Dishonored – High Chaos or Low Chaos?

Dishonored is one of two modern games that I’ve played in a long time. It is the one I enjoyed more and have actually played it to it’s completion. Whilst I have completed the main story of the other game (Skyrim) as well, the radiant quests mean that the game can never truly be completed. At least, not technically. Dishonored is very different from Skyrim, and not just because of the lack of useless and unfulfilling radiant AI quests. Despite the fact that the game’s are so different, there are actually developed by the same company, Bethesda. Famous for developing a slew of critically acclaimed games such as the newer Fallout games and the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda scored another critical hit with Dishonored. The game is worthy of high praise but that is not to say it is entirely without fault.

To begin with, the game looks good. It doesn’t look great, but good. Graphically the game is fine. There’s not really a lot to say, photo-realism is clearly not the intended outcome. The NPCs are slightly stylised and cartoony and look fine. There are some occasional textures that don’t look great but apart from that the game looks nice. I was playing it on an Xbox with an AV cable instead of HDMI, so there’s a possibility the game looked better in HD or on PC. However, there is an argument that I play a lot of old games and therefore think anything modern looks great compared to counting the pixels and polygons in my SNES, Mega Drive and N64 library. That’s really all there is to say about the graphics of this title; nothing special.

Another aspect in which the game succeeds but does not particularly excel is in the story. You play as Corvo, the Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall City. A whaling city set in a Steampunky Victorian era. A plague has befallen the city and Corvo is sent around the other cities of WhereverLand inquiring about a plague cure. Corvo returns and the Empress is, rather predictably, murdered and her daughter is kidnapped. Corvo is then blamed and taken to prison, you escape the prison and join a revolutionary cell to reinstate the Empress’ daughter. I prefer to think of the revolutionaries as terrorists trying to unbalance a regime that is simply trying to stabilise in times of plague. This way, when enacting a supposedly noble cause by slaughtering innocent guards, I get to feel gloriously dirty. Anyway, Corvo goes round slaughtering a variety of targets and there is a twist that, whilst not quite expected, was not unsurprising. Overall the story is reasonably enthralling, you do feel involved and the emotional attachment to the Empress’ daughter Emily is enough for you to care about her and her relationship with Corvo. Having said that, the use of a vulnerable young girl does seem like an easy option from a writing perspective and you don’t really care about any other characters, apart from maybe the guy that boats you to and from missions. However, to reveal why would be to unveil spoilers. That sentence in itself is probably a spoiler but come on, the game came out last year.

There is, however, one place where the game does shine through. The gameplay. Corvo scales buildings and sneaks through Dunwall in an incredibly satisfying way. Guards can be hunted down and dispatched easily whilst dealing with a group of guards is challenging. So sneaky individual pick offs are the best way to go say. Having said that, I never worked out how to deal with guards with dogs taking out either one would alert the other, who would then alert others etc. I always tended to avoid them and sneak past them, the fact that I could do that is a point in the game’s favour. The freedom within the mission levels is perhaps the greatest thing that Dishonored offers. It’s so hard to find a game that genuinely gives you a degree of freedom these days, games have a tendency to focus on linear levels. They set the player down in a corridor pointing toward the objective and tell them to go nuts. Dishonored places you in a field filled with boxes and other debris and tells you the objective is in that direction and leaves you to it. The player also gets the choice of nonlethally completing all the objectives which is usually more interesting and slightly more challenging. However, this does eventually lead up to perhaps the games’ most fatal flaw. The game does provide you with magic powers and there are some upgrades to these powers, that are given to you by some kind of deity or something (it’s not really explained at all, they should have just made Corvo a wizard), which I have seen being referred to as ‘token RPG mechanics‘ but I don’t think this is a valid criticism as there are only a handful of abilities and half of them are passive anyway. On top of this, collectables are needed to increase these powers and, whilst the game does effectively tell you where they are, some are still pretty hard to find. This way of upgrading powers actually encourages exploration of Dishonored’s levels and accruing enough collectables to fully upgrade everything is a hell of a task.

The aforementioned fatal flaw is something that really tarnishes the game for me personally. The choices you make throughout the game effectively decide on whether you get the ‘High Chaos’ or ‘Low Chaos’ ending. A pathetic attempt to disguise what is effectively a good or bad ending cutscene and final level. I am also unaware of whether the ending depends on the killing of henchmen or just the completion of objectives or, if both, how heavily they are weighted within the game. I found myself altering my gameplay when the game informed of this moral choice system, however I probably would have taken this route anyway, seeing as how combat was very simple and I only alerted a lot of guards when trying to do a nonlethal takedown which didn’t work for whatever reason. On top of the fact that the moral choice system seems unnecessary the in-game consequences don’t even make sense. For some reason; the bloodier the toppling of the tyrannical regime is, the more riots there are and the plague is more abundant. How exactly does killing more guards and assassinating the targets cause there to be more plague? Are the guards secreting and anti-plague aura that prevent the spread of the bacteria? When I read this on a loading screen I could feel my immersion being slowly dragged under a moving car.

That aside, Dishonored is a game I liked. I would recommend this to someone looking for something a little different from most modern games. It’s easy to enjoy the freedom and choice that Dishonored’s levels give you and if you don’t get to caught up on the moral choice system or just don’t care about getting the good or bad ending, it can be thoroughly enjoyed. The game’s flaws can be overlooked and even if that is too much of a challenge for you, the gameplay (the most essential part of any game) is solid enough to earn my incredibly prestigious recommendation. Play this game, it is a good game, you will enjoy it. If you don’t, you should think very hard about why.

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