Review: ‘Dishonored’ is only as violent as you make it

Oct. 09, 2012 | 5:00 a.m.

The distillery in a scene from "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

A scene from the Boyle level in "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

A scene from the Boyle level in "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

Arriving at Golden Cat in a scene from "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

The character Emily in a scene from "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

A Wall of Light in a scene from "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

Wolfhounds in a scene from "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

The supernatural power windblast is used against weepers in a scene from "Dishonored." (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

A crumbling empire. A plague-like epidemic. A royal assassination.

As “Dishonored’s” hero Corvo Attano, you have nothing but problems — and choices, especially once you’re framed for murdering the very empress you were charged with protecting.

To clear your name, defeat those who really killed the empress and restore the royal order, you can slash and burn your way through the stark, rat-infested city of Dunwall. Or you can use your wits and even empathy among its unsavory inhabitants to prevail.

This tale opens with an invitation to a simple game of hide-and-seek with a child, leaving the more traditional aspects of first-person gaming, such as the firing of weapons and the mastering of supernatural forces, for later. The various missions that follow in brothels, prisons and sewers are set in an elaborately drawn, steampunk-inspired world akin to turn of the 20th century England.

Fighting your way through the often rough environs of Dunwall will bring the game to a quicker conclusion, but there’s almost always three or four nonviolent solutions to every mission.

And that’s the beauty of “Dishonored”: It can be a violent action game. It can be a spy game. It can be a supernatural game. There’s a lot of freedom, but regardless of the way you play, it seems to always nudge you in the way of patience.

Spend a moment talking to those on the empire grounds to learn about Dunwall’s healthcare debate and why it matters. If you opt for a path of violence to explore all the natural and supernatural weapons hidden and for sale, you may miss out on eavesdropping on prostitutes as they reveal government secrets. One can even spend hours distracted by the works of fiction that fill the bookshelves and nightstands in a pub. There’s a revenge romance novel lying about, and there are plenty of books that detail how the city is powered by oil extracted from whales.

Likewise, Corvo’s assassination assignments are less a challenge than a tease. Yes, players can enter a room with sword drawn, but brawls are best to be avoided. Kill someone, and Corvo must hide the body to avoid alerting others of his presence. Think of “Dishonored” as an elaborate puzzle, one that’s consistently challenging the gamer to avoid bloodshed as it creates more chaos and unpredictability in ensuing missions.

Sneaking and voyeurism are strictly encouraged, and doing so before the empress is slain will give listeners an insider’s view of a city being destroyed by political infighting. A maid tells of “plague riots,” while an aristocrat explains that the plague does little more than infect the filthy and the immoral, the consequences of a “corrupt society,” he says.

Those more interested in action than reading will encounter a world just as detailed. Coming up against an electric force-field early in the game provides players with the chance to see just how layered Dunwall is, as players can explore via rooftops or back alleys. When a player is spotted, Daniel Licht’s abstract, atmospheric score is suddenly jerked alive with the strike of a violin.

A Wall of Light in a scene from “Dishonored.” (Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

One easy way to avoid these tense situations altogether is to explore Dunwall as a rat. When Corvo finds ancient runes, they can be used as currency to buy mystical powers. Resources are limited, but enhancements available allow for more powerful strikes or, more fun, the ability to teleport or to possess an animal.

Sneaking through alleys as vermin only gets you so far. When human, a number of scenarios and characters challenge your moral compass. Take the blind and tormented old spinster, voiced creepily by Susan Sarandon. She knows where the city’s riches are hidden, but her rewards come at the cost of more lives. And hasn’t Dunwall been through enough?

Scrawled on the digitized bricks outside her home is a swath of graffiti so faint that it could be mistaken for a shadow. “Send us food, not bullets,” it reads. Instead, the city is given Corvo, who is either a feared war hero or an inspirational pacifist, depending on one of the game’s multiple endings.

The good news: Regardless of the path, one can still play as a rodent.

Todd Martens


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4 Responses to Review: ‘Dishonored’ is only as violent as you make it

  1. Christian says:

    Sounds exactly like the old Thief games! A must buy!

  2. Gaucho420 says:

    This game sounds awesome. I love the fact that the missions don't have a linear path and that you must explore and devise your own plan to finish each mission. Graphics look great and the story sounds interesting…might be picking it up this weekend!

  3. Ihzaack pope says:

    Sounds like lots of fun must buy

  4. Melynda says:

    Bought this game on a whim and because of the word 'steampunk.' I haven't been disappointed yet. It reminds me of a more strategically based Bioshock, although Dunwall doesn't really compare to Rapture. I highly recommend it. I look forward to getting back to this game, I've been sidetracked by Assassin's Creed III.

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