Originally released in 2012, Dishonored is a stealth-action game developed by Arkane Studios shortly after they were acquired by Zenimax Media. The game was praised for its stealth-action gameplay, player choice, and overall design. The game has recently been reintroduced to new audiences after it was brought to Game Pass following Xbox’s acquisition of Zenimax. The question is, does this game still hold up to its initial critical acclaim nearly a decade later? Let’s find out.
A Grim Timeline
Dishonored is a stealth-action game set in Dunwall, a Grim Industrial city that is overun with oppressive technology and death. The city is run by tyrants who have no interest in the citizens that still live there. You play as Corvo Attano, a man framed for the murder of Empress Jessamine. You are imprisoned for the crime but eventually escape after the help of those who know you are innocent. From there, you embark on a revenge tour, settling the score with those who murdered the Empress and framed you for it.
The story is good and there are genuine twists and turns throughout. The way that the story progresses can change depending on the choices you make and there are multiple endings that are possible depending on how you play. While the story is solid throughout, the culmination of the game prior to the finale is a bit underwhelming. There is a large buildup to what ultimately ends up being an anticlimactic ending. I don’t want to spoil what happens but let’s just say that the story drags about two-thirds of the way through and ends with an anticlimactic thud.
A Nightmarish City
Dunwall is not a pleasant place to live in and that is apparent from the beginning. Watch Guards roam the streets and attack first and ask questions later. Deadly rats who carry the “rat plague” roam the streets and can grow in numbers depending on your actions. Humans who are infected by the aforementioned plague known as Weepers wander the streets and attack anyone on sight. Tallboys, large robots controlled by the City Watch, patrol the city and attack you if detected.
Dishonored does a lot right but perhaps the most striking is is its sense of place and attention to detail. Dunwall feels alive even though it is enraptured with Death. The city simultaneously invites you to explore its many mysteries while also holding danger in every corner. It is clear you are not welcome in the city and you are reminded of that every second you play.
While Dunwall is clearly the star of the game, there is also an underlying tone of dark magic that permeates throughout as you explore the city. Early on, Corvo is able to utilize a number of supernatural abilities granted by the outsider, a magical being that is a physical representation of the void, a magical alternate dimension. It is not exactly clear who the outsider is or what the void really means, but the mystery persists throughout the game and adds an extra layer of depth to an already detailed world.
A World to Explore
The structure of the game is one of interconnected levels that build upon each other. Each level varies in scope and has a primary objective that is supported by numerous side objectives. The primary objective in each level is usually straightforward; Assassinate this person, gather information from that person, and so on.
You will spend a lot of your time in the Pub, a home base of sorts where your allies plan your missions and where you can upgrade your gear. From here, you can explore the area, ensure you are stocked with enough equipment, and when ready move on to your mission.
At the onset of each mission, you will see an objective indicator on the HUD that gives you a general direction of where to go. From there, you are free to head in any direction you like. If you want a more direct navigation system, you can utilize the Heart. The heart is a mythical, beating heart that you hold in your hands that shows you where all of your objectives are. As well as where any Runes or Bone Charms might be hidden. Runes are on map pickups that allow the player to unlock or improve supernatural abilities. You will need to find or buy them in order to grow in power. Bone Charms are essentially perks that give you minor Stat bonuses.
Each direction you head in Dishonored has a point of interest. There are multiple ways to attack an objective and each direction has even more branching paths. The game tends to feel like a choose your own adventure game at times as there numerous interconnected paths through each level.
One path I embarked on involved a man who wanted to know the combination to a safe that held a number of invaluable riches. If I could find out the code, he promised to take care of my primary objective for me. After multiple steps that culminated in electrocuting an Art Dealer, I uncovered the code and brought it to him. He thanked me for the code and in turn dealt with my objective for me. A win-win for everyone, right?
Well, not exactly. Unbeknownst to him, right before I delivered the code, I discovered the safe while exploring the world and decided to take the valuables inside for myself. What he doesn’t know, yet, won’t hurt him I suppose. This path is just one of the dozens littered throughout the game and each path feels incredibly unique. While there are not many branching paths as your typical RPG today, there are enough choose your own adventure-style paths that each player will likely have a much different story to tell.
