Videogame Potpourri: Review of Dishonored

I just discovered that I have a mostly unused Escapist account, and thought I might as well start posting some user reviews, since I looooooooove writing reviews. And I love people reading them, too. This isn't the most recent one I've written, but I figured I should start with something relevant before jumping into the more obscure titles I usually review. So, without further ado, here's my review of Dishonored!

Be sure to check out the link at the end of the post if you want the version with screenshots. And if you like what I write, be sure to read some of the other reviews on my site. Expect more to come on here.

So what do you get when two of the lead designers behind Deus Ex partner with the studio behind Dark Messiah and the art director of Halflife 2 to create a sandbox stealth/action game that focuses on emergent player choice? You get expectations. High expectations. And not just people expecting the game to be good, but people expecting the game to be good in a very particular way: "Good" like something Looking Glass Studios would have done. "Good" in a way that involves smart gameplay design and a sharp eye for what was good about games before the blockbuster revolution. So it's safe to say that Dishonored had some hype behind it. And I'm here to tell you that it's lived up to just about all of it. Not only is it a massively entertaining game, but it also manages to successfully take what was awesome about games like Deus Ex and reinvent it in a unique way for a new generation.

So yes... Dishonored is very much Deus Ex through the lens of Dark Messiah with Halflife 2's paintjob. It gets its penchant for sandbox level designs and player choice from Deus Ex. It gets its brutal melee combat and eye for the visceral from Dark Messiah. And it gets its European dystopia flavor from Halflife 2. You can also see bits of Thief's stylized mashup of universes and Bioshock's UI. But rather than feeling like a convoluted mishmash of different elements, it feels like its own cohesive creation. Similar to the games it draws inspiration from, but not derivative. It has its own strengths and weaknesses. The combat, for instance, is a strength. It's quick, brutal, dynamic, and decisive. Moving and sliding around feel great, as does hacking and stabbing. And it doesn't take more than 2 or 3 sword swipes to kill you or enemies, so you need to make good use of the element of surprise. Making good use of your various items and magical abilities is essential as well. Use Blink to teleport behind a guard for a quick backstab. Use Possession to become a rat and access restricted areas through vents. Use Slow Time to grab crossbow bolts out of the air. As in Dark Messiah, your spells are designed to be experimented with and exploited. Or, even better, avoid combat altogether. Dishonored encourages you to solve your problems through stealth rather than force, and rewards you for exercising restraint and finding nonlethal means of eliminating people (including your assassination targets). Surprisingly, the game forgoes the Thief / Deus Ex style of stealth, where shadows were the primary means of avoiding detection. Instead it's about keeping your distance and staying outside of an enemy's field of view (and since the enemies are about as aware as the ones in Thief and Deus Ex--so not aware at all--this isn't too difficult a challenge). Shadows still play a part, but only in that they decrease the distance at which an enemy can see you. There's also more of a vertical element. Rooftops are often the best way to get around, and the slick movement system and Blink spell (which is basically a short range teleport) make the simple act of traversing them a joy to experience.

Dishonored's levels may look linear and confined, but they're actually quite open-ended. Rather than presenting you with an obvious solution and some alternatives "just for the hell of it," the game presents you with a problem that could be solved in many different ways, each just as beneficial as the next. It's perhaps more reminiscent of Crysis than Deus Ex in this regard. There's also a ton of content outside the main pathway, including sidequests, alternative means of completing your mission, different runes and bonecharms that allow you to purchase new powers or give you minor buffs, or just hidden resources or conversations to overhear. In fact, people have been reporting that while it's possible to blast through the game in under 5 hours, an extensive playthrough could take up to 6 times that. I myself completed the game in around 20 hours, and I know there was a lot of content that I missed.

But let's not forget that there's a big name behind the visuals as well. And he does not disappoint. Dishonored's world is beautiful and evocative, full of detail and personality. It's both alien and familiar... stark and bleak as well as beautiful. The art is not in-your-face like Bioshock or Okami. Rather, it concentrates on subtlety and detail. Dunwall is a steampunk victorian world seen through the eyes of an impressionist painter. You won't see tangles of pipes and gears, or dark smog... you'll see cold golden light playing off bleak grey iron and washed-out brick. You'll see clinical elegance and utilitarian industry, bound together by their common lack of warmth or compassion. And I love it, so very very much. This is truly one of the more beautiful games I've played, just speaking on an artistic level. Which is good. Because on a technical level the visuals are remarkably outdated. Like, "this could have easily come out at the beginning of the generation" outdated. The lighting in particular. It looks great in screenshots, but it's almost all static and painted, and shadows look really weird up close to boot. There's no attempt to make the shadows affect anything in a per-pixel fashion, either. NPCs are either all in shadow, or not. The animation can also be rather shoddy in cutscenes. And the textures are noticeably low res. But in that case, they're covered by a beautiful watercolor filter that adds to the whole impressionist painting style, so I can look past it. It's nowhere near--nowhere near--an ugly game. But from the screenshots, I was expecting Dishonored to be as technically impressive as other contemporary Unreal Engine III games, and I'm a bit disappointed that it isn't. Even if the art is fantastic.

