Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
 

Descendant of the Crane

Review

 
Todd Lockwood Interview – The Summer Dragon
 

Todd Lockwood

Interview – The Summer Dragon

 
Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
 

Vigilance

Review

 

Dishonoured Review

In one hand I hold a clockwork crossbow. In the other hand I hold a sword that can fold away in a moment’s twiddling. I flit from grubby rooftop to grubby rooftop in an instant. My eyes see through walls. I can call swarms of rats to my aid with the lift of a finger and the mutter of a spell. My prey is somewhere in the industrial fog below, between the rails and barbed wire, in the sheer-walled mansion guarded by fences of lightning…

It makes a great scene from a book, doesn’t it? Well, hold on to your seats, ladies and gentlemen of Fantasy-Faction, because it isn’t. It’s a game called Dishonoured.

Dishonoured, dubbed the game of the year by more than just a few entertainment magazines, has just been released. It comes from the same studio that gave us Skyrim, Oblivion, and Fallout. I dub it a fantasy reader’s digital dream. Let’s have a look:

The premise of Dishonoured isn’t a wholly original one – you play Corvo, bodyguard to the Empress. When she is brutally murdered by mysterious assassins, under your guard no less, you are framed for her murder and sentenced to death. Fortunately for you, a band of loyalists break you out of jail and employ you as their tool of murderous retribution. The bodyguard becomes the assassin. The main plot involves seeking revenge against those who framed you, and restoring the Empress’s kidnapped daughter to the throne. In summary, upstanding moral character gets framed and becomes unstoppable angel of death, all in the name of loyalty and revenge.

Seems familiar? That’s because it is. It’s not incredibly original, but it’s the canvas against which this plot is splattered that makes Dishonoured interesting.

Dunwall is your immersive home, and it is as deliciously drab as it sounds. It’s a city trapped in the clutches of a plague, reminiscent of an 18th or 19th century London, a city deep in its industrial revolution. Dunwall is a city of sewers and rooftops, of railways, rats, and strange, outlandish, yet pseudo-Victorian technology. I can already see you steampunk fans twitching, and you’re spot on. Dishonoured is firmly in the steampunk vein. (Or, as one reviewer has already coined it, because the wealth and power of Dunwall is based on whale oil, you’d be more accurate saying it’s “oilpunk”.) Overall, Dunwall is a dark, atmospheric, and vast setting, and it will make any fantasy fan feel right at home.

The gameplay doesn’t disappoint either. There’s a trace of Skyrim somewhere in Dishonoured’s DNA. Bethesda Softworks gives the player the ability to roam almost anywhere they please. Levels are vast. Objectives can be completed from multiple angles, and missions will never be done the same way twice. The magic is big, effective, and brash, and the controls blissfully simple.

Dishonoured (cover)Bethesda’s little treats don’t end there. Like Skyrim and Oblivion you can customise your hardware, and there are plenty of side quests and collectible items, such as bone charms and runes, to make a simple level last hours. Also, as we’ve seen in more recent games, Dishonoured adapts to you, yes you. You can choose to play however you want, and the game will bend itself to your style. Corvo is equally proficient in the shadows as he is in a full-out, open scrap, but the benefits of sticking to the shadows are greater. If you’re more of the violent sort, your enemies will toughen from level to level. The more dead bodies you leave behind you, the more rats infest the city. But if you’re the sneaky kind, the game’s final outcome is more satisfying, almost as if it’s rewarding you for not hacking and slashing your way through each level.

It’s quite refreshing to experience a game that promotes a stealthier, cleaner approach. There’s great satisfaction in figuring out how to complete the mission without getting caught. I say cleaner – gore will splash the flagstones no matter what, (you’re an assassin, after all) but when it does, it’s not the mindless violence you’re normally invited to dole out. I actually felt guilty the first time I killed somebody in Dishonoured. Guilty I tell you! I felt like I had failed the mission. Trust me – I’m one for a feral war-path any day of the week, but it’s actually nice to play something mindful. It’s like finding out Logen Ninefingers has a secret penchant for breeding pedigree kittens, and isn’t just a thug after all.

Speaking of Ninefingers, the truly best thing about Dishonoured is that it’s simply dark and gritty. Skyrim and Oblivion are great games, but for me, they’re in the realm of high or classic fantasy. Dishonoured is a no-holds barred representation of morally-ambiguous, murky, and dark fantasy/steampunk, and I really hope this is the first of many games of its kind to hit the market.

I just wish they’d paid more attention to the rich storylines of the genre. Yes, it’s time for a minus point.

