Dishonored strays from the stealth formula with mixed results

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Corvo, the player character, infiltrates a masquerade party hosted by Dunwall’s elite. The game generally features Dunwall’s high society, failing to sufficiently explore the destitute state of the city’s middle and lower classes.

Kerim Kivrak, Copy Editor

Gamers have been growing disappointed at the waning of the classic stealth action genre.  Recent installments of the established and revered Splinter Cell franchise, for example, have strayed from the series’ roots in favor of more cinematic, action-oriented gameplay.

Arkane Studios, developer of the cult classic RPGs Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and Arx Fatalis, has responded to the dilution of the stealth genre with their latest title.  Dishonored, Arkane’s third release, is their attempt to fuse the satisfaction of successfully avoiding, stalking, and slaying enemies with the visceral combat and excitement of games like Dark Messiah.

You step into the role of Corvo, bodyguard to Dunwall’s Empress, returning to the plague-ravaged city after months of seeking foreign aid in dealing with the deadly rat plague.  The Empress is almost immediately assassinated and her daughter Emily kidnapped, and Corvo is framed and convicted as the assassin.   Six months later, on the eve of his assassination, Corvo is woken by the Royal Spymaster, who reveals that he was behind the Empress’s assassination and that he had seized power as the Lord Regent.  Corvo promptly escapes from captivity with the help of a group of loyalists seeking to dethrone their new tyrannical Big Brother and place Lady Emily on the throne.

For the rest of the game, Corvo is tasked with eliminating high-ranking officials in the Lord Regent’s hierarchy and destabilizing his regime before ultimately dethroning the Lord Regent himself.  The story is instantly gripping and the atmosphere is engaging.

At the same time, Corvo is granted supernatural powers by a mysterious character known as the Outsider.  Corvo is then able to “blink” to remote locations, see enemies through walls, summon packs of rats, possess animals and humans, slow or stop time, and blow enemies away in a gust of wind.

These powers are intended to make combat a more exciting experience and to allow for more creativity in eliminating your targets, but they actually devalue the experience of playing the game stealthily.

What makes stealth rewarding is the thrill of evading enemies that pose a serious threat to your (or the character’s) life.  Unfortunately, this mechanic does not exist in Dishonored.  If you are discovered, you can either escape with ease or effortlessly cut through any guards who attempt to kill you.

Stealth is inherently less fun when you know there is very little at stake.  The game attempts to encourage players to eliminate enemies through nonlethal means by constantly reminding players that more corpses will lead to the growth of the plague, but this fails because it does not actually affect the experience until the very last moments of the game.

Corvo’s powers frequently and severely undermine the game’s level design.  Upgrading the “Blink” ability allows the player to bypass large portions of several of the game’s levels.  This is a major problem, and one that could have been easily solved through competent play-testing.  With an upgrade, players are able to stop time completely and kill enemies with a single click without any resistance.

Dunwall’s infrastructure is entirely built off of whale oil as an energy source.  This is an interesting premise, but the game does nothing to capitalize off of its unique “whalepunk” setting.

The game’s lore is expanded through readable books scattered throughout the game, but this is no substitute for proper storytelling and does not take advantage of the unique interactive nature of the medium.

Arkane Studios was involved in the art design of popular shooter BioShock 2, and Dishonored features similarly cartoonish graphics.  While the technical quality of the graphics leaves much to be desired, the game is certainly nice to look at and looks a bit like an oil painting in motion.  The lack of realism allows for characterization through highly stylized character faces, an appreciated touch.

The game offers a considerable amount of playtime in a single playthrough if the player takes the time to explore each level, but the game could conceivably be completed in a measly five hours.

The nature of the game and its open-ended level design ensure that the game has plenty of replay value, as players will be able to complete the same levels in a multitude of different ways.  Ultimately, the time you get out of this game depends on your own creativity.  The real problem with the length of the game is in its poor pacing.

Dishonored fails as a stealth game, and its storytelling, design and aesthetics are mediocre.  Still, the game delivers entertaining gameplay and exceptional replay value.  In the end, Dishonored is a good – not great – game.