Review: Dishonored

Game: Dishonored
Recommended price: $20
Metacritic Score: 91
Completion Time: 18-20 hours
Buy If You Like: First-person Tenchu or Assassin’s Creed, sneaky Bioshock

Style over substance.

I have been hearing Metacritic, er, criticism for years now without really understanding what all the fuss was about. It is a useful tool, and I include it in my game reviews as a sort of “by they way, this is what other people are saying” disclaimer. But now? I understand why people complain. I have no idea how Dishonored got a 91 Metacritic score. It is a good game and probably worth your time depending on purchase price. But is it better than (or even comparable to) Fallout: New Vegas (84), F.E.A.R. (88), Deus Ex (90), or Fallout 3 (90)? Lord no.

Before getting into what Dishonored is not, let us begin with what it is.

Dishonored is a first-person stealth action game set in the highly stylized, steampunk (or whale-oil-punk) city of Dunwall. You play as Corvo, a counter-assassin of sorts, as he struggles with being framed for the murder of the Empress he swore to protect. Through the course of gameplay, Corvo is granted supernatural powers like the ability to teleport short distances, stop time, or possess animals/people. The game is roughly divided into “missions,” which can consist of multiple areas and be completed/traversed in several ways. Within each area, there is usually a side-quest or two that can be completed for additional rewards, along with a smattering of extra upgrade components hidden around the map.

Blink onto hanging speaker, Sleep Dart guard on balcony, Blink over and enter via 2nd floor.

One of the most vaunted and critically acclaimed features of Dishonored is the ability to overcome challenges multiple ways. This is, for the most part, accurate. The mission goal may be to assassinate a certain individual, and the game will overlay the location of said individual on your UI, and… that’s it. If you want to stroll in the front door with a blood trail, tripping every alarm along the way, you can do that. If you want to Blink your way from rooftop to rooftop, hop in through a window, and switch the target’s wine glass with one that he poisoned (or mix them to poison both), you can do that. If you want to body-hop your way inside by possessing rats, fish, and guards, all so that you can render the target unconscious and remove them from power in a nonlethal manner, you can do that too. Or whatever combination you choose.

The problem I have with the extraordinary hyping of this gameplay feature is twofold. First, the game is incredibly easy. Almost trivially so. After the first 2-3 hours, I decided that I needed to restart on the highest difficulty setting. So I did… and further decided on a 100% nonlethal route for my first playthrough. Less than twenty hours later, Mission Accomplished.

People have different skill levels, of course, but most of the supernatural powers you get (all six of them) are pretty ridiculous. The default power is Blink, a short-range teleport that effectively has unlimited uses provided you wait 4-5 seconds between them. Blink is definitely a lot of fun to use, but once you upgrade it to level 2 (increasing it’s range) the game is basically over – there are no “puzzles” that cannot be solved by simply finding higher ground, going through windows, etc. Indeed, on more than one occasion I accidentally bypassed damn near the entire level and all of the security inbetween by Blinking between buildings.

The very next power that the game strongly suggests you unlock is Dark Vision, which allows you to not only see enemies through walls, but also their cone of vision; like Blink, Dark Vision is a super-cheap spell that you can effectively chain infinitely. Other stealth games, if they offer this sort power at all, make it expensive or difficult to use precisely because of how difficulty-destroying it is. Dishonored lets you peek through keyholes or lean around corners while remaining hidden… but it’s moot considering you can see everyone all the time with a touch of a button. Perhaps the worst part of Dark Vision though, is how it destroys the visuals and ambiance of a very stylish game with its sepia-tone washout effect and dark whispers; once upgraded, it even highlights cash and other items, meaning you can go through an entire level with it on and miss nothing… except all of the artwork and nuance. Dishonored without Dark Vision is a 100% better game, but you shouldn’t feel like you need to handicap yourself by not taking it to have fun.

Between Blink, Dark Vision, and how absurdly easy it is to kill/incapacitate guards, I only used Bend Time or Possession out of a sense of guilt for having “skipped” the rest of the game.

Around 90% of the time, your screen will look like this.