Like the plot’s premise, the story is lacking. For me, it’s just a tiny bit irksome, and it’s a black mark on an otherwise perfect record. Let me explain:

It all comes too easily, too quickly to Corvo. There’s no struggle. It’s all a bit slapdash. The Empress is introduced and then brutally murdered in the space of about a minute. Next, you veritably stroll out of prison. Your first night as a fugitive, you’re approached in a dream by someone called the Outsider, who, for absolutely no reason at all, embeds a glowing tattoo in your hand and gives you an entire smorgasbord of magical abilities, along with a mechanical heart that can sniff out collectibles. The Outsider cometh, giveth, and then goes away.

Even the face of the game itself, the haunting, seemingly clockwork mask, is just handed to you without a word of explanation. There’s no sense that I earnt any of it, or that I know why it’s happening. Within one level, I had the ability to teleport, see through walls, and summon the wind (and we all know from Mr Rothfuss that it takes at least a 1000 pages before you can summon the wind). I wandered from waypoint to waypoint like somebody with shell-shock, simply doing.

The reason I was so eager for Dishonoured’s release was that it looked as though one of my favourite dark fantasy books had just come to life, and offered me a level of immersion that a book couldn’t offer. Sadly, it seems that in the coming to life, some of the story got left behind in the process, like skin to a ripped-off bandage. As an author and reader I want more depth. Explanations.

I will confess, though, that even with such a thin story, I haven’t been able to tear myself from the Xbox. The action and gameplay makes up for whatever it lacks. It hooks you, and immerses you, just like I wanted.

Overall, an exciting and heart-thumping gritty fantasy game, and hopefully the start of many more. If you liked Skyrim, Oblivion, or games like Assassin’s Creed, it’s a must play.

Share

6 Comments

  1. Avatar Louise says:

    Hi Ben, great review. 🙂 I was wondering if FF would post one on Dishono(u)red.

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve written. The world building was fantastic, even going so far as to include an entire map (just google Dishonoured world map) and providing snippets of information on other islands/continents. Sure, it’s all just fluff for the game, but it added a richness to the experience and made Dunwall feel like there was more going on than just what the player could see.

    I also loved the clever play on health and mana potions. Essentially, that’s just what they were as a gaming mechanic, but the developers included these seemingly staple things in the lore – they were plague tonics (Sokolov’s and Piero’s respectively).

    That said, as you also mentioned, the story was lack-lustre. Nothing is really explained and Corvo seems to drift from one mission to the next with no guidance of his own – he’s told everything by everyone else. I think the main problems are firstly due to his nature as a silent protagonist and secondly the fact that the developers never seemed to work at any character development. As it stands, I never really invested interest in any of the characters beyond the mysterious Outsider.

    Dishonoured reminds me strongly of the Thief series, (an excellent set of stealth games), which could have easily had a silent protagonist but gained endless depth and characterization by casting the so-called “hero” Garrett, as a snarky, cynical misanthrope. If you’re interested in stealth and mucking about in a pseudo-medieval/steampunk world, I cannot recommend the Thief series higher. It is literally the game that Dishonoured seems to have cribbed off.

    Anyway I seemed to have rambled on quiet a lot to the point where I could write my own review! ^o^’ I would also love to see more games like this come out and I think the developers (who are Arkane studios, not Bethesda) are planning to do so. After all, why build a whole world just to set one story in a city? 😛

  2. Avatar Larik says:

    This review has convinced me to buy Dishono(U)red sometime in the future. I watched a 30 minute gameplay/walkthrough of the game, and it seems pretty interesting. How long did it take you to finish the game, btw?

    I’ve heard there are some issues with the graphics (for 360), but heard it’s worth a play-through. I’ve heard of some people going through the entire game without killing someone. I would accept the challenge if I didn’t generally suck at games. 😀

    Great review.

  3. Avatar Jamie Gibbs says:

    Agreed on all parts.Playing through the first few missions it felt like I was playing through a video game adaptation of a Daniel Polansky novel, and it looks and plays brilliantly. You’re right about the story lacking somewhat, but with the cheer freedom you have in your playstyle, I suppose you can create your own story.

  4. Avatar Ashik Ibrahim says:

    Just an important not to the writer of this, Bethesda did not make Dishonored, it merely published it. Arkane Studios (Bioshock 2) were the creators and developers of Dishonored. A friendly not, its just a shame so many people keep attributing credit to the wrong studio.

  5. Avatar Kaio says:

    Look, very good review. Unlike most websites, you acknowledge you had great fun playing it, which is great. The only part I disagree with is your opinions on the story. It may be somewhat short, but the story is still rich. It does have twists and turns that make you adore the game even more, and honestly, it does explain to you why you get these powers. Like it states in the game, the Outsider is of myth, and is neither good nor bad, and gives you these powers because “you’re to play a critical role in the days to come.” He’s also predominantly interested in how you use powers he grants you. It’s all explained.

  6. Avatar visawjeet says:

    Awesome gameplay!!! Well done arkane studios…. I completed this game in 5 days..

Leave a Comment