Dishonored 2-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: February 25, 2014
Price: $29.99 - $39.99
Released two years ago, Dishonored let us assume the role of Corvo Attano, the personal bodyguard of the Empress and her daughter Emily. At least initially, since soon after the beginning of the game the Empress is murdered by assassins you could not stop, Emily is kidnapped, and you are blamed for it all. To deal with the conspirators and rescue Emily, you become an assassin yourself, aided by some new friends, including The Outsider.
Dishonored is an action-adventure game with stealth mechanics and magic abilities granted to you by The Outsider. These abilities including blinking from one location to another, possessing another living creation, bending time, and even summoning a pack of rats to attack your enemies and devour corpses. Given the graphic nature of much of the game's content, it has an M rating for blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. If such content is inappropriate for you, then you likely should not be reading this review either.
After two years, is Dishonored a respectable title worthy of our time, or should it be laid to rest, like the Empress? Read on to find out.
Immediately recognizable in its screenshots, Dishonored has an art style that at least reminds me of watercolors in many places. In others it looks appropriately real, but without losing the overall styling, making the entire game feel like another world.
Unfortunately that style does not help hide the low quality of the textures. Many (too many) of the textures look like they have been scaled up, blurring detail beyond what I consider acceptable. The relatively low quality object meshes I understand, as it appears the game was designed for consoles, but the textures are among the worse I have seen, including those of games years older than this. It is a good thing I do not consider graphics to be a game breaker.
Lighting is somewhat inconsistent. Light rays look excellent, but shadows often look soft, but not a natural softness. This softness looks more like a way to hide the fact that some ambient occlusion systems render shadows at a lower resolution than the full frame; blur the edges to hide the jagged pixels. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, but it is still the case that the shadows do not look particularly good. On faces though, the shadows combined with the water-color style and apparent detail to the mesh can make some people hideous.
Water is a somewhat common element in the game, with you taking a boat to many of your missions. To look at just its surface, you will see some nice reflections with a lot of distortion caused by ripples. Interaction with the water is limited at best. Swimming through it generates no affects, such as a wake, except for some distortion when you are underwater. Boats, however, do churn up the water at their backs, and it appears to just be textures of foam being thrown up at angles.
I cannot really think of more to say about the appearance of the graphics, so time to move on to performance and my system specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
I was able to run Dishonored at its maximum settings on my computer and the performance seemed to remain solid throughout. There were periods when the frames did noticeably drop, and I cannot tell you why. It never seemed like the game was doing anything particularly demanding then, but my computer should not have been doing anything odd in the background, either. For the greater part of the game it ran very smoothly, which is what you should take away from that.
One thing I would like to mention now is that you only get three anti-aliasing options, which are Off, MLAA (morphological anti-aliasing), and FXAA (fast-approximate anti-aliasing). I chose to run with FXAA and while I do not doubt that it did improve the visuals some, there was still a noticeable amount of aliasing.
I did encounter one issue that I would classify as a bug, and though it is more a gameplay issue, I tend to talk about bugs here, so here is where I will put it. Like many games, Dishonored allows you to collect a number of weapons and abilities, and also like many games you are able to scroll through the list with your mouse's scroll wheel. For what I have described so far, it works exactly as intended and expected. The issue is when you load a save the game will remember the equipped weapon or ability, but not the placement in the list. I ran around mostly with the Blink ability equipped, which was seventh in the list. If I loaded a save, I would have Blink equipped, but if I scrolled up I would equip the second entry in the list, instead of the eighth, and scrolling down would equip the last, instead of the sixth.
Having not played the game closer to release, I cannot say how old this bug is, but it is disheartening to find that it slipped by and into a released game. So just remember when you load a save to either use a number key to re-select what you have equipped, or take a moment to scroll through the list, so it is set at the correct place.
Overall, I think this section can be summed up into two points. The performance is smooth and solid, but the graphics often look quite worse than you would expect of a game released in 2012.
Even though Dishonored actually does have you trying to save an empress (or rather the daughter of the slain one) its story is more than just a 'save the princess' story. As you play you do learn about what is happening in the city and how you are impacting it. You learn the motivations of some people, and understand what your own are. Explore the world and you will find numerous books and notes, sharing the world's history, along with audiographs that get you into the minds of different people. When an empress is murdered, there is a story to tell.
After the assassination, you are arrested and sentenced to be executed. Before that happens though, some of the conspiracy is revealed to you and you receive aid in escaping by people you come to find are loyal to the kidnapped Emily, daughter of the empress. Working with them, you hunt down those responsible for the murder and kidnapping, and along the way you are given the opportunity to choose their fates. Naturally a stab through the throat will remove them as a problem, but each adversary can be removed in other ways. For example, a heretics brand on the face will force one to be exiled.