Level design is the star of the game as each level feels unique and fully realized. Most levels take place in a section of Dunwall but each has a unique theme. A standard level may see Corvo navigating the city streets, hiding in the shadows, and navigating rooftops. One standout level will have you navigating a Mansion during a party. During this excellent level, you will blend in with guests while searching for your target. From there, Dishonored’s philosophy of player choice really shines through. Will you go guns-a-blazing and murder everyone? Or, sneak around the area and gain data, making sure to quietly eliminate your target in silence. The choice is yours.
Your choices aren’t just for show either, they have real-world impact. If you choose to engage in “high chaos”, or for layman’s terms murder everything in sight, the world will evolve around you. Rats and Weepers will grow in numbers, central characters will grow disgusted with your actions, the number of guards per area will increase, and the final mission of the game will be increasingly difficult if you follow the high chaos path.
Low Chaos, the path I followed for this review, resulted in few Rats and Weepers, an overall mild Guard presence, and characters approving of my actions. There is also a Medium Chaos level that falls neatly between Low and High Chaos, meaning your rewards and punishments are somewhere in between.
Dishonored shines in its ability to give players choice in how the game unfolds. Each corner of the game has something to uncover and the potential to discover something that will help you along the way. The game thrives on choice and the ability to craft your own narrative and no two stories will be the same. This philosophy also transfers over to the Combat, or if you choose, lack thereof.
Corvo is given a set of tools early on that are slowly expanded on. Initially, you have a sword, a gun, and a bow. You can combine these weapons to cause maximum chaos, use them to silently take out enemies, or ignore them altogether and instead focus on a nonlethal play style. Along with these standard weapons are supernatural abilities that range from the ability to teleport to out-of-reach areas, see-through walls, slow down time, and more.
You can use all of your tools to your benefit and create interesting combinations that give you an edge. For my playthrough for review, I often combined “Dark Vision”, which allowed me to see through walls, and “Blink”, which allowed me to teleport to hard-to-reach areas. Using this combination allowed me to easily spot all enemies in a room and quickly teleport to them for nonlethal takedowns.
If I wanted to stir things up and use lethal force, I would combine “Windblast and “Bend Time” so I could slow down time and proceed to blow enemies away with the force of the wind. There are so many possible combinations that multiple playthroughs are not only possible, they’re encouraged.
As mentioned earlier, the main threat of the game is the city guard that roams the streets. They are a relatively generic type of enemy, sporting swords and guns. They can detect you from pretty far away so it is difficult to sneak past them, but like most AI they will often spot you and then completely forget you exist a few minutes later.
Other enemy types include assassins who only appear for a brief period of the game. They are more difficult to avoid than the City Guard and are nimble, as they can teleport in and out of areas. Tallboys are City Guard-controlled machines that will cause a lot of damage if they spot you, but they are pretty easy to avoid if you know where you’re going.
Still Holds Up
Dishonored is still a very good-looking game even as an Xbox 360 game that was touched up for an Xbox One re-release. The game looks like a Victorian Painting come to life, as the environments and characters look detailed but not photo-realistic. The game is also greatly assisted by the FPS Boost implementation that was recently added to the Xbox Series X.
The game runs at a near-flawless 60 frames per second and makes the game look more vibrant and feel better to play. It is seriously hard to overstate just how much better the game looks and feels due to FPS Boost. It feels like the game was “remastered”, while in reality it’s just an option provided to Xbox Series X|S users.
The game is also available on Game Pass. Dishonored was added last month following the completion of the Zenimax acquisition by Microsoft. Having such a fantastic game available for “free” on the service is a great value add and also ensures that millions of people have access to a game that absolutely should not be missed.
Dishonored is still a great game nearly a decade later. This stealth-action game will go down in the history books as one of the best games in the genre and put Arkane Studios on the map as one of the world’s best developers. It is incredibly impressive that Dishonored manages to feel like a modern game even though it was a game released during the Xbox 360 Era. It just goes to show how incredible the game was when it released, and how Arkane Studios was able to make a game that stands the test of time.