I could just say that Dishonored is a combination of Assassin’s Creed and BioShock and call it a day. But there’s something more about the Arkane Studios title, something that only comes to mind when you’re playing: This is more than a game, it’s an experience.
Let’s get one thing out of the way to start off. The story won’t be winning any awards for compelling narrative. You’re out to clear your name and kill a bunch of people along the way. Yes, that does sound quite familiar to a lot of things out there. But this isn’t a game you’re playing for its story. Dishonored may be about revenge, but it’s how you go about this revenge. Do you decide that you’re a complete badass and kill everything in sight? Do you walk through the shadows and keep everyone unaware of your presence? Do you summon a swarm of rats to do your dirty work? Games are becoming more and more about the choices you make having an impact on both the world around you and how things end. This time around, your choices do carry weight.
Back at E3, we were shown two examples of how to progress through a level: the stealth-based way, where we never directly killed someone, making the deaths of our targets complete accidents, and the way that involving our sword entering dozens of throats. This is where choice first becomes relevant: How is the game played?
It doesn’t stop there, as the actions we take will carry consequences in future missions. Were your actions noticed? City defenses will be strictly vamped up, making future missions harder. This isn’t some sort of choice as to where you get the power up that shoots fireballs or snowflakes, or whether you go left or right. Your actions don’t just effect the next five minutes of the game, but the next five hours as well.
Of course, none of this would matter if Dishonored wasn’t any fun. And Dishonored is fun. You know the thrills you got from jumping off ledges and silently assassinating targets in Assassin’s Creed? The joy from mixing plasmids and weaponry to take down a Big Daddy in BioShock? The tension as you sneak past enemies in Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid? The thrill when you take out other drivers in Burnout? Okay, well, that last one might be a bit of a stretch.
Still, it never feels like Arkane is borrowing mechanics from other games; Corvo, our assassin and lead character, is instead thrown into an environment, given toys, and told to “wing it.” For the record, “wing it” means “explore your area, choke out some guards, rig traps, and slit throats.” You know, typical assassin winging it.
Perhaps the biggest selling point, beyond the combat, is the exploration. There won’t be any climbing towers, buildings, or view points, but there’s still plenty of exploration. In order to power up your abilities, you’ll need to seek out runes. You’ll discover runes hidden throughout the levels, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve replayed levels to find more runes. While it’s not as fun as, say, scaling buildings as Altaïr, it’s a necessity to help progress your character that I honestly don’t mind doing. Does it seem like a bunch of fetch quests? Sure. Does it help me find new paths to eliminate targets? You bet, and that’s why it’s enjoyable.
Enjoyable. That’s what Dishonored is. When you look at the sum of its parts, it’s nothing terribly new as gameplay mechanics go. The story is formulaic. While the watercolor-esque visuals are great to look at, they’re not the prettiest we’ve seen this generation. But the negatives, which are few and far between, are far outshined by the game’s allure. Go pick it up, throw it in your console, and have at it any way you’d like. It’s likely the best gaming purchase you’ll make this year.