Are you the type that rushes headlong blasting your way through the enemy? Perhaps you’d rather mercilessly sneak through the shadows on the wings of death, killing only those in your way? Or would you prefer to kill no one, opting instead to condemn them to slavery or banishment? Welcome to the world of Dishonored — Arkane Studio’s latest endeavor published by Bethesda — where you can do all of the above in your mission to avenge the Empress and save Lady Emily. You step into the world as Corvo, the Royal Protector and a force of nature in all but the most literal sense. The world will react to the path you take for your revenge. The city of Dunwall hangs in an uneasy balance and it will be tipped one way or the other by your hand.
All these changes in Dishonored are dictated by its chaos system, which controls the city from behind the scenes. The more you kill, the more bodies are found, the worse the world gets. Rat swarms and weepers (zombie-like plague victims that bleed from the eyes) start popping up everywhere and security gets a lot tighter. Tallboys — these armored behemoths that shoot fire arrows at you — start roaming the streets, the ground shaking as they walk and, from their vantage point, they have a easy time spotting you if you’re neglectful. One of the great things about this engine is how the AI interacts with itself; guards and thugs will fight each other and they’ll both fight the rat swarms and weepers. As you wage your personal war against those who set you up, the city genuinely feels like it is falling into chaos around you. There is fighting in the streets, the plague is rampant and your allies start to question your methods. If you stay on the killing path, the sky gets darker, turning into a violent storm and whips around your mad climb to the top of the lighthouse. This is the Dunwall I brought forth with all my wanton murdering. If you are careful and sneak through Dunwall, incapacitating guards and being very selective with that knife of yours, then you’ll have a wholly different experience. That is the beauty of the chaos system: it drives you to replay the game. Add the fact that there are subtle variations of the endings depending on some choices, you’re going to wind up replaying from your last save at least twice.
Of course the world falling into chaos might be for naught if the story doesn’t get you hooked, right? Arkane crafts a wonderful tale of betrayal and revenge. They go one step further and steep that story into a deeply rich bucket of lore. Along the lines of The Count of Monte Cristo meets Batman, the story pulls you in while giving you a taste of the world it lives and breathes in. As the story drove me forward, it was the interactions with the people as I snuck and parkoured my way through the city that gave me pause and insight. Often enough these “off the beaten path” moments open up other possibilities on how to remove your target, and it’ll often be another window into which view this world Arkane has crafted. There is always a non-lethal option, but it won’t be easy to find. Admittedly, it was my own clumsiness that drove me to killing at the start. As I got better and better, I killed a lot less until I found out more about the world I was in. I grew to really hate my targets, power thirsty and ruthless. They had climbed to the top on the backs of peasants. Aiding me in unearthing these story tidbits was a wonderfully creepy device called “The Heart”. It is used primarily to find runes and bone charms, but more on those later. If you point it at a person and activate it, then The Heart will tell you their secrets. I came to the realization that the people of Dunwall were terrible men and I started to kill mercilessly. By the end I was killing people I could have easily avoided or incapacitated. The story hooked me into this and I wasn’t going to stop.
It doesn’t help that there are so many ways to kill in Dishonored. You can reverse walls of light (these electric walls that are attuned to people, if you aren’t attuned… ZAP!), then watch guards fry when they chase after you. You can rewire watch towers (a personal favorite) to fire on guards and Tallboys alike. I managed to combine both of these to end the lives of thirty of the Lord Regents’ best guards. I also managed to kill several guards by accident while trying to dispose of an unconscious body. Between the roving rat swarms and accidentally dropping some sleeping guards off of bridges and roofs, I felt like an elegantly clumsy killer. The straightforward combat is simple, but this is not a game that should be played by running headlong into a group of enemies and figuring out if your dick is bigger than theirs. This is a game that thrives when you play creatively, thinking through your moves and making a plan. It begs you to notice details and to experiment. Every mission is a sandbox waiting for you to play in it.
Assisting you in trapezing around the city are the powers bequeathed to you by The Outsider, a creepy and mysterious entity who has shrines, runes and bone charms strewn about the city. Anytime you find a shrine you’ll learn a little more about The Outsider. The runes you’ll find allow you to upgrade your powers like blink and possession. They’ll also allow you to upgrade your physical self, increasing vitality and granting you the ability to double jump. You’ll get to build your powers as you see fit, giving you even more ways to shape the game around you.
All of this was accompanied by a great musical score and some wonderfully done voice acting. Every character had dialogue, even if the guards tended to repeat after a while. They did manage to pull some great actors together for this including Susan Sarandon, Chloe Grace Mortez and Carrie Fisher. The clinking of swords and gunfire mixed well and never seem to delay either. Weepers would make some terrible noises from around corners adding a freaky ambiance to later levels as well.
There were several moments in the game where I was struck by how desolately beautiful the game was. In the frantic race that is the final few moments as you climb to the end, I felt like a bit like a painting in motion. From the wonderfully weird art on the walls to the architecture of the buildings themselves, Dishonored is a beautiful game.
Dishonored was a joy to play that has left an indelible mark on me. As soon as I finished, I wanted to go back and play it again. Even though I took my time exploring, I know there is plenty that I missed. The world of Dunwall and its characters draw you in, wrapping their plague-festered fingers around your wrist and pull you along for one hell of a ride.
Dylan Tano has been playing video games since before he could walk. He's scaled castles and rode on the backs of giants. He has lived many lives and will live many more. He revealed himself to be the infamous Spider-Bro on Twitter as @BroSpider.