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Review: Dishonored Executes “Choose Your Own Path” Gameplay Perfectly

Over the past few days I’ve had the pleasure of playing Arkane Studios’ Dishonored, which is published by the game masters over at Bethesda SoftWorks.  Dishonored is set in the mythical city of Dunwall, which utilizes an 18th century architectural style mixed with a run down dystopian feel.  Its inhabitants mimic the 18th century style in their dress and weapons, but there’s also a hint of advanced technology to their gear, which gives Dishonored a steampunk feel.  The game definitely has an interesting and unique look to it, which is a direct result of its use of the various visual styles employed by the developers at Arkane.  Let’s be real though, gamers don’t play games for their looks.  Gaming is all about the gameplay, and I’m happy to report that Dishonored shines in this department.

Dishonored pits you as the Master Assassin Corvo Attano, the Lord Protector of Dunwall, who gets framed for the murder of Dunwall’s Empress, and the disappearance of her daughter Emily within the first 5 minutes of firing up the campaign.  Corvo is then sprung from prison by a band of loyalists (Citizens of Dunwall who oppose the Lord Regent’s regime), which signals the true beginning of Dishonored.  At this point in time is where you, the gamer, take control of the former Lord Protector of Dunwall, and truly get to experience the best of Dishonored’s gameplay design, which is its excellent use of the “choose your own path” mechanic that other games have tried to employ.  I say “tried” because until I played Dishonored, I never felt that games which claimed to offer multiple paths actually paid of on that promise, with Crysis 2 being a prime example of this type of failure.

Dishonored

EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome

  • True “Choose your own path” gameplay
  • High replay value
  • Graphic Combat
  • Assassin-y (As in you actually feel like one. If you want)

The Not so Awesome

  • Drab console visuals
  • Throw away story
  • Relatively short depending on your chosen play style

When I played Dishonored at E3 this past June I was instantly enamored with its excellent use of the choose your own path gameplay mechanic. Now that I’ve completed the retail version of the game, I can tell you that this gameplay technique is the shining star in Dishonored’s list of pros.  Like I mentioned earlier, this style of game desing isn’t unique to Dishonored.  It has been used many times before with Crysis 2 being a recent game that employed it, albeit not as well as Dishonored.

The moment you take control of Corvo, and are assigned your first task of taking out a high-value target, the choice of going full chaos, or stealth becomes very clear.  Depending on how you like to play a first person game you can approach missions with reckless abandon.  You know Rambo-style.  Guns a’blazing and swords a’swinging.  Or, if you’re more into the ninja-style of stealth, you can tackle each mission without harming a single enemy, which can even include your main target.

Corvo makes his escape from prison

I found that Dishonored employed this element of choice better than any game who came before it promising the same type of open-ended gameplay.  Most games that allow you to be sneaky or not, still force you to grind through stealth sections even if you hate tiptoeing through a game like a ballerina.  This is not the case in Dishonored.  Never did I find myself having to go stealth unless I wanted to throughout the game’s 9 main missions.  I greatly appreciated this, because I honestly do not like stealth games.  To me they’re boring and devoid of any type of excitement, so I always hate when games force me to employ a stealth approach.

You can tell that Arkane really wanted to impart the feeling of choice in Dishonored, because before each mission they remind you that you can tackle it anyway you want.  You can possess humans and animals to achieve your goals, or you can kill everyone in sight.  You could use your powers to sneak around the rooftops of Dunwall in hopes of finding an open window to sneak into, or you could charge the front door like a madman on a mission of death.  You could sneak around each level like a ninja, slowly incapacitating your enemies and stowing their bodies out of sight so no one even knows your there.  I think you get the point.  There’s more than one way to skin a target in Dishonored.

To help you play the game you want to you can level-up (or not) a set of supernatural powers, your gear (blade, guns, darts, etc), as well as your physical attributes.  The reason for me throwing in the “or not” disclaimer is because you don’t have to level up anything if you don’t want to.  In fact, there’s an achievement/trophy for playing the whole game without leveling up a single thing, which helps to play into Dishonored’s high replay value.

Don’t like stabbing people? Use your rat swarm power!