The game does react to your choices, but not immediately. I noticed that immediately after completing a mission, the person you talk to will refer to your targets as having been killed, even if you did not kill them. Perhaps this could be explained away as them simply not knowing the truth. After all, you only just returned from your mission to kill them, so it may take some time for them to learn what actually happened.
Eventually your choices will come to determine the ending of the game, and if it is a positive or negative outcome. Emily looks up to you, so if your actions are cruel, she will become a cruel empress, but if your actions are merciful, she will be merciful, too. She is not the only character affected by your choices, but she is the easiest to speak of.
While the focus of Corvo is rescuing Emily, there are plenty of opportunities to complete other missions. Some of these can actually be somewhat elaborate as you have to travel to and from different maps, but the rewards can be worth it. These missions also serve to further flesh out the world with the small details they add, and some of the actors in those missions do come to something in the main campaign.
All of that being said though, there are two things I have to ding the story on. One is that it is predictable. From the moment I knew the assassination was the product of a conspiracy and that a group of loyalists are now conspiring to undo the coup, I knew what would ultimately happen. The only question was when.
Continuing with that point, the ending felt somewhat short to me. I mean I may have known what was coming, but it still would have been nice if we could have explored what happened a bit more than one mission.
The other ding is that I do not understand the presence of The Outsider. This at least omniscient and possibly omnipotent being just comes to you, grants you some of his power, and sets you on your way to do what you will. Why? What is the purpose of The Outsider, beyond explaining why you have magical powers and most others do not? Also why is it that he gives you these powers and that the assassins who murdered the empress and kidnapped Emily had similar powers? There would appear to be a conflict of interest here, and it was never explained away, at least to my knowledge.
Overall, the story was actually quite good. Sure it was somewhat predictable, but a lot of stories are. That does not make it unenjoyable, as enjoyment comes from the many details to the plot, the subplots, and how they all interact.
Dishonored is an action-adventure game and actually does a very good job with the adventure part. The world is not as big as some games, but on your way to some missions, you could easily get lost doing other things for half an hour or more. Even the main missions allow for a fair amount of adventuring as there are many paths to your goals. Of course there is the direct path that will have you slicing your way through your opponents, but there are other paths that allow for some secrecy, either to avoid enemies altogether, or eliminate them in the most efficient way.
Helping you explore the world and complete your missions are a variety of weapons and powers. The weapons include a pistol, a crossbow, and a mine that will throw up razor sharp shrapnel, shredding whoever comes across it. All of these can be upgraded in one way or another, and the crossbow also features different kinds of ammunition, including sleep darts, which can be very useful if you are trying for the non-lethal route.
The powers are even more varied, as some are more utilitarian or offensive in nature. The Blink ability would definitely be utilitarian, as it allows you to get to otherwise unreachable places. Summoning a swarm of rats to devour your enemies is obviously offensive, but the rats will also consume bodies, thus preventing enemies from finding them and growing suspicious.
One thing that is definitely nice about all of the abilities is how your mana works. When you execute an ability like Blink, which has a low mana requirement, you lose a chunk of your mana, but it will actually regenerate pretty quickly. After a moment you will return to the mana level you had before Blinking, unless you activate it again too soon, or use another ability. This cuts off the regeneration early, and you will not get back all of what was used. It is worth noting that some abilities have a high mana requirement and you will not regenerate all of that.
To unlock and upgrade your abilities you need to find Runes with The Outsider's mark on them. These do put out a telltale sound, but the most efficient way to find them is with a heart The Outsider gave you. Yes, at times you will be walking around holding a heart in your hand, and if you activate it, it will actually tell you about your current setting, the person you have it aimed at, and maybe even itself. One thing that disappointed me was that other characters never react to this and ask where you got it, or the tattoo needed to wield your powers.
When you get used to your powers and weapons, you will find Corvo can be a very effective killing machine, but that does not mean he is invincible. You will die to large numbers of enemies if you are not prepared, so either avoid large groups or run.
Another collectible type is the Bone Shard, which offer specific effects, such as improved health from eating food or an increased likelihood of enemies missing their shots. These are located with the heart, like Runes.
A fairly useful mechanic is the ability to rewire certain devices. For example, a watch tower with a rocket launcher can be made to shoot your enemies instead of you. There are other, equally useful weapons you can turn on your enemies, but this is the most entertaining. Sadly the developers did not make NPCs respond to it very well. I mean it does not make sense that your enemies start yelling about what they will do when they find you, when they have neither seen nor heard you.
