Dishonored or Of Freedom and Irony

It seems like a paradox: Dishonored is not a ‘classic’ open world game in the veins of GTA or Skyrim, and yet it is – at least – one of the best sandbox games released in this generation. After the prologue and a rather conventional prison break, you are free to do things in any way you want. Alright, even the prison break gives you some options: Open fights, silent assassinations, knocking guards out without killing them, or avoiding any confrontation completely by simply sneaking around it – the choice is yours.

Later on, some magic happens, literally. Dishonored gives you only a handful of magical options you can acquire via finding runes, and at first glance, teleportation (aka blink), slowing respectively stopping time or a windblast don’t sound that great – but combine them, and you’ll have lots of fun. Try the combination blink, slow time, kill enemy who instantly burns to ashes (another awesome ability) … great fun! Or what about stopping time in a fight, possessing a guard and positioning him in front of his own bullet? Yes, you have less powers than in Skyrim for instance, but the combination of them leaves room for a lot of experimenting with bodies as your just reward.

To top all of this, Dishonored grants you the freedom over life and death: You can complete the game without killing anyone (and there are no stupid boss battles which break the immersion, dear Deus Ex: Human Revolution). There’s always a nonlethal way to take out another piece out of this Victorian game of chess. And the freedom does not stop here: The levels themselves are designed in a way that there are almost always at least two ways to reach your destination – and that’s only counting the architecture in Dishonored, not the various ways to sabotage equipment that kills your enemies or possessing rats or humans. Each level also features some side missions, lots of loot and collectibles to find and many books and notes to immerse yourself into Dishonored dystopian Victorian world.

Speaking of the world, it’s a job well done. Imagine electricity through whale oil, a deadly rat plague on the streets of your industrialised capital city and a police state that kills first and asks later. That’s Dishonored for you. A dark place where hope is lost – and it is up to you to reclaim it the way you see fit. However, your actions will have consequences – the more you kill, the higher your chaos rating, and the darker Dunwall will become. People around you will slowly start fearing you – or admiring you which feels even worse. The levels themselves will change according to your actions as well: Low chaos means less guards, less rats and less infected people. High chaos means more bodies to wade through.

One thing Dishonored does extremely well is presenting the characters and the world: No, Rabidgames does not need an explanation for everything. Think about the first Mass Effect – the Reapers were a mysterious threat beyond our comprehension (and not just Quarian vs Geth conflict on a galactic scale). Yes, we need a bit of that in each game! Dishonored gets it right – you’ll never get to know if protagonist Corvo Attano is really the father of the heiress to the throne, you never learn the motivation of the mysterious outsider who grants chosen ones magical powers: Is he the devil? An ancient whale god who seeks revenge for the slaughter of the intelligent animals? Does he want chaos or balance? And why is he highly amused if Corvo does not kill his prey? Above all, can we trust him? We don’t get a definite answer, we can only speculate.

Story-wise, Dishonored is just a story of a disgraced, pardon, dishonored royal bodyguard blamed for the assassination of the empress of a Victorian yet whale oil exploiting empire – at first glance. The game makes it pretty clear everyone has had good intentions at some point, but most of those guide you to the road to hell. And yet, the real strength is in the presentation of the story – even if you saw it coming, you still want to punish those bastards.

Dishonored’s narrative pace is also close to perfection: In your first playthrough, you sense some twists. You know the loyalists are not the knights in shining armour they pretend to be. But you don’t know when they’ll strike against you. After your first playthrough (Rabidgames chose high chaos), you see the pieces of the puzzle fitting together from the beginning, you know the connections between many characters – and you begin to see the underlying irony of Dishonored: A game which gives you tons of freedom makes clear you are nothing but a pawn, a tool to be used – on many levels. And this is simply great writing.

Rabidgames blinks: In terms of gameplay, Dishonored allows for immense freedom rarely seen in video games – and thereby, much fun can be had if you’Re the imaginative type. And the narrative reveals the exact amount of knowledge for us to think about the story, to interpret it – and if you take a look at gaming forums, you see proof that Arkane Studios got it right: People argue about many, many points. It is a shame that Dishonored will prbably be shadowed in most GOTY awards by already established franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect or the stale and boring Call of Duty … but who cares if you can eliminate all guests of party from the shadows!

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