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Open games often struggle with the two-sided appeal of complete freedom. On one hand, players need as much possibilities as they can get, but on the other hand it can sometimes feel like getting lost in a vast desert. Dishonored teeters on the right side of this equation. Though it may not completely sync its elements together, this free adventure with hundreds of possibilities, gorgeous art and stimulating sequences holds the key to what makes stealth action amazing.
The story takes place in an alternative Victorian era, in the city of Dunwall. This pinnacle of old British regency has fused with steampunk elements to create a distinguished yet creepy setting of cobblestone roads, wooden constructions solidified with cast-iron and an addition of strange mechanical contraptions. The industrial revolution has taken place and so we’ll see high-tech towers and stilt walking guards, but its appearance is still that of old times.
A traditional ambience is held together by the art direction of Dishonored. City districts and characters both are heavily stylized with a smudged and outlined surface that make them resemble a painting. In short, this game feels like a giant tableau vivant; a living and breathing work of art that slowly evolves and twists along with the sinister and engaging plot. As times grow darker, so does the city warp into a dystopian nightmare. Some later scenes that see stilt walkers drag a stream of light behind them, bending the darkness as their thin legs creep forward, bare a resemblance to the classic painting The Scream from Munch.
The final flower in the bouquet of exquisite atmosphere is summoned by a fitting background of chilling strings and high pitches during tense moments. Swarming plague rats get announced by a building and maddening chirp, while enemy encounters get amplified through a rousing orchestra. Presentation is a large part of what floods the veins with adrenaline in Dishonored, even if there are a few lesser texture issues. Too bad the story’s ending reaches a sudden anticlimax that completes the credits with an unfitting tune, but this game is definitely all about the journey, with its colorful personas, breathtaking locales and dreary vibes, pierced by just one hopeful ray of light.
This path towards salvation will be marred with the blood of your enemies or perhaps it will be paved upon the merciful touch of a skulking expert. The choice between violence and stealth is open to the player, at least in theory. Unfortunately, there’s a complete detachment between the two. The game does offer the option for both in a free manner; however, risk and reward are completely different. All bonuses and “good” options are built on stealth, while all upgrades and gameplay possibilities lean towards “bad” active options, such as murder or at least destruction. This creates a dichotomy of actual choice. Either the approach is all stealth or stealth doesn’t matter, since it’s tainted with action. Forgetting this split exists is the best way to enjoy Dishonored. Just take whatever path feels right. That will unlock this game’s full potential and it does have a ton of used potential.
As mentioned, level structures are completely open and the design reflects this excellently. Vast, open squares detach into smaller roads, open houses, nearby rooftops, pipes, sewers and waterways. All these options are viable and all merge back into one. More so, each city district is the exact size to stay recognizable, while still offering a ton of alternatives to complete one set objective. While more restrictive settings such as walkways or buildings don’t feel as vast, there will always be multiple ways to reach something and tons of hidden treasures for those that go sleuthing. This freedom gets enhanced by the use of supernatural powers. The protagonist by the name of Corvo can find runes that help him upgrade his suddenly received boon of mystical magic. Teleport to different places, summon ravenous rats, possess creatures or leap to new heights; there are several options. The total enhancements don’t surpass a dozen new abilities, but each feels substantial enough to provide an entire new gameplay option.
Quality over quantity is the phrase of the hour in Dishonored and this line of skillful production is scooped out to its deepest extent. That doesn’t mean Dishonored is a short game, far from it. Instead, it fully explores each of its design choices, rather than throw a dozen features to players and let them sort them out. In the fewer options given, there is still a myriad of possibility available that has more impact than pursuing other upgrades that would feel like a waste if only used one or two times. This is game design. This is how a game needs to be made; with every part being of equal importance and no skewed priorities.
Playing becomes even more of a joy when items are combined for whatever effect desired. An arsenal of bolts, grenades, traps and surveillance equipment paired with the ability to stop time teleport away or drop on an enemy can create a multitude of either gruesome or comical effects. It’s just as gratifying to leap down and stab a guard from above as it is to halt time, possess and place him underneath a collapsing structure and then let nature do the dirty work. Alternatively, missile guard towers can be overturned to wreak havoc amidst the patrolled area. There are little boundaries to the capabilities of the game and the only real limit is one’s imagination. All this remains somewhat structured towards an objective as well, which keeps the immersion going for quite some time in this charming world.
As a last clever thought, Dishonored periodically offers sections that facilitate human interaction. The struggle between a dying plebs and detached nobility is one to be admired upfront, but stealthy disguises don’t always allow that. Therefore, certain sections will ensure that Corvo can blend in with the crowds and take in the full charisma of this warped Gregorian society. It’s subtle enough not to get noticed, but this switch between crouched loner and man of the people is once more the best of both worlds and gives players the complete atmosphere, instead of just the one viewed from afar.
Given a few very slight issues and an unfortunate detachment of element choices, there is absolutely nothing to hate about Dishonored. In fact, it’s a work of art, a testament to game development and how precise it can be. There’s no excuse for other titles to get sloppy when placed against the exact balance of content and possibility as seen in this game. To see that in a world that’s also enveloping and interesting to be in is a rare sight and one that everyone should measure for themselves.
|Dishonored is an enjoyable game for all markets, given its freedom and excellent game design, topped by its picturesque art style. Forget about the stern look on stealth and just skulk or kill at leisure and this game will open itself up to reveal that every part is just as good as the next.|