Dishonored 2 is on my Christmas list, so I decided it was high time to finish the original game. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started it; it’s probably the best game I’ve never finished. Each time I get into it, I start thinking about how things would have been different if I had played differently early on. My most recent restart was because I wondered if I had tried to find an extra rune power-up and upgraded one of my powers, would I have an easier time sticking to the shadows and thus had been able to avoid some particularly tough combat encounters that sapped most of my resources. The answer was yes.
It doesn’t hurt that I never mind revisiting the gothic steampunk game world. Dishonored really does capture my imagination the way only the best games can. This game doesn’t feed you exposition dump after exposition dump; it places you in sprawling levels marked with a unique art design, then allows you to explore the lore on your own via in-game text, character interaction (either direct or observed), and environmental exploration. Most individual named characters have brief screen time, but they’re still well-developed and unique; Granny Rags tells us so much about her backstory simply with creepy, insane ramblings and Sokolov’s eccentricity soon proves to be frightening megalomania. Even characters we don’t see, such as Dr. Galvani, have fully realized stories that we only know if we’re paying attention–which means that gamers who just want to play don’t have to be burdened by lengthy cut scenes and dialogues. It really is the best of both worlds, and gamers either concerned or disinterested in narrative alike can fill in the gaps with their own interpretation and imagination.
It w0uld be easy to say that the player-character, Corvo Attano, is flat and uninteresting, but doing so misses the point that this is–despite not being a role-playing game–one of the best role-playing experiences you can have in a video game. Corvo is a blank slate, true, but the player forms him into a fully-realized personality by way of their play style. Is Corvo cruel and vengeful, not caring who stands in his way as he seeks violent revenge on those that wronged him? Does he respect that some soldiers and police are just doing their job, and avoids rendering lethal justice except to those who are truly corrupt and overzealous? Maybe Corvo feels that the best form of revenge is to bring shame and suffering to those he would otherwise execute.
I’ve played Corvo as all of those and a combination of them, settling for a reserved character who only kills in self-defense or to defend the innocent (such as when he sees guards harassing a civilian, knowing that if he spares them they will only harass others). He doesn’t hesitate to end the lives of criminals, and has no interest in dealing with them honorably when he does have to ally with them for his own benefit. Finally, while his allies (which I’m not convinced are my allies–it’s tough to avoid spoilers for such an aged game!) seem to want everyone to die, he instead opts to condemn those who framed him for murder to a life of torment. I even shamelessly indulged in growling “Now you will know what’s it like to be…DISHONORED!” to High Overseer Campbell as I branded him with a heretic’s mark to bring about his fall from grace. I felt no shame. Games are supposed to be fun.
The real meat here, though, is the game play. Stealth in this game is better than even in the Arkham games, which all-too-often felt scripted even if they were exciting and imaginative. Sneaking into a mansion, stealing something of value, and slipping out without setting off an alarm even once leaves you with a real sense of accomplishment. Teleporting behind an enemy and severing his jugular, then turning to his companion and shooting his whiskey bottle, setting it aflame and watching the fire consume him as you make an escape is morbidly satisfying–almost as much as throwing a grenade between two enemies and watching it dispatch them, all without ever being seen. When your well-thought-out plan does fall apart and you have to fight face-to-face, combat is intense, fast-paced, and gritty; there’s no elaborate counters or dance-like choreography here–just accuracy, instinct, and reflex.
If you haven’t played Dishonored, you should. I’m looking forward to playing the sequel on Christmas Day, if I don’t restart the original another ten times.