Before you read
I’m decently familiar with stealth games, though by no means an expert. I have also played Dishonored back in I believe 2014, but never finished it back then because of reasons I’ll come back to later. Before I started writing this review, I made sure to have finished at least one playthrough, and also make some progress on another with a completely opposite playstyle. I’ve also taken a look at all DLCs which I will cover in this review since they don’t warrant a separate look. Since I’ve only done one full playthrough thus far I have not 100% completed this game, but I do feel I’ve seen the game in its entirety baring some endgame stuff on the other playstyle playthrough. For this review, I’ve played the Steam version. Also, there won’t be music to listen to this review as the soundtrack is not bad, but not really memorable either and doesn’t sound that great when not used in the game.
I’m always looking for games to play that I have once started up in a distant past. For a backlogger and completionist like me, they are always lurking behind corners, waiting for me to pick them up again. One of these games is Dishonored, a stealth game by Bethesda which I’ve played ages ago but never made much progress on. I did remember liking it though, so why didn’t I continue? It only took me a few minutes of playing to realise why: this is one of the few games that gave me major motion sickness. I constantly felt like throwing up, and most of that had to do with the head-bopping. Back then I never realised that was actually a setting in the options menu and when I put it off, it felt much more bearable to play. So now, I can finally give an honest look at Dishonored!
History and trivia
Dishonored was created by Arkane Studios, known for great hits such as Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. And that’s the second time in less than ten reviews where I bring up the amazing latter game! I should really give that a review later now shouldn’t I? Before Dishonored became inspired by a Victorian aesthetic, it was actually meant to take place in medieval Japan. But none of the developers were really familiar with that culture, so instead used late 1800s London as their base and created their own fictional world from there. The inspiration is obvious with the world of Dishonored being surrounded by a lot of water, and it even has a massive bridge based on the London Bridge. Dunwall became a steampunk fictional London with many fictional technologies as well, and even a Lovecraftian feel. The game released to critical reception, gaining many high scores from reviewers and becoming the ninth best-selling game of the 2010s. I don’t have a lot of trivia for you unfortunately regarding this game, so here’s something fun instead. The game developers designed the main character and his abilities first, and designed the levels around his abilities. A lot of people discovered fun- and weird ways to ”break” the game and instead of removing it, they used the abilities to their advantage for level design. One particular ability that is fun to use is falling from a great height–which would normally be the end of you–, but you can actually quickly possess a character- or animal on the ground to prevent you from taking damage!
You’re the master of this story
You’ve led a successful life as the bodyguard of the empress herself, only to be unfairly accused of her murder just because you were the only one with her. But surprise, it was actually a plot set up by villains wanting to overthrow the empress and put the blame on you! This makes you really mad now doesn’t it? If the answer is yes then I have good news for you: every living thing can be destroyed by your hands to vent your anger out on. Or not. Maybe you’re a peaceful samaritan unlike me? I won’t judge. Dishonored gives you complete control over who lives and who doesn’t, from random NPCs to the main objectives of a mission. Furthermore, your actions have direct influence over the rest of the game which Dishonored has handled pretty well. Since you’re in the middle of a plague, rats who love human flesh will appear more frequent the more you kill and they will also target you. There will also be more guards in place to
act as more puny meatbags to kill yay! prevent you from creating even more chaos. Dialogue will be different as well because while you’re working on a similar goal with your allies, they won’t necessarily approve of your methods. The same can be said for the opposite: be in complete stealth without harming a single fly and there will be less rats, less guards and dialogue will also be more pleasant. The entire game can be played without killing a single individual, or even without being seen once. I personally was a mix of both; I did play stealthy, but I also killed everyone once I was noticed because I was too lazy to run away. Leave no witnesses am I right~? But this truly is the beauty of Dishonored as it isn’t your morality- or dialogue that influences how the game plays out, but your direct actions. Will you make Dunwall a slightly better place for everyone, or will you be the indirect cause of its demise? It didn’t matter too much to me personally as I didn’t really feel that much attachment to any of the characters. They are passable don’t get me wrong, but most of the targets were literally just that: targets. I also wasn’t too invested in the story which was also passable but not something I’d play this game for. This isn’t helped by there being a serious amount of books with endless dialogue around that just… don’t do anything. Some notes- and books are useful, but most of them contain uninteresting text only the most story-invested players may enjoy. Is it a me problem? Eh, probably, but the characters- and story aren’t really that important to the game in the grand scheme so it didn’t impact my overall excitement. Regardless, I do like the world of Dunwall itself which does have something interesting lore behind it.
Unlimited tools at your disposal
Nah that’s not true, you don’t have unlimited tools. I just wanted to catch your attention and if you’re reading this, I succeeded! One point for Neppy~. But joking aside, the game truly does give you a serious amount of freedom for you to accomplish your goals. The game follows a mission-to-mission structure and every mission has one main goal, usually taking care of an important person. The only thing you have to do is execute the goal; whatever you do in the process is up to you. Every single collectable is obtained by whatever gameplay style you prefer. If a safe is locked and you need a code, someone can either give it to you through specific means, but the code might also be located in a more stealthy way.