Another piece of technology you can turn on your enemies is the Wall of Light, which will incinerate anyone but your enemies when they walk through. Despite this though, your enemies will never actually walk through them. This makes rewiring them a waste in my mind, because the only way they will kill anything for you is if you grab their attention and get them to chase you through it. Considering you have to be stealthy and avoid raising the alarm to rewire these things, it seems silly to require you to jump out to make it worth the effort. To be honest though, considering other aspects of the game, this is not as surprising as it should be.
Simply put, the stealth in this game is mediocre at its very best and averages more at inconsistent and poorly implemented. The basic stealth mechanic of crouching is the same as what you find in many other titles, but those other titles are not described as stealth games by any stretch. Such a mechanic is more in place so you can get around specific threats to take up a more strategic position, and not to actually creep around a game, avoiding threats. For that you would require some kind of appreciation of sight and hearing, and Dishonored lacks that.
During my playthrough, I was careful to silently take out an enemy who was alone on an elevated porch with a stone border around it. For whatever reason the game decided that another enemy, in an adjacent building should respond to my action by running out of the building, through a doorway, and up two and a half flights of stairs to reach the unconscious body. All told I would put it at a minimum of a hundred feet the guard had to run after hearing a sound at least thirty feet away, through a wall. However, later on when I deliberately make noise on the other side of a door from two enemies, they will not even open it. I had to make a noise twice to get them to move. Throwing and breaking bottles has a similar non-effect.
The vision of enemies is equally inconsistent, as plenty of times they would look directly at me, in daylight, while I am crouched on some platform above them, and behave as though nothing were there. I am wearing the mask of the assassin wanted for the disappearance and deaths of numerous people, and they just turn away. If you are crouched behind a barrier and lean to the side you are again invisible, despite the fact that to be leaned that far should have your entire torso exposed.
In other situations though, an enemy down the street will become suspicious or will spot me crouched in a shadow from at least ten feet away and become alerted. Also, using abilities in front of people, which could mean you have teleported across the map or spontaneously formed out of the creature you possessed, does not necessarily warrant a response from them more than exclaiming, "black magic"'
With all of that said, Dishonored still offers a fun and very enjoyable action-adventure experience; just not a positive stealth experience. One way to put it is that I will never refer to as a stealth game because it just does too bad a job of it. (Perhaps if there is a sequel the developers could do a better job of it.)
To complete the campaign, every side quest I came across, find every Rune and Bone Shard collectible I could, and make the non-lethal choices concerning my targets took me fifteen hours of gameplay. For an action-adventure title, that is actually pretty good, as I have gotten use to those being more around ten hours. Of course some time was added to that by my exploring and reloading. I would estimate a more direct run through would be around thirteen hours, which is still pretty good.
Of course with the multiple endings, there is some replayability to Dishonored, but I will not be replaying it. It never really grabbed me enough to make me want to complete it all over again with different choices. Also it does not offer any kind of New Game+ mode. All of those abilities and items you have picked up while playing cannot be brought back to earlier missions. You will just have what you had then. I must admit, I am disappointed by that as experimenting with your late-game abilities in the earlier missions could have been a lot of fun.
I should also mention that there have been three pieces of DLC released for Dishonored. One just gives you challenge maps while two have you playing as Daud, the real assassin of the empress. I put about ninety minutes into the Knife of Dunwall before I stopped playing it, because I was just not enjoying it much. Partly this could be because the difficulty felt off to me. It felt like the difficulty I was getting in late-middle of the main game at Normal difficulty, but Daud is considerably less powerful than Corvo is at that time, making the challenge much greater. Also having just played as a well-equipped and upgraded Corvo and going to the relatively green Daud is not much fun. There was nothing to show for my efforts in the base game, or the fact that Daud is a master assassin and has been for some time. Seriously, you would think that such an experienced assassin would be better equipped and more powerful than he is when you start that DLC.
Additional Game Play Images:
Is Dishonored a game still worth playing, or can it be left in the past? As much as I have criticized it, it is an enjoyable game and is still worth playing. The story is good and its action-adventure gameplay is also of good quality. It does lack some polish in the details and I would never classify it as a stealth game, but it is still a solid game.
I would recommend Dishonored to anyone looking for a good action-adventure game that offers at least as much adventure as action. If you are looking for a game you can really creep and stalk around in, this is not what you want, but there are plenty of other titles I could suggest.