Dishonored – What Shall We Do With The Drunken Whaler?

I think the box art looks like Toa Kopaka from Lego. I can’t be the only one….

Box art

Toa Kopaka from Lego Bionicle. I think the masks look similar, ok?

I am known in my gaming friendship circles (OK, amongst my small number of gaming friends), for my love of stealth, thief/rogue and marksman classes. However I wasn’t sent this game to play because of that. No, Trunco sent me this for my genuine opinion, and the request for a review was the inspiration to start a blog with him and TMG. Until I received it and stuck the disc in the disc tray, I had never seen footage, or played any of the game. The only thing I knew about it was it was from Bethesda (who I love) and about being sneaky. So here you go, my review of Dishonored.

My copy (or Trunco’s to be precise) is for Xbox 360 and is plain ol’ vanilla flavoured – no DLC. I played on normal difficulty in the hopes I’d have enough of a challenge to enjoy it and yet not want to throw it out the window in pure frustration. I warn you, this game likes loading screens. They aren’t long but there’s a lot of them. And the game itself recommends you install it. Ugh….A short while later, I try again. And am pleasantly surprised. The opening prologue is pretty neat. It’s unexpectedly pretty in its own way and gives you a few optional little activities to do to help you grasp the basic concepts of the game, including a short hide-and-seek game with a little girl. I’m just going to divert and talk about the graphics/art style. Graphically it’s not astounding, but Dishonored has a nice cell-shaded style to it,  à la Borderlands, but less in your face. In fact the whole thing is an interesting mix of Borderlands, Fable and Bioshock, in graphics and gameplay. Throw in some Beyond Good and Evil without the photography and you’re about there.

Back to the plot. You’re almost immediately dropped into the plotline and the characters are referencing events and things you as the player don’t know of or were there for. I don’t have too much of a problem with that – Skyrim did it – but I did feel very lost for a while. A short while later and the premise of the game is laid out in front of you. You are Corvo Attano, protector and general bodyguard of the Empress someone-or-other of Dunwall and her daughter Lady Emily someone-or-other. Dunwall is the city in which the game is based, though the game mentions a whole other world outside of the city walls. The pretty dreamy looking prologue comes to a grinding halt when you end up on the run, in a city (and by extension empire) already crumbling, facing a devastating plague and is not a very nice place to be, You sneak and chase your way through the obligatory prison/sewer levels which form the tutorial levels, and buddy up with the Rebel Alliance Loyalists (who else will give you quests?), becoming an assassin and launching you into the game. Slowly, via some talking and loading screens.

As well as sneaking around in the shadows, you need to keep an eye out, and your legs away from, rats. In olde worlde medieval England style, plague is (supposedly) spread by the millions of rats running around. And they aren’t the docile background rats you find in many games, nor the level one enemy you step on in others. The odd one or two Dunwall rat is fine, they won’t bother you much. It’s when you come across a large group of them that’s the problem. They will attack you when they know you’re there and quite quickly drain your health. And then proceed to eat your corpse. Or any corpse. Corpses provide a useful distraction for a large group of rats early on, and will aid your attempts at being sneaky. However, I had far too many NOPE moments involving rats, and River Krusts, crab-barnacle-plant creatures that affix to rocks and walls and whatnot and sick up on you. And kill you. Despite those refusals to take a certain path because of the rats,  I applaud the use of them in a video game in a way that we rarely see. They are a threat and certainly more so than some other enemies.

This happens. It’s one part terrifying, one part useful and one part pretty neat

So how do you go about being this assassin you’re supposed to be? Essentially there are two paths you can take; super sneaky and ‘low chaos’, where you don’t kill and merely put people to sleep for a while or avoid them all together, and not so sneaky ‘ high chaos’ in which you kill anyone and everyone. Or you can do a bit of both. Or one in one mission and the other in the next. In either case, you’re likely have to avoid some type of nasty, whether it be guards and thugs or rats and fish. As you progress through the tutorials and into the game, you can utilise a variety of skills and abilities, both physical and supernatural, to aid in your adventures. The wider background and history to the game is largely tucked away amongst books and notes and audiographs left behind by those killed by the plague. It’s a particularly harrowing way of learning about a game, but one that’s easily missed and skippable if you’ve played it through before. Whether or not you choose to read everything or anything, you’ll undoubtedly invest a lot of your time skulking in the shadows, It’s nice to have a game in which the sneaky sneaky catchy monkey approach is preferred, but on my first playthrough (and probably my only given it’s borrowed and my next few weeks are busy) I felt that I unless I had read a guide beforehand, the ‘not killing’ option wasn’t really an option. I tried my best to take the more peaceful approach, but found myself, for whatever reason, having to button mash my way out of trouble more often than I was expecting. It’s a shame – I found greater joy in successfully sneaking past a group of enemies and in turning technology against it’s masters than I did in killing anyone that so much as glanced in my direction.

The key issue here is the AI. Make too much noise or leave a body lying around too long (or more basically, get spotted) and your enemies will come a running for you. This isn’t the issue. What is is the inconsistency of which the AI notices (or fails to notice) you and the complete yo-yo across saves. One loaded game and if I so much as step in the wrong place, half of the enemies that spawned in the map will come running from, I assume, the whole map to have their chance at fame and fortune and killing me. The next loaded game and I can be sticking my sword in their eye and they somehow won’t notice. On it’s own this issue isn’t too much of a problem. But when you combine it with a pernickity control system and really loose context sensitivity, seeing the ‘you died’ screen was something I saw all too often.

