Review: When our society is long lost and forgotten, and the physical remnants of our world hidden underground, will the sailors still sing shanties of DISHONORED? Find out in our huge review.
Dishonored doesn’t waste much time establishing itself. In the very first act, you see the Empress murdered, her daughter kidnapped, and yourself thrown in jail for the crime, framed by the people who just moments before were talking to you as peers and subordinates. You were Corvo, royal bodyguard of the highest standing. Post-empress, you are Corvo, the master assassin determined to prove his innocence and save Dunwall from tyranny.
The City of Dunwall is a special place to behold. It’s built upon living foundations that are forever evolving along with the story, drawing you in, making you feel like a man who actually was once a respected citizen of this place, but is now just an outcast.
It’s constructed in such a way that you’ll want to read the random books that litter people’s desolate homes and listen to the audio files: passages that describe the brutal act of whaling, cutting off slabs of meat while the animal still cries in pain, or the religious texts sitting inside workshops or laboratories, reminding you this is a land where science and the supernatural sit hand in hand.
The whaling wall
It all contributes towards the mythos and history of a city that feels real. A strong whaling industry hardly sounds like something to get excited about, but it’s a cultural cornerstone that immediately tells you Dunwall was once a city of ordinary people doing ordinary jobs – jobs which we may judge as morally wrong, but which they rely on to survive. This is a city of grey, not just because of the walls and the floors and the rats that scurry beneath them, but because the entire place is stooped in imperfect humanity.
What really makes Dunwall tick and feel alive, and I say this well aware of the bittersweet irony, is the plague. Everywhere you go, bodies litter the streets, homes are empty and people talk of nothing else – this disease has ravaged their once safe, island homes. And even with gangs roaming the streets, and self-interested, violent dictators controlling them from above, it is the plague that the people fear the most. The haunting journal entries of people who have lost loved ones scattered throughout Dunwall yet again reminding you that every corpse you see was once a person.
Perhaps that’s why I decided to take the stealth route and kill as few people as possible. The guards may have been working for the bad guys, but an inconsequential scrap of paper that you could easily have skimmed over or ignored completely lets you into their psyche. Plague medicine is controlled by the government or by the gangs and being a guard gets you a ration. It’s not the noblest thing to do, to serve those you know are wrong in order to protect yourself, but it’s an understandable action and one these men don’t deserve to die for taking.
These men have also been drawn in by a propaganda machine, with banners proclaiming hard line mantras and loudspeakers blaring out at all times, keeping the citizens sedated with lies. It’s especially hard to hear when those lies are about you – you’re fighting to prove your innocence, to protect all those who are innocent, and you’re being openly mocked for your troubles, with the majority of those you’re trying to help believing your guilt.
Unfortunately, that rich narrative doesn’t extend to the game’s main storyline, which is just too predictable and humdrum. There are a lot interesting characters present and Corvo’s relationships with them feel meaningful, but they’re also simple ones. It always feels as though the story has been designed to give everything else that’s so great about Dishonored direction, rather than being great itself.
You leap from plot point to plot point, with character development happening at a million miles an hour, never giving you time to settle into how things currently are, such is the pace that it moves on at. One of the reasons the story feels so short is that you can spend so much time doing side objectives, or simply exploring and looking around the world. The actual time you spend interacting with the main characters is minimal compared to the time you spend acting as the super assassin and that balance isn’t quite right.