Dishonored is an immersive sim developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2012. It later received ports on PS4 and Xbox One in 2015. Following a trip to a neighbouring country, the Royal Protector Corvo Attano returns to the Empress of Griston to deliver a message. Soon after, the empress is killed and her daughter Emily gets kidnapped by a group of supernatural assassins. Corvo is blamed for the murder and gets thrown in prison. But after a few months, he receives assistance from a group who wants to help Corvo enact his revenge and coronate Emily as the new Empress.
I find the world of Dishonored more interesting than the story told within it. Corvo is a mute protagonist (as is common for the genre), so without even some internal monologues from him, it falls on the rest of the cast and the incredible amount of written material to tell the game's story.
The main story is very much what you'd expect from the outset. Kill enough targets to slowly suss out who has taken Emily, get her back and then kill more targets so she can be coronated. There's more to it than that of course, but a majority of the game is quite formulaic following the prison escape at the start.
The one aspect of the story meant to keep you engaged is the Outsider, a mysterious being who grants Corvo his mark and with it, magical powers. It's a good idea on paper, but he is criminally misused as a character. First of all, for being what amounts to an interdimensional stand-in for the Devil, he carries himself like a janitor bored with the choice of cleaning agent he has been allotted. Now, that's intentional, as the Outsider only grants his gift to people he deems interesting, but he never ever shows joy over what Corvo does, beyond providing very dry monologues questioning your choices as a player.
I think it's a missed opportunity to not have him act at least a little bit like the Devil and try and stir up trouble in order to keep himself entertained. But hey, seeing as Death of the Outsider exists, maybe Arkane caught on to how lame he is. Gonna be fun to try that later I bet.
So yeah, the main story isn't very interesting, but the world-building is completely on point. Dunwall and the surrounding isles of Griston is a wonderful setting, as it's this magitech Victorian England full of weird magic plagued by...well, a plague that's just consuming the city wholesale.
Every level is full of diaries, logs and in-universe fiction that explore the local whaling industry, the history of the plague, Griston's relationship with other countries, the magical conflict between the government and followers of the Outsider and a bunch of other neat things. It can be a bit much to read (or just plain annoying when you find duplicate books), but it's certainly better than the material that gets shoved in your face during cutscenes.
Arkane didn't even try to obscure how much of Dishonored is inspired by the Thief series, but that's all right. While you are an assassin, there is still a big focus on sneaking around, gathering intel and stealing everything that isn't nailed down. On the whole, Dishonored is a simpler experience due to modern gameplay developments, smaller levels and the wide range of abilities Corvo has access to. As such, it's easier to pick up but perhaps not as satisfying to master. I'm not sure on that myself.
Corvo can sneak, climb up ledges, knock out guards, use a sword to duel guards and fire his gun or crossbow if the situation demands it. It's a basic set of abilities, but they take you pretty far. What really separates Dishonored from Thief though is the magical abilities the Outsider grants you. The most important one is Blink, which lets Corvo teleport short distances. This ability allows for easy traversal across the vertical environments as well as some really fancy teleportation-based sneaking in highly guarded areas. It really changes the way you approach stealth, making the game unique from it's peers, but also makes it the go-to solution for most problems.
Same goes for Dark Vision, as it not only grants you the ability to see through walls, but is also the only ability like Blink that has a low mana cost when used. As such, I used these two abilities constantly to move around and gather information while almost never spending more mana than what you can regenerate with time for free. It feels somewhat unbalanced to get 30 or so seconds of cheat-vision by spending mana you can recover almost immediately. I know the player needs some way of predicting where guards are, but this is a bit excessive.
I'd have much preferred it if Dark Vision drained mana for as long as it was active (and that it didn't trigger the annoying "The heart dieeees" soundbyte upon activation). Or if it worked as it does now but inhibited movement for a few seconds. I bring this up because the game actually puts a strict limit on the amount of sleep darts you can carry (something that is known to kill the balance of other stealth games), so I'm disappointed to see that not everything received the same level of consideration.
