“Assassin” and “stealth” are two words that are usually pretty congruous with each other, but the plan doesn’t always play out the way you hope to. Then you usually have to do something pretty dishonorable.
The first few minutes of the game actually go pretty nicely for Corvo as he returns to this steampunk inspired world (that might accidentally blend into a sloppier watercolor painting when the environments and textures aren’t too careful). The guards and members of the community surrounding the Empress all greet him as the respected bodyguard to the Empress and her daughter, who actually looks up to him in more of a father-figure capacity. And who knows, maybe had the Empress not been run through with a sword right in front of Corvo’s eyes things could have progressed to something more. But unfortunately the only thing we know how to do at this point is play hide-and-seek as we fight for her protection from a disadvantage, so I doubt there was really anything we could do to prevent this tragic fate.
Following the wrongful imprisonment for these crimes, the Loyalists don’t take long to break Corvo out of prison, providing the opportunity for a lot of fun to be had since you have to actually do the leg work to get out of the guarded facility. With a pistol and blade being the only components of what will eventually become a heftier arsenal, you can either sneak through the armed men or teach them how Corvo feels about being disrespected. I went for the stealthier route since this is my preferred play style in these types of games, but to stick with what often happens to me, someone eventually turns around before I can calmly bisect their neck with the blade and I am stuck motionless for a brief second as the red lightning bolts of awareness go crazy, and before fight or flight kicks in (I have a theory that in these moments I liken all threats to the Tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park).
The AI is consistent enough to give most guards a good swerve or two away from the straight forward sword swings, so if going Indiana Jones on them with your pistol isn’t good enough for you then you’ll be happy to know that the powers that Corvo is eventually bestowed with after this first mission allow you to play even dirtier: “Oh yeah, thug!? You can dodge my sword with uncharacteristic agility and then spew fiery alcohol at me? Well how bout this swarm of rats that will raise from the bowels of Hell to strip your bones clean!?” These moments are always available for the more rage-filled, in-the-moment and/or sadistic players, but I still prefer the less straight forward routes through the map that prevent more of these confrontations from happening.
The level design really does allow for a ton of exploration, multiple routes to objectives, and goody stealing, which made the disappearing-stealth-killed-corpses upgrade a pretty wise investment considering how many guards roam the paths placed before Corvo to his target. Who has the time to hide bodies anyway? Or how about one step further: Who needs mercy coming back to haunt them if it is suddenly necessary to travel back through that area later? The decision to kill at will is supposed to be felt within the world through things like the amount of pesky rats clogging paths, but really other than in Emily’s drawings and the final scenes, the only time I felt like my choice to be a pacifist or not effected anything was in concern to how good I felt about myself as a person in the real world. Not only that, but considering there were no bodies of replaceable guards to be found I was somewhat surprised that my semi-stealth play style still warranted the high chaos ending. It’s not like I ran through the levels like this was Gears of War or something…
Pairing Dark Vision (does anyone else hear “Your husband dies” when this turns on?) and Blink with my stealthier style, I finally found my groove that allowed for a much more fluid playthrough the second time around because I was no longer awkwardly fumbling between the assigned d-pad powers and the full wheel screen, though I will admit that climbing out of the water still posed a challenge far greater than it was worth. I even managed to make it through the game with no kills (including the main targets, which I would recommend sparing if you haven’t yet your next time around just to see how the missions play differently), and will probably have to do that again the third time around in the hopes that this time I actually get the achievement. Luckily enough, Dishonored has a high replayability.
If there is a flaw to point out, it’s that the story doesn’t quite fit expectations when considering the world created as it doesn’t really move past a simple revenge plot, and I imagine that the time in the writer’s room coming up with the story went a little something like this: Ok guys, we’ve got our catalyst that will shoot Corvo through the people that are responsible for Emily’s kidnapping, the Empresses murder, and Corvo’s wrongful imprisonment. So revenge, revenge, mysticism, revenge, revenge, mysticism (the mysticism being a character called The Outsider who likes to add commentary on how you choose to go about your business and the people/world you come across). Wait, that’s only a handful of missions… I’ve got it! Screw Corvo over again by giving him yet another reason to seek revenge! Phew! Remember these guys? Revenge, revenge, mysticism. And scene.
It’s clearly not the most inspired story, and the second half of the game doesn’t feel quite the same as the first because the whole lethal vs. non-lethal decision becomes much less a part of the overall mission as it is with the first few targets, more so just being whether or not you stab them in the end. Disappointing, sure, but at the same time it is hardly a deterring factor because the gameplay more than overcompensates for this downside.
The ridiculously steep price of crossbow bolts and unfelt influence of the bone charms are two other irritants while playing, but they’re far from anything that would ruin the experience or keep Dishonored from being a great first release for assassin games to end the year, especially considering that it’s a new IP. But it does leave the door open for Assassin’s Creed 3 and Hitman: Absolution to climb above it in the ranks of assassin games. Only time will tell where it stands in the end.
Final Grade: 8.5/10