I can’t really write an official ‘review’ of ‘Dishonored’ because, while I’ve sunk about twenty hours into this game, I’m nowhere close to finishing it.
This is my own fault, not the game’s. No, the game itself is actually pretty amazing. Arguably, Dishonored is everything Bethesda has been trying to do with its RPGs for a solid decade and has both failed and succeeded in equal measure. That requires some explaining, so I’ll do my best to lay it out.
The Game Is Rock Solid, Technically
That sounds like I’m leading by damning with faint praise, but consider the track record of the publisher. Bethesda’s games have always been marked by two things: A huge amount of ambition and a huge number of bugs. Skyrim’s notorious “chug bug” for the PS3, where frame rates start crashing because nobody at the company thought to check how the PS3’s RAM worked (seriously), is just one example. Bugs ranging from the funny to the game breaking have always been a hallmark of the company’s work.
Update: Since it seems to be getting on people nerves on Reddit, here’s why I’m calling Bethesda out. If a game is released and it’s got a lot of bugs, that is as much the publisher’s fault as the developer’s. Game publishing is no different from any other form of media; the developer is required to deliver a product, and the publisher’s job is to decide whether or not that’s up to snuff and then, you know, publish it or send it back. I’m singling out the publisher here because Bethesda as a publisher has a long history of being rather lax on bugs, and if you don’t believe me, consider a few of the games they’ve released from other developers.
Here, that’s not the case. This may be due to the fact that it’s a series of dungeons instead of a series of dungeons and a huge open world. That would seem like a step backward. Except…
All The Levels Are Sensible And Wide Open
I talked about this before, but one of the strengths here is that more often than not, the buildings are laid out according to sensible building plans, not some obvious setup to drive you relentlessly forward. Part of this is the fact that they have to make sense: The game doesn’t give you a lot of directions, at least not in the HUD. Another part of it is, though, that you need to figure out your strategy ahead of time. Your resources and gold are limited so you’ll need to tackle each area in a manner that doesn’t get you killed. That can be… annoying, but it does bring out the key point of the levels, which is…
Exploration Is Key
If you love poking around and finding different clues and hints, this is the game for you. Part of the fun of the game is listening in on guard chatter, which ranges from dirty jokes to grumbling about the job to hints about something else to try in the level.
This is why I’ve sunk so much time into the game and why I’m nowhere close to done. Hunting down all the runes and gold, and more to the point, figuring out all the strategies for taking down your target, which can range from feeding them to rats to being the puppet master, behind the scenes, arranging their murder indirectly, makes you want to repeat the level over and over again. Speaking of which…
There’s No Morality System, Something The Game Will Remind You Of Periodically
It tells you something that when, in one level where I figured out one of the “puppet master” ways of removing a target, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d just given my target to somebody who was very likely a serial killer. I had to shut the game off for a while after that and take a walk, process how I felt about that. A game hasn’t done that to me in a long, long time. Ultimately I went back, loaded up a previous save, and murdered her instead; I actually felt that was the better option.
Some people are, not unreasonably, upset about a level where the “good” option is that you send a woman to be raped and murdered, but I understand why Arkane wrote it that way. They want you to understand that, violent or non-violent, what you’re doing is not justice. You are not the hero here. Even if you choose the non-violent path for Corvo, you’re still going to go to some very, very dark places. Corvo may have noble goals, but the “non-violent” options are ultimately just as spectacularly ugly as anything you can do with your magic powers or your sword.
The writing has its flaws, but one thing it doesn’t do is let you off the hook, morally. Corvo is still a man who has sold his soul to the Devil, figuratively and possibly literally, depending on where they go with the Outsider.
Which brings me to my final point.
You’ll Keep Replaying The Levels Because Finding Different Solutions And Their Consequences Is Just So Damn Fun
In the end, the most ringing endorsement I can give this game is despite the fact that it’s fairly difficult and you’re going to hate some of the controls at first, once you get the hang of swordfighting and sneaking around, you’re going to want to figure out every single possible way of killing your target, whether it’s feeding them to the rats, teleporting behind them and stabbing them, or taking them to the top of the level and chucking them off a roof.
You’ll also do it to find more resources, and sometimes just to torment mooks. The game is just that genuinely fun and entertaining. If you don’t need a time suck in your life, I recommend avoiding it, but everybody else should get a copy: It’s one of the best games of the year.