However, there are certainly some interesting concepts tucked up within Dishonored. I have mentioned my like of the use of rats, and an emphasis on sneaking is something not really seen outside the Thief and Deus Ex series. I’d like to briefly mention the keyhole mechanic while I’m talking about things I like. The keyhole mechanic is simple – hold X at a door with a keyhole and you should be able to peer through to the room beyond, and see what’s occurring there. Annoyingly though, the button for looking through the keyhole (hold X) is only slightly different to the button for opening the door to which the keyhole belongs (press X). All too often I wanted to check a keyhole because I knew there were guards or something behind the door, and opened it instead, announcing my presence to every and all enemy in the map.

Unfortunately that leads me to another control related issue. Actions are sort of context sensitive – you can climb a ledge when the on screen image tells you to press A and with ‘Blink’ (a supernatural kind of teleport skill) you can teleport or climb a ledge depending on where and what the pointer is pointing at, and that is 1/3 skill and 2/3 luck. When you’re being hunted down by all manner of enemies, the frequent failures of the game to work out where you want to go or what to do leads to some frustrating and unnecessary deaths. When you aren’t teleporting around, chances are at some point you’ll be sneaking. There’s a slight flaw with this. It isn’t always clear when you are sneaking. There’s a symbol on screen and your ‘vision’ goes slightly darker, but there’s no significant height change as happens in other games (again, such as Skyrim), and it seems hit and miss whether you remain in sneak mode when you jump, climb, teleport or otherwise move around the map. It’s no game breaker but when I spend half the game sneaking, it’d be good to know I’m not going to randomly pop out of sneak and into a line of sight.

I have some other, albeit minor, quarrels with the controls; I never once really needed the sprint button. Mapped to the left stick ‘click’ (teehee it rhymes), it’s seemingly no faster than your standard run and a control I have difficulty with for some reason, and makes a hack of a lot more noise in game than your standard run. I also take issue with ‘The Heart’, an actual heart you use to listen to more lore and secrets and to locate ruins and bone charms used to better your skills and abilities. It gets auto mapped to up on the Dpad (I don’t like the Dpad anyway), and although it can (probably) be mapped somewhere else or not at all, I didn’t realise or bother. I just wish it was a permanent thing rather than something you brought up in the hopes there’s something interesting nearby. My final point here isn’t really to do with controls but didn’t really fit anywhere else. The game allows you to save in many slots. Not so many you lose track of them, but enough to have lots of backups.  Press continue in the opening menu and you go from where you left off. Or you’re supposed to but I gave up on that long ago and went round the load menu instead. Dishonored does pick some odd spots to autosave. And it doesn’t seem to understand time, frequently loading older saves.

On the other hand, these control and save related issues (in fact, ALL issues so far) with the game pale in comparison to the plot. You buddy up with the Loyalists, as I mentioned before, but from then on it’s really just ‘kill this person, or don’t, whatever’ missions, until a really predictable plot twist and sudden rush through of the last couple of missions. There’s 9 missions overall, and unless you spend hundreds of hours sat in the shadows, the game is fairly short whichever way you look at it. The ending itself is fairly anti-climatic and although quasi reflects on your choice of playstyle and in game actions, led to a feeling of apathy. I watched the end sequence, and although pretty as it pans through the various areas of the city with characters frozen in time, I found I didn’t care either way what happened. I felt I went through all the ‘you died’ screens and spent my time dodging rats for nothing. An ending that seems a cop out. Dishonored clearly wants you to play multiple times, encouraged by the achievements, and to be honest I probably would had I my own copy. But the ending was not the payoff I was looking for.

An Overseer with his music box. The box blocks all supernatural abilities.

Despite the issues, the game on the whole isn’t terrible. The music is substantially creepy enough and befitting of a city on the verge of collapse and many of the enemies instill a sense of dread when you have to face them.  Here I mention the Overseers, see above, and their music boxes, and my particular favourite the Tallboy, see below. I even managed to finish the story (I have neither the patience nor the time to 100% it) without chucking the game out the window. And I have to say, I enjoyed it. Even the frustrations of the AI.  For all the faults and lackings, I found it sufficiently different to other games I have to look past those faults and see what it wants and tries desperately to be. Dishonored was not a bad game. I personally feel it wasn’t fantastic, owing to the clear lack of polish, but it is certainly one of my favourites and deserves the awards it won. It is one of very few games that has stayed in the disc tray of my Xbox from start to finish and I would quite happily devour a sequel. I would like more of the wider universe and lore – the steampunk, Orwellian undertones and history the game alludes to are surprisingly intriguing given how little we are given in game when compared to Fallout or The Elder Scrolls.

Tallboys are some of the most intriguing yet terrifying enemies in the game.,

I heartily recommend Dishonored, and suggest you read other (more professional) reviews to really get a wider understanding. I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible but it’s worth checking out other opinions. A quick thank you to Trunco for loaning me the game, and to you for reading. Khinjarsi out.

While I’m at it, I’ll steal Trunco’s thing and just mention that none of the pictures I use are mine in my posts, unless I state otherwise. I do not claim to own photos or images I do not own, and most of them are found through Google Images.

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