The second reason I do not understand the hype is how most games do this sort of thing anyway. If I am playing Metal Gear Solid, the game asks me to get to a certain location and then sets me loose. Whether I get there by avoiding all the guards, or shooting all the guards via sniper rifle, or going through the vents, or using a cardboard box, or whatever, is irrelevant. Dishonored is really no different. It doesn’t matter whether you got into the building through the window or by possessing a rat, just like it doesn’t matter in MGS, or Deus Ex, or Tenchu, or any of the other hundred games released since 1998 that feature more than one path. This sort of thing is par of the course. If the critics are referring to your ability to take out “bosses” in a nonlethal manner as being groundbreaking… um, again, 1998 called and just filed an injunction.

All of this is not to say that I did not have a good time in Dishonored. The story is fairly predictable, the setting is bit all over the place, but the game is good at pulling you in two different directions when it comes to whether you should simply murder your target or show “mercy” (where mercy sometimes ends up as fates worse than death). And again, I had a fun time in the game sneaking around and feeling like the biggest badass in the place. I just do not have any notion that Dishonored, mechanically, was the one delivering that fun experience versus me reliving the joys of MGS, Tenchu, and Deus Ex.

Maybe that distinction is immaterial to you. Maybe it is enough that an off-brand experience is so similar to one you enjoyed in the past. In which case, by all means, have fun. I just do not see how Dishonored deserves a 91 for emulating actually groundbreaking games wholesale, minus their difficulty and nuance. I’m thinking it is an 81 at most. Which is still great!

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Posted on October 16, 2012, in Review and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Jaded gamer alert!

    FWIW I did not find the game easy. I was playing on the higher difficulty levels. It is an enjoyable romp even with the old fashioned graphics engine – which seems to be part of its charm. I found the storylines and the world setting to be quite interesting. It’s the best Thief since .. well .. Thief. I found this to be a far more playable game on PC than the wretched Assassins Creed series with it’s convoluted story and abysmal PC controls.

    Horses for courses.

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    • I would hope it’s the best Thief since Thief, considering Thief has a 92 Metacritic score. Nevermind the slacking Thief 2 (87) and apparently abysmal Thief: Deadly Shadows (85).

      It could very well be that I am jaded. But, seriously, would you consider Dishonored better than both original Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which scored 90s? It is not even remotely close, IMO.

      Metacritic is Metacritic, but… gah! Is everyone playing the same game I did?

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      • Why are you so fixated on Metacritic scores? Do you base every game decision on such a metric? I certainly hope not.

        And why would I consider Dishonored better than Deus Ex and its sequel? They are very different games. I tend to see every game as its own entity. Does it draw me into its world? Does it feature interesting gameplay mechanics? Does it hold my attention for more than two hours? Is the interface unobtrusive and useful? Dishonored meets all of these personal pleasure points.

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      • I am “fixated” in this instance because while Dishonored was good, it wasn’t that good. I definitely feel I overpaid for the experience which, while not an uncommon occurrence, seems to be a sentiment shared by few others. That, too, is not uncommon… but all the things it is getting praised for either doesn’t exist in practice or has been done better by other games.

        It is funny you mentioned the Assassin’s Creed series earlier, as I would say any one of them is better than Dishonored in every meaningful way. Minus, perhaps, the teleporting.

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  2. Well, I do think you are misinterpreting metacritic scores. It’s tempting to take the numbers seriously, as a sort of ranking where games that received 95 are better than games that received 94 which are better than 93 and so on. But much like movies, it doesn’t really work that way. Imagine how difficult movie reviewing would be if you had to set a 100 pt movie and and a 99 pt movie and then endlessly compare any new movie to see whether it was 100 or 99 or so on…critics really just go with their gut most of the time. In reality, a 95 isn’t really qualitatively different than a 90, which isn’t really different than an 85. Somewhere around 75 it drops off quickly though.

    The one comparison that seems apt is Dishonored vs. Fallout NV, 91 to 84–getting to be a significant difference there–but IIRC F:NV lost a lot of points due to being buggy as all get-out. I haven’t heard of Dishonored suffering in the same manner.

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