Gaming season is upon us. From now until Christmas new games will be vying for their chance to put a gargantuan dent in your wallet. Most of these games have something in common; a number after their name; Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed 3, Far Cry 3, Resident Evil and Borderlands 2 and that’s without mentioning Hitman and XCOM – games that have deftly evaded the point I’m making by adding a word after their titles rather than a number. The point stands though, sequels are dominating this gaming season just as they do most other years. However where most may wish to sneer and claim to be sufferers of ‘sequel fatigue’ I see sequels as a necessary component of the gaming world, just as necessary as brand new titles. Dishonored is a game that stands to prove both of these points in one neat and hugely enjoyable package.
Dishonored is an excellent game. One that brings a fresh voice into the gaming world and offers Gamers a new world and canon to immerse themselves in although it’s occasional, albeit pretty minor, shortcomings prove that even excellent games always have room to get better. There’s always something to add, to remove or to tweak, something, for example, proven by the huge leap that Assassin’s Creed 2 made from it’s impressive but underwhelming predecessor, or similarly by the astounding developments made between Batman: Arkham Asylum and it’s sequel Arkham City.
Primarily, however, Dishonored is a joy to play, a point that cannot be stressed enough. It’s world is rich, the characters are all unique and interesting, the graphics are not as cutting edge as some modern games but it’s beautiful art ensures that is of no consequence. The levels are fluid and intuitive making them a pleasure to navigate when your plans come to fruition. Perhaps it’s greatest and defining success comes in it’s focus on choice. And not simply the type of choice other games offer such as a nice option or a nasty one or a couple of slightly varying pathways. Want to possess a rat in order to bypass an intimidating group of guards? Go ahead! No? You want to posses a human being? That’s fine too. Wait, you want to conjure up a swarm of rats to do your dirty work for you? Why not!? Or perhaps you want to pick them all off one by one with a combination of inventive magic powers and brutally pleasing kills, Dishonored offers you all those choices at every turn. Almost all that you do in the game, from moment to moment, is your choice. Whether you wish to be a silent killer or a brazen, swashbuckling one. Perhaps you prefer to kill no one, simply subduing anyone that crosses your path. There is even the option to simply bypass everything in your way if you utilise the tools given to you sufficiently. Though stealth stands as the games crowning glory all options are catered for.
It is all built around an intriguing tale of revenge, a story that in and of itself is engrossing and with the added layer of choice only becomes more and more compelling. Every plot progression and twist pokes and prods you into considering altering how you approach the world. One late plot twist caused me to drastically rethink the set of rules I had imposed on myself. Set in an anachronistic city, based on plague-ridden 1660’s London, known as Dunwall, you play as Corvo Attano, The Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall. In the opening moments you are accused of a murder you didn’t commit before being empowered by a mysterious character who grants you supernatural abilities and so begins a vengeance inspired journey that quickly becomes decidedly more far-reaching and influential for the future of Dunwall. Particularly engaging turns by Hollywood stars Susan Sarandon and Chloe Grace Moretz stand out as the best of an excellent set of voice performances which further enhance the game and it’s story.
Lacking, however, is a voice for the main character. Corvo is very much the lead role here, the entire plot shifts and manoeuvres around what he does and what happens to him. Other characters have clear opinions of him so the anonymity he has feels out of place, so would have been nice for him to have a voice to add some emotional attachment to a character that has the potential to become a cult favourite. This is one of a number of those aforementioned minor shortcomings. Another is the occasional spikes in difficulty when, upon attempting a stealthy plan of attack that goes slightly wrong, you are besieged by an inordinate number of attackers. At times it works well and forces you to re-evaluate your path but at others it comes as a disheartening prelude to another ‘GAME OVER’ screen. This is largely due to the combat system which works spectacularly for a stealth game but not so much for an action game. Face to face fighting has a nice basis and it’s very entertaining when you are confronted with two or three foes; the sword fighting and gun-play is all entirely serviceable, but the moments when the game sets five, six or seven attackers on you the combat mechanics quickly become limiting and cumbersome. The equally cumbersome weapon/power menu doesn’t help either. Even in stealth mode the game has a few very minor missteps, such as making noise to lure a guard into your path which often either leaves you greeted with nothing or a sudden swarm of guards to your position; really some subtlety and range here would have helped. Furthermore the ending could have been more satisfying, and the length of the game felt a bit undercooked. That, though could have been a simple case of not being ready to say goodbye to such a fun experience. It is also tempting to note the lack of help the game gives you as a problem, but that is an element that I believe added to the game. Despite sometimes being frustrating to the point of wanting to launch your controller at your TV it is a very refreshing string to Dishonored’s bow; Whereas most games hold your hand and plod you through with baby steps Dishonored pulls away it’s hand early on, shoves you forth into it’s world and says “no, you work it out, I’m a video-game not your mother!”.
The problems it has are in no way game-breaking. They don’t for a second detract from the fact that Dishonored is a huge achievement. They simply serve to prove the idea that sequels are just as valuable as brand new IPs. Sometimes they offer a much needed second chance at perfection. If Dishonored 2 ever does surface and irons out some very minor setbacks it won’t merely be the Game of The Year contender it’s prequel is. Rather it will, instead, stake a claim to being one of the best of all time. Make no mistake, however, Dishonored is indeed a contender for Game of The Year. It takes a combination of influences from gaming’s past and combines them with it’s own touch to make something new and brilliant. I sincerely hope we see more from the city of Dunwall.
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