Dishonored is a game on many levels. You play as Corvo, protector of the empress and her daughter, Emily, the heiress to an empire; an empire which is suffering from a multitude of problems including corruption, plague, crime and all round unsavoury inhabitants. The story takes no time at all in throwing you into the midst of a conspiracy, and following being framed for the murder of empress Jessamine your quest begins to clear your name and retrieve any information on Emily's whereabouts. The story takes a relatively unoriginal formula, however the world that Arkane have managed to create as the premise for this is incredible for more reasons than you can imagine.
Playing Dishonored is like jumping into bed with the love-child of Tenchu and Bioshock. Corvo dual wields with a brilliantly designed signature blade in the right hand and player assigned abilities/utilities in the left. The powers given to you by the mysterious Outsider are bare-bones but extremely effective in creating a clutter free navigational/killing experience. There are six powers and four character attributes to choose from and upgrade. The genius in this model is that by combining the various powers, you are limitless in the ways and means to dispose of your enemies. Why not summon a swarm of rats, strap a razor-wire grenade to one, possess it, run through the ventilation shafts into a room full of enemies and let rip? Or freeze time, possess a guard and move him into his own comrade's line of fire? Or freeze time, snatch a thrown grenade out of the air and return it to from where it came? The list really does go on. And if you're like me you'll spend hours playing with these mechanics discovering new and brutal ways to avenge your empire.
For those stealth heads out there, no other game offers a stalking experience quite like it. There did tend to be issues with hiding bodies in that there is actually no measure as to whether a body is hidden or not. Splinter Cell for example, had very definite `light and dark' areas and throughout the series brilliant mechanisms for identifying whether your character is visible or not. Dishonored relies more on line of sight and level/height in relation to enemies. Shadows offer bonus invisibility at distances, but don't expect to be in pitch dark facing an enemy head on (note: this may differ on lower difficulties). And so issues with hiding bodies commence. Is this hidden in the dark corner of this room? Is this hidden, above the chandelier? A minor complaint, but important for those who play for the perfect end of mission stats.
Assassinations themselves vary depending on player position and are immensely bloody and satisfying. Your staple tool throughout is Blink, helping you to reach ledges, hide and sometimes simply to GTFO. But its design is unique and effective, despite taking a little getting used to (amongst the huge deal of freedom you will likely encounter a few invisible walls or glass ceilings). The `corner/peek' system has been considered, and where DE:HR utilised the third-person cover system, Dishonored simply allows for peeking, without fear of being seen. This can sometimes be jarring when you're staring right into the whites of an enemy's eyes, however it's hard to think of a much better solution concerning first person stealth.
If you are spotted and it does kick off however, don't be disappointed. The combat in Dishonored is second to none. Skill in parrying and methodical solutions to overcoming a foe in direct hand-to-hand combat is essential, especially if like me you go straight for the very hard setting. If you play the game with a head on approach, you'll very much want to tailor your character to this type of play because you will find yourself utilising resources much more often than taking the quieter approach (bone-charms and runes can be combined to benefit fighters as opposed to sneakers (e.g. exilers having greater more sustained effects, regenerative mana, greater amount of health etc). This different approach to character modelling is one way Dishonored delves into roleplaying, the other is then an extension of this in how, thereafter, you chose to play.
The decision making processes are apparent from the very start. Will you slip into the murderous ways of your conspirators, or take the moral high road and exact your revenge in a series of non-lethal approaches? These decisions, although they are frequent and seemingly unobtrusive, accumulate and the repercussions are expressed through atmosphere, dialogue and gameplay as oppose to "you said this, here are the repercussions of your actions. Now, run forth and play on", a method utilised by so many role-playing games to date. Being spotted or causing a ruckus near the start of an area might much later trigger a conversation between guards or key characters reflecting this. It's touches like this that make Dishonored a real pleasure to play as you can feel the environment bending to accommodate your character's actions. In the longer term, ill actions will see the decline of the city escalate with more `weepers' (plague riddled survivors), rats and a significantly heavier city guard. It is important to note that Dishonored can be completed without having to kill a single enemy (for which you are rewarded), and surprisingly enough there is a great sense of achievement from playing this way. The targets themselves can be disposed of non-lethally via an array of creative means, and the effects of your actions echo through the game as you find readings (or in one instance actually find a previously humiliated character much later) and have interactions referring to these decisions. Most notably these conversations occur between key characters and friends around your base and it's the empathy and feelings towards these NPCs that can in turn make you feel proud or even guilty of your performances. In other words your actions will have an effect on the people around you impacting the story and relationships to a much higher degree than many games even attempt to achieve. Believe me, as a player you will feel empathy for those around you.
The combination of art-deco, Victorian London and a cyber-punk dystopia towards character and level design is incredibly original, innovative and refreshing with the results leading to some of the most beautiful scenes in video gaming to date. The water and lighting effects have been carefully utilised against the foreground to have an incredible impact on the level design and art direction. It's evident that the level designers and concept teams had such a specific idea of how they wanted this game to look and by god did they succeed. Each area has its own unique identity, and navigating them is an absolute pleasure. The multiple levels and access points to reach targets is extensive, and part of getting the most out of Dishonored is spending time exploring all of these areas. The Isles are scattered with lore, secrets, safes and stories all waiting to be discovered. Shame on the player that doesn't pay this attention to detail and level design any heed.
Character models and surfaces can at times be inconsistent with the pores of skin and the slightest of imperfections being visible on some, though grainy textures appearing on others. If you're playing this game on console it is strongly advised you install (around 5-6GB) just to minimise texturing issues and rendering.
All things considered, Dishonored is an immense achievement full of twists and turns. It is nothing short of a brilliant vision brought to life in all the right ways. Even if there are some aspects that are still a little rough around the edges, somebody dreamed this world and this adventure, with nods to technology and period, design and execution, class and conflict. In short, finally, 2012's first essential buy.