And on that topic, I have to discuss the rest of the abilities that I frankly never used. Not only do they cost a lot of mana (meaning you can only use them a bit before needing to chug a mana potion), but they're also mostly focused on combat, which I always feel is the last resort in games like this. They do have other uses (some are very much intended for stealth and traversal actually), but the game is balanced to support a playthrough without any upgrades purchased, so they're all kinda superficial in their usefulness unless you want to go on a murder spree or feel like taking different routes.
Beyond ammo and lore notes, the game has 3 main collectibles: Money, runes and Bone Charms. All of these things can be found in the levels, but some are hidden behind some neat side quests that explore the edges of the setting and give you a reason to explore side areas.
Money is used to buy ammo between levels and to upgrade Corvo's equipment. But just like the abilities upgraded with runes, most equipment is meant for murder, so halfway through I ran out of things I truly wanted to upgrade, which diminished my motivation to rob the inhabitants of the levels of everything they had.
The Bone Charms are equippable perks with effects that range from essential (speeding up the choke animation) to to worthless (food grants more HP when consumed), with most of them falling into the latter category. I wanna say there are just enough good ones in the game to fill out all available slots, so I never found myself fighting with myself over what charms to pick for the current situation. Most of the effects are just too minimal to make for different "builds".
As was common at the time, Dishonored features a morality system of sorts that's somewhat obtuse. Instead of good versus evil, the paradigm is instead law versus chaos, with the big decider between the two being if you kill more than 20% of the level's people, as that will give the rats of the city more food to eat while they spread the plague. That percentage depends on a few other factors as well, but as long as you make an effort not to kill things, you should be able to maintain a low chaos score. Still, it'd be nice if the game provided more data instead of the binary low/high chaos score at the end of each level.
I believe the intent was to make sure the game corrects itself to your playstyle, as a high-chaos player will be met with more enemies (to compensate for their aquisition of more and more lethal upgrades), while a low-chaos player will be met with fewer enemies, since they presumably won't have as many options available.
I can accept that part of the system, but there are some other aspects of it that bothers me. The first being that killing Weepers (plague zombies) counts as killing a person, even though they are mindlessly walking around barfing plague at whoever comes close to them. At that point, killing them shouldn't really make things worse, but maybe the justification there is that the rats do the bulk of the work. It feels a bit contrived, especially since not counting them would be a good way for low-chaos players to get a chance use their explosive toys.
The second aspect is the insane lengths the game goes through to provide non-lethal options for each assassination target. Most of these put the target through an ironic fate, which is entertaining, but some of them are so horrible that a quick death would be nicer. It feels like they needed some way for the game to function while still keeping the no kills achievement. Maybe the intent there is to get the player to make each choice on a case-by-case basis instead of always going one way, no matter the circumstances. I'll profess that I felt it best to try and not kill anyone besides the target, and then once I got my hands on them, making sure to off them in a ridiculous fashion. Who knew balconies were so slippery?
For the story-based DLC, you get to play as another one of the Outsider's chosen, the assassin Daud. While his scenario is shorter than Corvo's, I think I prefer it for the small changes it makes to the game. The immediate change is that he is a voiced character, so he brings a lot of life to the proceedings by giving narration and actually talking to people. Secondly, his story is a mystery that only starts with the name "Delilah" and ends in a really exciting fashion when compared to Corvo's story. It exchanges quantity for quality, which makes it a nice companion piece to the main game.
There are also some small changes to gameplay. Daud has different powers when compared to Corvo, plus an extended set of non-lethal gadgets, which I appreciate. The balance is still in favour of a lethal disposition, but adding ways to more easily escape discovery without killing anyone actually helped me relinquish my save-scumming, so they must have done something right.
Lastly, you can purchase favours between levels to be provided with an assortment of boons during the next level. Not only is this a fun callback to Thief, it also provided me with motivation to loot the levels, since the favours can be quite pricey and provide some nice help. While doing said looting, you can come across cursed Bone Charms, which weaken you in exchange for the boost they provide. Sadly, I never thought the boosts they provided were worth the cost, but points for trying to make them more interesting I suppose.