Perhaps naming a game of the year now, when so many excellent titles have yet to be released, is a little bold, but Dishonored ticks so many of the boxes that it seems hard to imagine anything surpassing it. Dishonored had its hand on the trophy even before release. In demonstrations and publicity, Dishonored has been nothing short of breath taking. While other games, such as Hitman: Absolution (another game of the year contender) have gone for a more traditional shock-to-create-awe approach, Dishonored simultaneously showed its strength in gameplay and in style, and although the gameplay is to be marvelled at, it is the wonderfully realised style of the game that grabbed attention before release.
Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, Dishonored is played in a steampunk style universe where whale oil is relied upon for power. The protagonist, Corvo Attano, was once the protector of the empress but at the opening of the game he is framed for her murder and the abduction of her daughter Emily, the heir to the throne. From there the story follows Corvo as he seeks revenge and Emily, to restore his reputation and rescue Dunwall from the oppressive rule of the Lord Regent who has taken over.
Dunwall is beautiful and wonderfully quirky. It has aspects of Victorian Britain mixed in with unique pieces of technology from the fictional world. The game is not open-world but it does promote exploration and you’ll want to explore, as much can be learned about the world through books and conversations that you come across. There are collectibles too, whose locations are given to you from the off which encourages you to roam further afield. The characters are brilliantly realised, with fantastic voice acting from a stellar cast including Chloe Grace Moretz, Susan Sarandon, Brad Dourif, John Slatterly and a number of other stars. Given the talent used for the NPCs it is a little disappointing that Corvo is a silent protagonist, especially when there are conversation options presented to the player on a number of occasions. This sits in stark contrast to Corvo’s well realised surroundings but it never ruins the experience.
And what an excellent experience playing Dishonored is. Stealth and player choice are emphasised here and the game provides multiple ways to complete each level, immediately giving it replay value. While you are allowed to play as you like – being a stealthy assassin, a brutal murderer or more a benevolent hero – the game gently suggests that you kill as few people as possible, and on your first play through you’ll likely fluctuate in body count between levels, although it is possible to complete the game without killing anyone. Dishonored adds into the bargain supernatural powers that can be upgraded in a pseudo-RPG system, opening up new avenues of play and meaning that, although the goals are broadly similar across all levels (neutralise the target), the way in which each level plays is very different. These powers are granted to you by The Outsider, an interesting character who comes to you in dreams and visions when you visit shrines people have made to him. He is the object of the religion that exists in Dunwall but his morals remain ambiguous throughout the game. The powers available are fun and useful, however, Corvo does, at times, feel a little over powered, to the point where levels only become really challenging when you impose your own rules (such as don’t kill anyone or never be seen). Despite this, the game is hugely enjoyable and although comparisons with games like Thief and Deux Ex are inevitable, Dishonored does enough to be unique and still be enjoyable, making the player want more and replay levels to see different outcomes.
The storyline of dishonored is perhaps its weakest point. While the story is by no means terrible, there is so much potential for storytelling in this game that the way it is done and the extent to which there is a well developed story is disappointing. Much of the back story of Dunwall is told through books and documents that you discover along the way, meaning that you can choose whether or not you learn about the city, but if you are interested, the amount that you have to read really slows the pace of the game and feels lazy on the part of the developers. The characters are brilliantly voiced but are not really developed and the poorer citizens of Dunwall who are oppressed or diseased seem to be looking for our pity but more often than not they get in the way and, again, hinder the pace of the game. The religion and The Outsider are also under explored by the story which, again, feels like a missed opportunity. Given the effort put in to the rest of the game and the success that has come from that effort, it is a shame that the same attention was not paid to the story.
The style, gameplay and brilliant vocal performances in Dishonored make it a fantastic game. The story is a little weak and there are some balancing issues between the difficulty of the game and the abilities of the playable character, but these do not take away from what is a wonderfully enjoyable experience. You will play Dishonored multiple times and enjoy each of them for different reasons. In a market often dominated by sequels, prequels and remakes, it is refreshing to play a new game and come away from it satisfied. For this reason I feel that Dishonored can confidently wait to be named game of the year, and it thoroughly deserves it.