If you want to be a stealthy assassin, there are a ton of different ways to get to the goal. You can simply take the main path, but it does have a lot of guards so you have to avoid them or knock them out if you don’t want to be seen. Ideally, you take an alternate path like a sewer- or alleyway, or look for high ledges to walk across. When I said that the possibility exists of not being seen once, I meant it. There are enough paths without guards and even if they are there, you can take them down non-lethally as it doesn’t count as a kill or try to avoid them altogether. Don’t forget to drag the body away though, otherwise the guards will still be alarmed. The AI is pretty smart when it comes to the environment, and you can use that to your advantage. Throw a bottle of glass away from you to alert the guards, then sneak past them or take them out while they aren’t looking at you. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a bunch of magic spells to use. Everyone loves the teleport ability as it makes it easier to reach high ledges or move past enemies, but it’s far from Corvo’s only ability. Time stop, the ability to temporarily possess NPCs and much more. There is a lot you can do with these abilities, probably my favourite being the ability to possess rats and go through small passages to avoid being seen. There are more than enough ways to play this game without even being seen once, and it’s very satisfying to find out how.
…Or you’re like me and just kill whoever is in the way. For that too, there are more than enough ways to do so. There’s the basic stuff like sword combat, though enemies are smart so just mindlessly slashing won’t get you anywhere. They block, avoid and have a surprisingly weird hitbox that makes them always hit you despite being further away than their swords’ length. Yeah, I don’t get it either. But since we’re in the steampunk era, there are of course also guns and grenades, but most noticeably the crossbow which has multiple ammo types including a sleep dart for
boring non-lethal takedowns. That’s fine and all, but I prefer my kills more… environmental. Is this the time of the review to gush over Dark Messiah of Might and Magic again? If I see an opportunity to talk about some of my favourite games in reviews that have nothing to do with those games, you can be dang sure I’ll take it. There’s the usual ”pushing enemies of high ledges” strategy, but more importantly: traps. Electric fields, automatic watchtowers and more can all be manipulated to do your bidding. I have no idea how these mechanisms work but for whatever reason, you can hack them so that they attack everyone but you. It’s not like they’ve ever seen you when you come across the traps for the first time, so… how? Video game logic I swear. They’re fueled by the world’s fictional energy source called Whale Oil, which is apparently very combustive soo… have fun throwing them in people’s faces too after you’ve disabled the traps! There are just as many ways to get rid of enemies than there are to avoid them, yet again enforcing how much freedom there is.
There were a total of three differently released expansions for Dishonored. The first one is Dunwall City Trials, which consists exclusively of additional challenges to test your mastery of the game. They basically add nothing to the game and are just a fun extra for the people who desire it. I didn’t mess around with them too much, but they’re a harmless addition. The real meat of the story are the other two DLCs however, namely The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. I should note in advance that these two DLCs are directly connected to each other with The Brigmore Witches being a continuation of The Knife of Dunwall. Playing either one separately will not satisfy you in the slightest as the first one is just decent on its own, and you won’t understand the second one without having played the first. Everything that takes place in this story is not brought up once in the main story so while it is a nice extra for people who want more Dishonored, they’re also both skippable. It follows the story of the Empress’ assassin Daud and what he’s been up to since, involving himself in a plot that would have impacted Dunwall as a whole. While I didn’t care in the slightest about Daud in the main campaign since he was literally just a target to take out like many others, I am not against giving a character more development. This DLC also shows a different side of how the world of Dishonored works, mostly when it comes to magic. Daud himself controls mostly the same as Corvo, though he does have some neat new abilities- and weapons in his arsenal. His Blink is also better since it stops time while he stands still soo… +1 Daud. There… isn’t a lot else to say about the DLCs really; they’re just more Dishonored and if you want more of that game, you play the DLCs.
If there’s one thing I can give Dishonored the highest praise for, it’s that the game allows you to play the game however you want by giving you tons of freedom. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pacifist or hate all living beings; Dishonored gives you all the resources you need to execute either playstyle. Your actions also directly affect how the remainder of the game will play out for you, as the amount of chaos you create will be reflected in a respective amount of alertness by the opposite side. The main protagonist Corvo is really fun to play as because he has so many tools and abilities on his side that compliment your alignment. I find the world of Dishonored interesting too, but I couldn’t really care about any of the characters in the game and what their fate would be so the impact of my actions didn’t affect me as much as I wanted it to do. Putting that aside however, Dishonored is a really fun game to play and it’s a definite recommendation to finish as least once, with a second recommendation being that you should try out both playstyles. Third recommendation, be sure to check out the options before- or during playing as there is a high possibility the game might make you sick (which also slightly affects my Fun rating).
Another game gone from my backlog, hurray! I hate how Steam has this system where you’ve started a game once, and it is automatically counted towards your Average Completion Rate. I mean, I understand it, but I would like it if Steam gave me more freedom. Though to be fair, the achievement system on Steam sucks to begin with. Still, I’m glad I’ve finally beaten this game now, and also found a solution to the motion sickness I was having. I definitely have plans to return to this game in the future and do a complete stealth playthrough, but I was also very much done with the game after the DLC so that will probably be in a few years.
Games to play if you like Dishonored
- Bioshock – Bioshock is in a sense pretty similar to Dishonored. It’s less stealthy overall, but your actions do affect the course of the game, and it has a steampunk setting when it comes to weapons- and abilities.
- Deus Ex – This one pops up a lot when it comes to similar games to Dishonored, but I haven’t played it so apologies for that. Regardless, Deus Ex also has a lot of ways to get to your goal very similarly to Dishonored.
- Thief franchise – The gameplay of Dishonored was initially based on what Thief was doing at the time, and the influence is clear.
Question of the Review
When a game gives you the option to be good- or evil through actions, what makes you decide on what playstyle to execute? For example, is it because you prefer one playstyle over the other, or do you care for a happy ending or the NPCs in a game?