"Play However You Want, Nonsensical AI Notwithstanding."
After last years Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it seemed as if choice in approach was still not an approach to many game releases. Fast forward a bit over a year later and Arkane Studios, by way of Bethesda, releases Dishonored to the masses. Previews looked fascinating, with slightly exaggerated caricatures with bold facial expressions in a moody setting, along with a number of oddly masked NPC’s shown. What I slowly started to learn after that was Dishonored was to feature a focus upon choice; should I kill this guard and how, or should I sneak by and find another path and which path would be best? The approach seemed more in depth than what Deus Ex: Human Revolution had showed me.
Choice plays a dominant role throughout Dishonored. Early tutorial popups will make note of an upcoming area, and how the player can approach it from a number of different manners. Naturally a brute force approach can be taken, though that does soil the point of Dishonored and its opened ended methods of completing each area. With multiple ground based shielding that don’t look completely out of place, it helps set up a ground based approach to those early areas, as well as find a place to hide any bodies that were either knocked out cold or assassinated outside anyone’s view.
The pure depth to how each situation can be approached is beyond commendable, and that’s going off a vanilla build; as the game progresses, skills of a more supernatural tinge begin to take the spotlight in how players can traverse through each area. Early on, that players character, the mute named Corvo (he’s not a mute, but rather an unearthed trope commonly used during the 16 bit era when it came to a lead), gains an ability called Blink, which lets him teleport a short distance in any direction that’s open to plain sight. This becomes a staple in Corvo’s repertoire, as it gives him the ability to cover a greater distance in a lesser time, at the cost of mana (which can be replenished over time, or via mana vials, if a certain amount has been exceeded). As the game progresses, Blink becomes a vital tool in terms of evasion, as well as saving time.
There are a number of other skills that can be obtained via purchase, using relics that could be found around each game section. These are tough to find, without some crafty thinking and extensive searching for the most part. Each of the available skills that could be purchase add either another layer of stealth, an augmentation to Corvo’s non supernatural powers, or another notch to his supernatural powers, without much of a stealth emphasis. Probably the most helpful of the bunch, outside boosting Blink to level two and the two levels of health boosts, is Dark Vision, which enables Corvo not only to see through walls to locate enemies and objectives, as well as the enemies cone of vision, although the latter leads to one of my biggest gripes with Dishonored.
The AI is wildly inconsistent, borderline incoherent, almost completely nonsensical. I thought this would be isolated to the opening chapter (which was dreadfully slow paced and nearly turned me off completely) but it plays a persistent role throughout Corvo’s journey. One important portion to stealth is to cover your tracks. There have been times throughout Dishonored in which I’ve intentionally, occasionally unintentionally left an incapacitated body out in the open, within the field of view of the enemy (on some occasions, in their path), where they simply walk by without batting an eyelash. At the end of each chapter, I notice that guards have seen X amount of bodies in their patrols, yet in the end, it rarely ever meant much, outside the arbitrary recap. Their fields of view are sketchy as well, as they can spot Corvo’s barely revealed self from 40 yards away, yet he could be inside a small contained area with perfect viewing inside, and the guards on patrol will turn around, looking towards the direction Corvo may be within that encampment, and march off. Even when alerted, the AI doesn’t always aggressively track Corvo down. One moment towards the end of the game, I heaved a grenade towards a target and a guard next to him, with at least three other guards standing nearby or on patrol. Those three guards come sprinting in, take a look at the carnage I unleashed, and walked back to their programmed pathing or static guard duty. They completely memory wiped, without saying much, if anything, after that.
A little deeper into the “alerted” mode of the AI, combat provides little frills, due in part to the enemy AI and their reactions. Melee combat is akin to Assassins Creed where an important part of each battle is the parry into a counterattack. This does open up a number of stylish instant kill moments, which range from a simple jab into the guards neck with your dagger, to a clean cleave of their head. Crafty players can run in towards an oncoming guard, slide towards them and hack their legs off. Of course Corvo has some of his supernatural powers to use offensively, though the likes of Windblast are not the most entertaining of skills to use. Relying on stealth kills, which are more than possible, is the way to go, or choosing to forgo any sort of conflict whatsoever, unless necessary.
The other issue I have is with its length. I wasn’t even pushing myself, and often took my time in terms of scouting the area and even tracking down runes and bone charms (the latter are minor augmentations that could be equipped) and ended up beating the game in between ten and eleven hours. With the somewhat interesting story involving assassinations, framing, supernatural happens and such, it seems to be a bit brief overall. If anything, it feels more like an expansion pack to another game, rather than a full fledged title, through brevity and especially its ending. Each of the areas that can be explored invite a replayability vibe, whether it be tracking down every little thing there is, or perfecting a stealthy strategy. To that end, Dishonored does succeed, and it does urge me to take on each chapter once again, but the brevity of the main game as a whole is quite disappointing. I could see how another 5-7 hours could have been developed, without being intrusive.
Arkane Studios really nailed an audio and video package that go hand in hand in both complimenting each other, as well as offering a vivid enough appearance that will be remembered for some time. The caricature-like style adds a sense of charm, intrigue and presence. The world its self sustains a vast amount of quality and detail, though not overly obnoxious. As a whole, Dishonored has a visual style that compliments the premise, and it would feel completely foreign if the style were taken to another direction.
In terms of an audio experience, it hits all the right notes in each department. The musical interludes are fitting and moody, further complimenting the visual and gameplay packages. Voice acting is strong, though for the most part, it seems a bit monotone. There’s plenty of effort and passion in the lines delivered, though most of the situations in which dialog is spoken, there’s no real push to infuse more emotion into what is said. Sadly there are a number of guard comments that are repeated a little too often as well, though that’s not much of a quibble. Each effect sounds proper, fitting in with each situation at hand. Nothing stands out, but again, as with the music and voice acting, it all compliments the bigger picture in such a way.
Dishonored is the kind of game that’s best summed up as a strong Gamefly rental, or a recommended purchase when the price drops. Its brevity overall, along with wildly inconsistent enemy AI, as well as a opening chapter that nearly kills the urge to venture forward, really hurts its prospects as a full price purchase. What has to be applauded over and over is the approach of which the gameplay lets the players take. Sure, the main game its self is too short, no matter how much time is taken, but there’s a sense of freedom in how the game can be played, that supersedes most other games with a similar premise. It’s encouragement in experimentation does add replay value, but I just wish there were a bit more overall. It’s worth playing, especially for the meticulous player that wants to carefully think out each move ten moves beforehand (definitely if possessing a rat and bypassing a modest portion of real estate sounds like its up your alley), and has a number of successes hidden under its belt, but I wouldn’t recommend it at its current price tag.