Dishonored is setup in a way that you will have to play through it at least twice to unlock most of its rewards, but in reality you could technically play through its campaign an unlimited number of times due to the whole choose your own path mechanic that I mentioned above.  I can almost guarantee that no two gamers will share the exact same gameplay experience each time they play through Dishonored.  That’s how many options you have to complete each mission to beat the game.  Not to mention all of the powers that you can use, or not use, which also opens up multiple styles for completing the game.  It’s an impressive feat, and one of the main reasons that Dishonored has a high replay value.

One reason that you may want to play Dishonored multiple times is to dabble in its variety of combat mechanics.  If you go for the chaos route you’ll be utilizing more of Corvo’s weapons than powers, which offer some gruesome kill shots.  I’m talking limb loss, decapitations, and plenty of blood.  The brute force tactic becomes very violent, with a nice dash of gore that blood hungry gamers like myself will enjoy.  I’m always down for over-the-top video game violence, and Dishonored definitely doesn’t disappoint in this department.

Corvo’s powers and weapons make for some brutal deaths

On the other hand you could also play Dishonored multiple times to fully check out Corvo’s supernatural powers (teleporting, possessing, killer rats, night vision, force push).  These are bestowed upon him by the curious Outsider, and are more geared towards being a ninja versus the Hulk.  You could also mix these with the brute force attack powers above to have more of a hybrid gameplay experience.  As you can see there is multiple ways to achieve your goals in Dishonored, which gives it a very high replay value.

For all of its upside Dishonored still has some glaring issues that prevent it from being a perfect game.  I can’t help but bring up its plain Jane visuals on consoles.  You can clearly tell that this game was designed to run on a high-end PC.  Dishonored’s visuals suffer greatly when played on a console.  I played the Xbox 360 version, and found myself bored by the look of Dunwall.  I appreciated the 18th century architectural style mixed with a splash of the future, but if I really studied the environent’s textures I saw nothing but drab art.  The visuals almost seemed washed out on the console, which is a definite disappointment.

Obviously a PC screenshot, but the console version doesn’t impart the same graphical fidelity

The less than perfect visuals aren’t the biggest issue with Dishonored though.  Its story is as generic as it gets.  If you strip out the whole Outsider nonsense this game is your standard save the day type of title.  None of the NPCs really stand out as unique characters, and their acting performances are slightly stale.  I never found myself giving a sh*t about anyone in the game, which may have led to me taking the chaos route, and just steamrolling through each mission.

I felt like major plot devices were never fully explained such as the rat plague, and the Outsider’s involvement.  I still don’t know who the hell the Outsider is, and why he bestowed his powers upon Corvo. In all honesty the cheap story doesn’t detract from Dishonored’s great gameplay, but it would have been nice to actually care about the characters in the game, rather than blindly playing through it just for the fun of executing each mission the way you wanted to.

I believe the lack of an engaging story plays into the fact that Dishonored isn’t necessarily a very long game.  Depending on how you choose to play it I could see some gamers completing the campaign in less than 10 hours.  Although, if you are going for a stealth play through to score every achievement, I could see Dishonored taking upwards of 15 hours.  I can tell you that it took me about 12-15 hours to beat the game, but I made sure to do every side mission and to collect most of the item pick-ups.

I never gave a damn about any of the characters so I just blasted everybody in my way

Dishonored is definitely one of the best new IPs in gaming.  Its excellent use of the “choose your own path” gameplay makes it a gaming experience that shouldn’t be missed in 2012.  The ability to play anyway you want gives Dishonored a high replay value, so you’ll definitely get some bang for your buck.  Arkane has crafted a gaming environment that allows you to play in the proverbial digital sandbox anyway you want, and you’re never forced to choose one tactic over the other, which is something I appreciated greatly.  Corvo’s power set will offer you the flexibility to be a tank, or to go about your missions like a ninja.  The console version suffers from some visual issues, but they’re easily overlooked due to the excellent gameplay.  Don’t expect an engaging story, but at the same time I can tell you that Dishonored’s lackluster tale is an afterthought due to the fun factor of playing through the game anyway you want.

When I factored in all of the pros and cons of Dishonored I came to the conclusion that it deserves an EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas.  It’s well worth your time, and it’s a game that you should give a try to see what it’s truly like to be an assassin.  If you want to hear more of my thoughts on the game make sure to check out our Beasts of the Week in Geek vlog embedded after the break.  You’ve been needing to step behind the mask of Corvo Attano…

‘Beasts of the Week in Geek’ Ep. 13: “Zitty McZittington Loves Dishonored” [HD]

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Tags : DishonoredImpressionsMust Play
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.