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Wednesday, 11 February 2015



I wrote this title, left it for a bit, and then thought I was writing a Mass Effect review when I came back. I had a paragraph in mind about how it represented Bioware's shift from licensed games to the original games that would catapult them from popular to leaders in the genre. It was great. Another time.

Probably part of the reason I got confused is because it's quite surprising that I haven't reviewed Dishonored yet, given that it is quite possibly one of my favourite video games. I'm not really a stealth game person, owing to reasons like being unspeakably awful at them, but Dishonored's multi-path approach through levels, its beautiful steampunk aesthetic, and its array of powers, all drew me in and convinced me to buy it.

Dishonored is the story of Corvo Attano, Lord Protector to the Empress in the city of Dunwall. After returning from a mission to seek aid for a plague, Corvo witnesses the Empress be assassinated, and her daughter kidnapped. Accused of the crime by the scheming Spymaster, now Lord Regent, Corvo escapes prison and begins working for a loyalist rebellion, with the aid of mysterious powers received from otherwordly being, the Outsider.

"Hey, want the power to create gusts of wind with a gesture?" "YES."

There are, if I'm being honest, very few criticisms I can level at Dishonored. The gameplay is well-balanced and fun, whether you're stealthing about or murdering everyone in sight, and both are difficult in different ways - stealthing, obviously, in that if you get noticed it's pretty much all over, and murdering in that every soldier in the area will try to swarm you, necessitating a mad dash around the place while summoning rats and hacking at people with your sword. Playing the Benny Hill music on a nearby computer is optional.

Your range of powers suit the multiple gameplay styles you can take - your basic spell Blink, combined with cheap spell Dark Sight, will often be sufficient for stealth, but can be augmented with Possession, which allows you to jump inside people and animals and use them to meander past security checkpoints. Meanwhile, if you want to commit murder, you have powers such as Devouring Swarm (which summons a horde of rats) and Windblast (which throws people against walls). There are even a few powers which are suited for both, such as the power that turns your enemies to ash when you kill them, allowing you to commit murder without leaving a body behind to blow your cover. 

Also helpful is that you can take any of a dozen routes to your targets (and the game will mix things up by having some levels where your targets' location, or even identity, will change with each new game), from charging in the front gates, to sneaking along rooftops, to possessing a fish and swimming inside through the river. 

The 'sneaking along rooftops' option.

On my first playthrough, I tried to stealth and ended up going with murder more often than not, and the result was a high chaos playthrough that left me feeling more than a little bit sad, as it involved my boatman sidekick catching the plague and saying he never wanted to see me again, and the princess, Emily, ending up with no small amount of post-traumatic stress. So, on my second playthrough, I committed to stealth: I committed to stealth so hard that I did practice runs. I succeeded and got my low chaos ending, and felt much more content with it.

Which is good, I think. A poor stealth game is one where you're relying more on luck than aught else, but in Dishonored, you can learn to be a good stealther, it just takes a little time.

Luckily, the story makes multiple playthroughs more than worthwhile. The basic plot of the game is very simple, and it was clearly created with the intent that there would be as few compulsory story scenes as possible - but the game is chock full of other story related things that you can discover. With the mechanical heart item, you can listen to cryptic, sinister remarks about places and people; you can talk to almost any of the people in your home base, and learn about their lives; you can eavesdrop on people while on missions, and taking different routes to your goal will net you different people to listen to; and there are plenty of books and letters to read lying around, on subjects ranging from a play about a gay romance, to war strategy, to New Year's festivals. While the game never forces you to find out more about the world, and you don't need to know much about it to understand the plot, the opportunity is always there, and the world is more than rich and deep enough to accommodate even the most curious player.

Add to that that the game is just beautiful, with gorgeous graphics and an excellent soundtrack, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish.

Hi, evil walker things.

There's a reason this is one of my favourite games, let's put it that way.

Currently, it doesn't seem like there's any hint of a sequel - there were rumblings about one being shown at E3 2014, but nothing ever materialised - which is a crying shame, if you ask me.

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