First impressions: Dishonored

Dishonored box art

I’m going to be a drop bear when I grow up. I’m practising now, perched on a ledge, with my unwitting victim meandering around beneath me. Whump-squish-phfft. That was the man from the Watch, who I’m now going to dump in the sewer stream, in the hopes that nobody will find him. I’m doing a lousy job, since the body is quickly discovered. Oh well. So much for stealth.

Dishonored is like Thief and Batman had a baby. My first few minutes after the tutorial-prologue involve sneaking up behind guards, making non-lethal takedowns and dragging the bodies out of view. There’s quite a pile of bodies forming, but I aim to be out of there before anyone spots my handiwork. The drop-kills are another guilty pleasure – similar in feel to those oh-so-satisfying vertical-ninja-grabs from Batman: Arkham Asylum. Like Thief, the game is mostly stealth, but unless you’re either highly conscientious or really skilled, you’ll probably rack up a minor body count by the end. 

I’m nowhere near that end – truth be told, not much past the beginning – but I’m reeled in enough to recommend. The game is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and I don’t just mean its mishmash of period details, coming off like an 18th century take on steampunk. It’s the whole visual design – it’s cartoonish, but there’s a dreamy realism to the water and landscapes, so it’s like a blend of watercolour painting and pencil illustration.

There’s also a touch of Half Life 2 in how the setting is revealed – a lot of “show, don’t tell” – and non-obvious puzzles that are easy enough to figure out but don’t hold your hand. You’re using your brain in the same way as you would if you were actually in that situation.

The game is in the first person and not much is known about your character. You’re the Lord Protector to the young-and-beautiful Empress, and the one blamed when she is murdered and her little daughter kidnapped. Predictably, the game begins with you escaping from prison as you aim to find the tiny monarch and clear your name – after, naturally, wreaking vengeance on those who have wronged you.

Mechanically, the game feels a little like BioShock, with the combat and looting systems. Objects of interest are highlighted in gold, and there are primitive audio recorders for voice journals as well as written clues to your story. Health is replenished through medicine vials and food, and you can collect coins and various other loot from bodies and the environment. Later, I’ll be playing with new magic-style abilities (teleportation, freezing time), though I haven’t encountered them yet. I like the interface – it seems clean and unfussy. Objectives employ BioShock-style arrows. I can save whenever I want, which is a BIG requisite for me. I found myself saving every three minutes, and reloading often.

Missions are short and sweet, and – like Thief – propel you forward through plot-based cliffhangers. I can easily see how people become addicted to the game, because it’s hard not to just keep playing mission after mission. I managed to resist that urge tonight, but next time? I can’t guarantee it.

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