Despite coming out last year, I’ve only just got around to playing Dishonored – and I’m pleased to say that it is a rare gem of a game.
The kind you immediately start playing again right from the beginning as soon as you finish it. And I don't mean that in a ‘New Game Plus’ kind if way either. Literally, from scratch - to do things differently and to make different choices.
You see, ‘choice’ is at the heart of Dishonored. And we are not talking in terms of stupidly large empty sandbox worlds where you are free to do anything or reams of inconsequential dialogue trees. The game is still a fairly linear (and some may even say 'short' experience - with only 9 levels in the game) but it is such a rich and rewarding one, in terms of how the player’s choice is so robustly built into both the narrative and the game play mechanics, that the length feels just perfect. It never gets boring, it never outstays its welcome, and there is no padding.
Being familiar with each level on your second playthrough allows you to approach the given scenario from different angles. Both in terms of actually navigating the geography of the level, but also the style and method in which you might carry out your task. Want to play as a ninja, bounding across the rooftops, infiltrating through an upper floor window and then silently slitting the mark’s throat from behind before sneaking out again unnoticed? Or want to play with supernatural powers, infiltrating the building by possessing a rat and scurrying through an air duct and then freezing time so the mark doesn't notice that you are in the room until it's too late? Or do you simply want to rush the main entrance, guns blazing, slaughtering everyone in your path?
All of these are options. Options that aren’t made available simply through loose gameplay mechanics or overly forgiving and vague objectives, but ones that are solidly built in to the game. Each objective has a fair few vastly different ways of completing it and you’ll constantly find yourself carefully scouting ahead, weighing up your options and formulating a plan before going ahead.
I only really bother hunting for the platinum trophy on games that I really enjoy playing and I think I will with this one just because of the vastly different ways the game asks to be played in order to get all of the trophies. At first I just played and finished the game to enjoy the story, playing the levels in a way I felt was natural at the time. My second playthrough was entirely stealthy, without being spotted once and without killing anyone. Through the entire game. This is entirely possible (there is always the option to neutralize each mark through non-lethal means) and the ‘save anywhere’ save system means that with careful self check-pointing of your progress it is not too frustrating to have to restart any segments of play.
I’m now planning to play through the game yet another time to get another trophy which requires you to do so without relying on any of your supernatural powers – yet again, altering the game experience drastically. And yet, to me, having to go through all the levels again does not feel like a chore at all. I’ve done the whole thing twice (and dipped into the odd level here and there to get certain trophies) and yet there are still many places in the game that I haven’t seen and things I haven’t done. We are not talking about the vastness of Skyrim or Fallout here (games which, in my own personal preference whose openess I have a distaste for) but a uniquely rich experience that also lets you play the game how you want to, without sacrificing its compelling narrative and clear objective based gameplay.
And I haven’t even yet started to gush about the well-realised world of Dunwall, the superlative writing and voice-work, the great art design and the refreshing lack of contrived boss battles. Ive enjoyed it so much that I’ll even forgive the Americanised spelling of the title.
Definitely the best game I have played this year so far and quite possibly one of my favourite games of the current generation. I can’t wait to see what Arkane Studios come up with next.
10th April 2013