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First Impressions of Dishonored

Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks

Lloyd Sabin, October 10, 2012

Steampunk? First-person RPG? Wide-open storylines? WWLD?

Managing Expectations

I first read about Dishonored about six months ago on our very own Grogheads forums and I was immediately sent into a tizzy. A first person sneaker set in a steampunk megacity? Yes please. But as a pseudo-adult I am beginning to realize that if I don’t manage my expectations I am most certainly going to be led to disappointment. This happened most recently with an RPG that will remain nameless, which everyone else and their mother seemed to love…but just didn’t grab me.

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Technicals

Before I get too carried away, let me just state that Dishonored’s pre-loading and installation from Steam was flawless. I pre-loaded the game Monday night, which took a few hours. Early the next morning the game had unlocked and launched quickly without any issues and I haven’t had any crashes, stutters or hiccups at all, graphical or otherwise. I have most of the graphical features turned up almost as high as they can go and the game looks fantastic, as you can see from the accompanying screenshots. But there are some things I noticed quickly…

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Please Grab Me…I Want to be Grabbed

To be clear, I have only played Dishonored for a couple of hours. And to be honest, it has not totally grabbed me yet. Some things have put me off. For one, the dialogue is in American accented English. Granted the City of Dunwall is fictitious so the developers at Arkane can do whatever they damned-well please. But the aesthetic of the game and the graphics suggest early 20th century Britain, or Western European at least. Minor quibble, but some solid accents would have lent to good mood-setting.

Another feature, or lack thereof, that I noticed almost immediately was also noticed by my friend and colleague Craig Handler and posted in the Grogheads forums this morning: lack of a third person mode. Many PC gamers who play first person shooters or sneakers deride the third person mode as unrealistic but I have always enjoyed it and like a buddy mentioned in our forums, it would have been useful in Dishonored as the player is attempting to sneak, climb and run through the game. I agree with that.

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But Then There’s This

Dishonored is billed as a ‘stealth action game with RPG elements’ and it certainly starts off that way. After a sweet, quick ten minute tutorial that sets up the plot and begins the action in earnest, the player is literally thrown into a crapstorm. Once started, the first mission is a dark, stinky, smelly one that reminded me immediately of Metro 2033 combined with Thief: Deadly Shadows. Where Dishonored parts from Metro 2033 is that eventually your subterranean meanderings end and you finally, mercifully, are allowed to come up for air.

While underground though, what I hope are Dishonored’s true colors poked through. The game is set on rails, yes. However, the set pieces that the player can explore are huge and a lot of freedom of movement is allowed. Exploration is rewarded immediately with loot that includes ammunition, food, and health potions. The more I explored, the more loot I found, and there always seems to be at least two ways out of a difficult situation.

And even in the first mission I had no problem finding some difficult situations. Most of the obstacles were flesh and blood, like guards and rats. The AI appeared to be on-point too…when I thought I had a good hiding spot, an AI guard snooped around and let me know I didn’t pretty quickly a few times.

The physical environment, with locked doors, gears, drawbridges, rivers, fire, and other impediments is full of things that will do the player serious harm. Luckily Corvo (your avatar’s name) is capable of physical greatness: he can hide, climb, crawl, run, and swim when needed.

He can also fight. Armed with bladed weapons as well as ranged, Corvo is not as fragile as Garrett from the Thief series. When necessary, he can be quite the badass. So he doesn’t have to run from confrontation. I personally want to explore and play as stealthily as possible, so I began to play the game in the crouching stealth mode. Not having quite mastered it yet on normal difficulty, this lead to some dying and reloading (again that AI seems to be pretty good). But at the end of my first few hours I was scoring some sneaky kills.

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A Haunting Presence

Despite my gripes about accents and lack of a third person view, by the end of my first session I could not help but think that something gripping lurks within the slimy, fish-scaled bowels of Dishonored. I completed the first mission (and got that fantastic, trademark Dishonored mask from Piero, in-game ally and tinkerer), scored some power-ups and saw some of the powers that will open up to me once I progress further. And yes I took Piero’s advice and got some sleep, both in-game and in real life.

Before nodding off I could not help but think about the skyline of Dunwall, the murky seas around it, the sewers running below it, and the weapons and gear I had already earned in the early hours. I also gave some thought on how I would approach this write-up.

Noting the things I did not like about Dishonored, the list of things I did like is longer: the amount and importance of exploration, set-pieces that rouse in the player the desire to explore, and of course the beautifully rendered city. These are the three traits of the game that stay with me. It is clear even in the short time that I have spent with Dishonored that the developers loved this game…it’s their pride. And they want you and me to see as much of it as possible.

Yes, Dishonored is billed as an action game. However I am going to attempt to play through it as stealthily as I can and explore as much as I can of its plague and trash ridden streets. I am going to read the lore that is scattered everywhere. And I am going to talk to the NPCs. If I want pure run and gun action I can go and play Crysis. That’s not why I am playing Dishonored. I am playing Dishonored to be immersed, engaged, and yes, haunted.

And despite the initial niggles, Dishonored is beginning to seep into me. Partially because I am a willing vessel, sure…I want to be possessed by this game. But also because it is not showing it’s hand all at once. Like a coy mistress, it is teasing me and making me want more, showing me a glimpse of some kind of steampunk contraption, a quick glimpse down a trash-strewn alley…and engaging my imagination.

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