Dishonored Review 

Dishonored didn't have a huge marketing campaign, certainly not comparatively. It was quietly worked on in the background while other games took the spotlight this year. It arrived fairly quietly, as if to encourage the style of play it holds most dear, and that's just the way I like it. Some people absorb every last spoiler and detail they can about a media product, and that defeats a lot of the purpose of that product, and the experience you get with it.

In the interest of that very thing, I will keep this review fairly spoiler free. I'll show you the pretty pictures, and give my impressions of mechanics, but I won't do much discussion about the specific story. I'm going to be shortening my intial reviews of games which have DLC set to drop shortly after release, as this will give the developers time to iron out the game, and give me a chance to explore it in more than one way.

Dishonored

I'm so over the "Silent Protagonist" thing. It's been done, it severely limits story telling and to me accomplishes the opposite of what is intended. They do it to draw the player into the character, so that the player feels that they ARE the character, but then they give that character a finite gender, name, and force them to do a lot of things that the player might not do. Just let the character speak already! The Wikipedia Entry was even written with this slant in mind.

STATS of review

Played on Normal difficulty so far, with a Very Hard play through coming for the DLC reviews.

Game Platform and Release Stats

Game acquired on Steam through Bethesda directly. 

Spoiler Content

This particlur review is spoiler free as far as the narrative is concerned.

Overall Impression

While it sometimes feels like it's channeling a bit too much Half Life spirit, Dishonored is a welcome addition to PC gaming, and one that does not feel the need to shoehorn in a multi-player map or two to be a complete experience. I wish developers and gamers alike would get over that. Let online games be online games and single player games be single player.

Installing and Patching

As this was a Steam Game, installing and Patching is transparent and easy. Steam is the best.

First Impressions and “Draw”

Upon first entering the game world, the first thing I thought was "This looks a LOT like Alice: Madness Returns". It has that same ethereal texture to it, and the characters have a very similar exaggerated look. After a while, I settled on that the game looks like Alice and RAGE.

The game runs very well, but I will be testing it on lower end hardware soon.

Personal Story Arc

As one does not create a character ( which would make more sense in the scheme of silent protagonist ) we'll focus on the story arc for the character. The main character is Corvo, but we don't have time to learn much of anything about him, including his character when he's pushed into a vaguely uncomfortable cut scene involving a very young girl. Is she his daughter? No? Why is he so affectionate with her? This overall arc will feel very familiar to anyone who's a fan of Léon. This goes all the way to the end of the game, but enough about that for now.

Throughout the entire story we learn precious little about who Corvo is, or why he's willing to do what he does. Character motivation is a huge issue in games lately, and this is one of those situations. The character is forced into cooperating with a group of characters who immediately set off ALL my alerts. Yet we have no choice but to do what the game tells us to do through what is at it's core a completely linear story structure. I know, some of you will scream "But you can finish levels in different ways!". Yes and no. You are sent to the SAME levels, in the same order, to ultimately accomplish the same end. Your only real choice in the matter is whether or not you kill any particular character you meet. Let's face it, this is a video game, with weapons, of COURSE I'm going to kill them, at least as many as make sense ( and I have ammo for ).

It's just different paths to the same end. It's not a truly non-linear story structure, which is hard to do properly and I'm glad they don't, I'm just making a point. The only lament I have here is that Silent Protagonist forces us, by the end of the game, to know our enemies, and a few minor NPCs, better than we know Corvo.

Main Character Development is something that should have been core to the game, but I hope that DLC explores the main character a bit more.

Weapons

Corvo employs only three main weapons: A Ridiculously Large Switchblade, an equally Absurdly Small Crossbow, and a gun with the range of a thrown tennis ball.

In fact, once upgraded, the crossbow will fire straight across the entire map to head shot an enemy and the gun disperses so soon you might as well just throw it at the enemy. Definitely a style vs. believability issue here. An average modern large bore pistol has an effective range of about 120 yards. A handheld crossbow would get you about 20 yards. I'm ok with a little embellishment, no video game has realistic ballistics, but this is pretty lopsided.

One thing I'm not clear on is why Corvo holds his blade in his right hand. The proper way to stab a person in the neck is through the Carotid artery and that's on the left side. You can do it, but a trained assassin would know better. This also leads to an awkward control issue if you're using the mouse, as your buttons correspond to the wrong side.

Skills

Unless you're achievement hunting, you'll pick up and use as many of the supernatural skills as you can. So far I've dabbled in a few of them, but another play through and I'll have used them all.  

Agility

Unless you're going for the "Mostly Flesh and Steel" achievement, this will be a must have for any play style. Grants the "Mario Jump".

Blink

The first, and the only mandatory ability you get. Doesn't count against your achievement, and attempting to finish the game without using it would probably be very annoying.

Vitality

Exactly as exciting as it sounds. I'm surprised that they include such a generic buff in this list.

Bend Time, Blood Thirsty, Devouring Swarm, Possession, Shadow Kill, Windblast

Did not use these skills on initial play through. As you can see, you can get through the game using almost none of the weapons and special skills, but that feels very slow and boring. It's a game after all. There's no court to answer to. Kill everything.

The Interface

The UI mostly stays out of the way, and displays only two bars normally. This is modern UI design, and is beautifully executed. The menus kinda drag it down a bit, but you won't spend long in them.

The Controls

I tried both KB/mouse, and controller. Both worked perfectly but you might want to look at reversing the mouse button assignments.  

Missions

The Narrative Structure of Dishonored is "Action Driven". This plays well with the mission structure and overall story arc, and while it feels wanting in character development, especially with a mute main character, the main advantage to this story structure is that the player never feels lost or confused about what is going on.

