In the dark, dingy city of Dunwall all is not well; there's the plague, rats, death and murder at every corner; all is not well indeed. To make things worse, the Empress has just been assassinated and the heir to the throne abducted, although at least the suspect has been apprehended, or has he?
Corvo Atano, a once proud solider is in a bit of a predicament, which you'll find out soon after your join him. He's been blamed for the aforementioned crimes, thrown into a cell in Coleridge Prison and is due to be executed. It doesn't seem to matter to those in charge that he is actually innocent, but it's not up to them to prove this, it's up to you. Thankfully, just as Corvo begins to fear the worst, he manages to escape, aided by a group known as the loyalists. They, like Corvo, want to restore the rightful heir to her thrown, although our makeshift assassin will have to find her first, allowing him to clear his name at the same time. It certainly isn't an easy path to the end credits, but then you wouldn't want it any other way, would you?
Dishonored, a world full of stealth and/or high chaos, depending on the path you choose. A world full of magic, betrayal, blood and funnily enough, sleep. It's mixed up alright, more than you'd even imagine.
So Corvo is free and upon meeting the loyalists, you'll soon discover he has to return to the city of Dunwall in a series of missions in order to restore peace and hope. Of course, Corvo was never going to find it easy to blend in on the streets of Dunwall and the loyalists know this. In this respect, soon into the game he meets with Piero, a clever man who provides all the equipment and upgrades he'll need when eventually setting on his way to complete the various missions assigned to him. When Corvo first meets Piero he is gifted a mask which not only covers his face, but also provides zoom functionality. Later on Piero can also provide various upgrades both to the mask and other equipment, as well as providing ammo ahead of missions - he's a handy man to know.
In addition to meeting Piero, our protagonist also comes across a mysterious character who provides Corvo with the ability to learn rune magic. Each of the spells available will have to be earned by finding the various runes scattered throughout the game, although to aide him in this task Corvo is gifted a heart which beats as both runes and bone charms grow closer. While bone charms are handy, given that they provide up to three small bonuses to aid you in your quest, it's the rune magic which really helps set Dishonored apart. Rune Magic takes various forms, giving Corvo the ability to teleport; jump into the bodies of other living creatures or beings; blast enemies against walls with a strong force of wind and more. Each ability does require a certain amount of runes to learn, and can be upgraded once learned by collecting more runes.
Given that Dishonoured is a dangerous world, weapons also play a large part in Corvo's survival. Generally he is armed with his assassin's blade on his right hand; however with his left hand he can mix things up a little, arming himself with a crossbow, pistol, grenades and traps. The left hand can also be used for magic, allowing you to create devastating combos like cast a bend time spell, use the quick access wheel to switch to the pistol and shoot the enemy down before they know what's hit them.
Once armed and to some extent, 'rune'd up', it's finally time for Corvo to set upon his way to Dunwall to complete the tasks at hand. These missions almost feel like separate episodes, with each having varied objectives. The beauty of the approach developer Arkane Studios has taken is that you don't actually need to play through the mission in a set way. This means that although your clear goal at the start of the mission may be to assassinate someone, there are other paths you can take, some of which will probably make your life easier. It's not all about killing either, although you can go down this route, leaving corpses on the street for the rats to feed off and no doubt helping spread the plague that is already riddling the city. Taking the stealthy option is actually a lot of fun and very challenging. Guards often spot you when you make a sound, however utilizing rune magic and quiet feet, you can generally get through the mission without killing anyone. For instance, you can take possession of rats to sneak past guards into buildings or teleport onto the rooftops and avoid them altogether. If you do find yourself having to confront a guard, you can knock them unconscious rather than ending their life. Dishonored is all about choices and there are a lot of them.
No-one goes into a game expecting an easy path to complete the missions and Dishonored doesn't disappoint. There are certainly plenty of obstacles which stand in Corvo's way. Electrified fences need to be disabled, large towers which fire rockets need to be avoided and alert systems need to be silenced. You could say Dunwall has the best security system known to gaming, although you can use this to your advantage. Take the electric gate as an example; each gate has a panel which if hacked will turn on the enemy, on occasion these gates have an alarm which alerts the guards if you get to close and when this happens they'll run towards you at high speed, therefore should you happen to hack the gate, as the guards run through it, they'll disintegrate into a thousand tiny pieces. Corvo's got the skills; Dishonored is all about how you use them.
Enemies in Dishonored are certainly diverse, with city guards, assassin's, thugs and even rats standing in your way. The game also introduces tallboys, a large mechanical moving weapon which is controlled by a lone pilot. Tallboys are fairly tough and generally when you come up against them there will be more than one, although they do have a weak spot, it's just a case of finding it.
Once you complete an objective, it's time to rest. In this respect, at the end of each mission a stats screen will appear, providing you with information such as hostiles and civilians killed; alarms rung; bodies found; your chaos rating and the number of collectables you found. It's during this time you'll really discover how you've played the game and, if you wish, you can take the opportunity to play the mission again, perhaps using a different approach.
The neoclassical steampunk world of Dishonored is certainly something to be desired. Graphically this game stands out amongst all others released this year. Arkane Studios have taken a risk with the style and era on which this game is based, but it certainly seems to have paid off, because it's beautiful. Often in games of this size, there will be bugs aplenty, however not really many come to mind from my play through. Perhaps I was too engrossed in the story, thanks to its many twists and turns, or maybe I was just so engrossed in not trying to get caught by the enemy. Either way it's impressive stuff.
As a website, we've never been one for spoiling games in our reviews, which is why you'll find that there is so much more to Dishonored than I have described here. There are so many characters, possibilities and outcomes as well as countless ways to play through each mission. The path you take will lead you many different ways, but each will be just as pleasing as the last.
Dishonored may be based in the age of terror and corruption, but as long as you choose to have Corvo by your side, then you can't really go wrong.
Review Policy (Version tested: Xbox 360)