the fact that if one does take the stealth option, you’re stuck waiting around fairly often. There are also books, notes, and what passes for tapes that add information to the game world. Things such as how whaling is a major enterprise, how the plague seems to have started, how said plague spreads, and what the various locales you visit mean to the city-state which you’re trying to save are among many accounts of life in the game world. There are also works of fiction, albeit they are brief snippets, and they tend to be satires of the genres which they’re trying to embrace. You can also use the Heart to learn some facts about the area in which you find yourself, or the people around you. While the straightforward plot shies away from the typical Bethesda game experience, the world is still rich in detail.
I should also comment upon the soundtrack, because while some games seem to have it because it feels like it needs to be there without necessarily serving a purpose (a majority of the background music during certain First Person Shooters comes to mind), the music in Dishonored always seems fitting. The sound cues are spot on, and they give the world even more personality. Whether you’re in a rich neighborhood, an abandoned flood zone, or your home base, the music and sound really add to the game. Come to that, the game would feel that much less without it. The voice acting talent is also superb, with a few voices that even new games will recognize (most prominently, Susan Sarandon as Granny Rags).
However, like any game, there are a few down sides. Once the guards finish their conversations, they typically revert to the same audio file, which typically involves a lot of mumbling. Hearing the phrase “g** damn” gets old after about the fifth time, but the game seems to hold that even having it played fifty times isn’t enough. Also, the magic skills you use are fairly exacting in their execution, requiring a fine degree of control that is rather unforgiving if you get it even the slightest bit wrong, such as Dark Vision ending just as you need it most, Blink dropping you just short or not getting you to a ledge at which you directly aimed, or Bend Time not quite giving you the time you need to get from Point A to Point B without notice. Although it can add to the challenge, it also becomes something of an annoyance when you’re trying to go around enemies and instead wind up right in the middle of them. Finally, the stealth system has a few minor problems, such as the inability to soundlessly drop prone bodies which you’re carrying, not choking out an opponent unless you’re perfectly placed (which leads to enemies being alerted), and certain places that seem like they should provide cover instead being locations where enemies can spot you a country mile away.
Ultimately, though, as previously stated, sticking to the game’s genre and being a sneaky individual is a challenging and cathartic experience, which, when it finally ends, feels fitting. Bethesda made the right call in publishing this, because if they didn’t, Arkane would undoubtedly have found somebody else, and given them a near-perfect game.
+ Controls and gameplay style are somewhat familiar due to a commonly-used engine
+ Compelling story that is paced well and never feels tiresome
+ Rich and detailed game world
+ Multiple avenues to achieve given mission goals
+ Clear consequences for certain actions
+ Audio experience adds to the game immensely
– A few overly sensitive controls
– Stealth can be compromised fairly easily even with extreme caution