If I was going to analyze the story structure further, depending on who's narrative teachings you follow, I would also class Dishonored as "Event Story" as opposed to "Character" or "Idea" with the initial event cementing that classification.

This would make the game narrative at it's heart an "Action Driven Event Story". Whew! If I had my way the first DLC would be a "Character Driven Milieu Story". We'd see what Corvo truly cares about, and what motivates him.

Many modern RPGs have such incredibly convoluted and irrational story structures, with NO consideration given to established story structures, character archetypes and development, that the player can do little more than follow the arrows and tune out the rest. Dishonored follows a rational three act structure, characters that make sense, motivations that fit, and guides the player along quickly and without ( much ) confusion.

There is one area where the story has something that feels shoehorned in, and that's the Outsider. You might argue that this plot device serves as the catalyst, or often the "Mentor Archetype" but this doesn't work with the story structures chosen for the game. If anything, the Outsider is at best a tenuous explanation for "magic" in a world driven mostly by tech, and failing tech at that.

What does all of this have to do with the missions in the game? I'm happy to see that the game is driven along in a sensible and believable fashion, rather than endlessly sending the character off on random loot quests, or endless side missions having nothing to do with what you ultimately wish to accomplish.

Itemization, Loot, and Inventory

As this is not an RPG, the player will deal with very little in the way of inventory, and ammo is VERY limited, and thus you will usually just refill on the go, and not worry about it. Each inventory item type goes into a specific slot in the inventory screens, thus there is no sorting or searching.

NPCs

Caricature. That's about the best way to describe the NPCs in this world. That's a great thing. Sure beats the generic filler most RPGs have, and don't get me started on the average FPS.

Once again, the tragedy of this tale is that you'll get to know some of these NPCs better than you will Corvo.

AI

I get the impression that they were going for a Metal Gear Solid feel to the guards. On the original PS ONE game, guards coordinated via radio, searched with a field of vision, and followed tracks. In the sequel they added group tactics, search and sweep, a working dispatcher, and they eventually call off the search.

The AI of Dishonored gives a similar feel, but I never felt like they were REALLY LOOKING for me, and if they ever do give up, it takes entirely too long, as I never saw it. In combat, things run at you ( a tragic shortcut taken ALL TOO OFTEN to this day to make up for lack of tactics ), and that's about it. You'll see some odd human behavior, but that could just as easily be accidental. In a room full of bookshelves, I can run around in patterns, endless kiting the enemy, waiting for them to figure me out, but they never do.

In the context of the game, it works well enough, but it all obviates the need for most of the fancier weapon upgrades and powers. You just don't need them.

Architecture and Geography

If Dishonored truly shines anywhere, it's here. Words do no justice, just look at the pictures:

Combat

You get a choice of three basic combat variations:

1 - Attack and kill everything

2 - Avoid everything and engage no one

3 - Mixed solution

In all likelihood, you will usually go for 3. I did on every level, and it felt most natural. Avoid combat to reason, and then take care of business when they find you.

Like most modern games, there are a myriad of fancy things you can do, but you won't have to at all. Snipe a couple of enemies with the crossbow, then when they run into your face, slice em' up, and when there's two or three, shoot the gun. You can do the whole game on nothing more than this.

Crafting

As with most FPSers, you can purchase wholly non-required upgrades to your weapons and powers. In the early levels of the game, you'll have next to no ammo or money anyway, and you'll just learn to do without.

Assassin on a Budget. At least Léon was PAID. This group expects you to do all of this because . . . well, that's never really explained, beyond THEIR reasons. Why the main character goes along with it is never covered.

Travel

The game world is broken up into discreet and separate districts, where your current missions take place. When you're done, you insta travel home. Repeat. You can't get lost.

Player Housing

For most of the game, you have what amounts to a boarder room, The room is a hovel, but it does change throughout the game, so remember to look around whenever you're in there. The group you work for gives you a chance to sleep after each of the early missions but this convention is eventually forgotten. Narrative choice or did the writers forget?

The End Game

In an attempt to make you play the entire game at least twice, they made an achievement that you can only get if you don't kill ANYONE, which is not only incredibly hard, it takes incredible restraint once you see what kind of scum you come across throughout the story. There are slightly different endings, but unless you really just love playing through the game itself, I'd wait for DLC.  

Installation Size

My Steam folder is only 6.00GB, which is incredible considering the scope of the game world and the detail of textures. Truly refreshing to see the endless upward spiral trend bucked a bit.

No one is looking forward to GTA V more than I am, but I fully expect it to be sold on a hard drive.

Time Commitment Required

For one reasonable play through, you're looking at 10-11 hours.

COMPANY

Bethesda is top notch when it comes to PR and support. They use both in-house and external PR, and I seem to have more points of contact with them than any six other companies combined.

In short, and because I am trying to limit typing time, they rock.

Conclusion

Despite leaning heavily on the Silent Protagonist convention, the narrative element is extremely well done, highly engrossing, and rationally assembled.

The game world is gorgeous, second to nothing in looks, and a pleasure to navigate.

Playing the game itself, while perfectly fun, didn't seem to offer any amazing "gotcha" moments. I was hoping for something to sweep me off my feet, and it never quite gets there. Maybe the bar is just too high these days, but I feel like we're one killer feature away from game of the year material here. Still, if you've read my HIGHLY deep and critical gaming reviews, you'll know that even if I tear apart the details, I can still love a thing.

This is a thing worthy of love.

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