Since I'm already on the subject, let's talk about a few more negatives. The UI takes some unfortunate cues from Bioshock in that it decides to forgo a nice clean inventory in favor of a bunch of different pause menus and quickuse keys (as well as an admittedly slick weapon/spell wheel). It's workable, but it's also a little cluttered, and disappointing to those of us who expected something more PC-friendly. The story is also a little disappointing. While it's not really bad (and certainly not as bad as one might expect given Arcane's previous efforts), it is woefully generic and predictable. To those of us that were expecting something more on the level of Deus Ex, this is a rather negative surprise. There's another surprise as well, at least for me. And it's not really a negative one, per se: Dishonored is rather conservative in the content department. With only a handful of spells and items and little room for character building, it's not exactly a sprawling action/RPG toybox like Deus Ex or Dark Messiah. No... it's more like Thief. Or Crysis. You're given a small number of tools that each serve a specific purpose in the world. It feels much more refined than Deus Ex as a result, but it also feels a bit less extensive. Again, this isn't really a flaw. But I wasn't expecting it either.

Ultimately, Dishonored is... well, I'd call it a masterpiece. Or at least very close to a masterpiece. Its few minor shortcomings are no match for the sheer amount of things that it does right. Its art... its world... its gameplay... hell, I didn't even get a chance to mention to fact that the music and sound design are awesome as well. It's easily one of the most fun AAA titles I've played since Crysis. What's more, it's a really fantastic spiritual successor, managing to feel like Deus Ex and Thief even as it confidently stands on its own two feet. Big upcoming releases like Assassin's Creed III and Halo 4 will likely overshadow this seemingly modest little game. But you would be doing yourself a disservice--a dishonor, if you will--to ignore it. This is the kind of thing we need more of. Oh so much more.

http://videogamepotpourri.blogspot.com/2012/10/review-of-dishonored.html

Well, Im no expert review reviewer, but seems like this was really well written and you really love the game, as well.
I haven`t gotten the chance to try this game out, so i have no experiences with it, except a few Let`s Play vids Ive seen starting from the start of the game.
Don`t really have much else to say about this. You used some very nice expressions in the review, and made me want to play the game. So Id say it`s work well done. Tho Im not that big of a stealth game fan, but still.
The only not-so-fantastic thing i can say is that the comparison regarding other games went over my head a bit. But this is purely since i haven`t actually played a lot of the games you compare Dishonored to. Ive heard of them, and know they were all really impressive games, but haven`t played them. Then again, Im sure most people have played them, so it`s kinda my fault, not something negative regarding your review. So, you win this time!

Owlslayer:
Well, Im no expert review reviewer, but seems like this was really well written and you really love the game, as well.
I haven`t gotten the chance to try this game out, so i have no experiences with it, except a few Let`s Play vids Ive seen starting from the start of the game.
Don`t really have much else to say about this. You used some very nice expressions in the review, and made me want to play the game. So Id say it`s work well done. Tho Im not that big of a stealth game fan, but still.
The only not-so-fantastic thing i can say is that the comparison regarding other games went over my head a bit. But this is purely since i haven`t actually played a lot of the games you compare Dishonored to. Ive heard of them, and know they were all really impressive games, but haven`t played them. Then again, Im sure most people have played them, so it`s kinda my fault, not something negative regarding your review. So, you win this time!

Yay! I win!

Deus Ex and Thief are, of course, classics. Thief is perhaps less a good choice if you aren't a stealth game fan, but Deus Ex can still be enjoyable if you play as a run-em-gun-em maniac (although the gunplay does leave something to be desired). Dark Messiah got some flack on release for several things, mostly that it was pretty far removed from the Might and Magic series (its full title was Dark Messiah of Might and Magic) and that the story was crap. But in its own right, it's all sorts of fun. Like Deus Ex (and indeed Dishonored), you can approach things from a bunch of different angles, mixing up stealth, sniping (with bows), melee weapons, magic, and environmetal traps/hazards. It can be played as a full-on action game or as a tactical stealth game, or as everything in between, and it's all smooth and enjoyable. Arguably it has some of the best first person melee combat on the PC.

Dishonored encourages you to be sneaky and nonviolent, but going postal is certainly an option (just go look up some videos on youtube. Some of the techniques people have discovered are nuts). It just takes some resources and some skill. And a willingness to accept the "bad" ending.

Dishonoured would have been a masterpiece... if it was about twice as long. The gameplay is among the best i've played in quite some times but after the Sokolov mission the missions were getting shorter and less elaborate. It's a shame, really...

Nice review, very well written. What are your thoughts on Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Personally I loved it, almost as much as the original.

Enderrr:
Nice review, very well written. What are your thoughts on Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Personally I loved it, almost as much as the original.

Well, I haven't played it yet. It's been patiently waiting on my steam list to be downloaded, but I keep finding other games to play. I'm looking forward to trying it at some point, though. I've heard many people say it's good.

 

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