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Page 1 of 5A few people who know me also might know that Deus Ex ranks as probably my favorite game of all time. The open-ended levels that allow for multiple play-styles, the conspiracy-laden story with a strong cast of characters, the intelligently-applied RPG mechanics put into a first-person perspective, the social and political commentary, and even the inventory management... all of it comes together to make something that has never really been rivaled, even by its own sequels. Along with it, the Thief and System Shock games also stand as my most fondly remembered ever.
Arkane Studios is a developer who, sadly, isn't as recognized as they should be. For whatever reason, their Dark Messiah (of) Might & Magic hasn't been so fondly remembered, and Arx Fatalis, one of the finest dungeon crawlers ever made, is rarely even mentioned anymore. Dishonored is their first game in many years, and, led by Harvey Smith of Deus Ex fame, it's promised to combine the best of those first-person stealth-action/RPG hybrid games with the brutal first-person combat Arkane are known for. Sounds like a match made in heaven for someone like me.
For the most part, it is. Dishonored is a finely-crafted, smart, well-written, expertly-designed game which takes inspiration from some of the best games of all time and, in a few places, even improves on them. The game does have its issues - namely in character progression, underwhelming stealth gameplay, lack of deeper RPG elements, and a slightly "two-dimensional" game world - but makes up for it with some of the best level design I've seen in a game, along with stunning art and audio direction. While it doesn't quite live up to its forefathers, it is the best game of its type made in nearly a decade, and highlights just about everything wrong with modern big-budget games today.
Story & Setting
Dishonored's story is a simple one, but the real star of the game is its setting. Taking place in Dunwall, one of the world's largest known cities and capital of the isle of Gristol, Dishonored's is a grim and bleak world - a Victorian steampunk-style fantasy setting complete with a helping of magic and occultism, brought low by the so-called "rat plague" which has devastated the city and killed off half its population. The world is alive and vibrant, and is believable as a place just entering into industrial revolution, with strong contrast between the decadence of the upper class and poverty of the lower class.
You play as Corvo Attano, bodyguard to Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. Upon returning from a diplomatic mission to secure aid against the rat plague (and failing), the Empress is quickly and brutally assassinated, her daughter and heir Emily is kidnapped, and you find yourself held responsible for her murder. After rotting in prison for six months, Corvo is broken out by a band of usurpers intent on displacing the new Lord Regent, Hiram Burrows. It quickly becomes apparent that the Empress' death was orchestrated by some of the highest members of society, and Corvo, in exchange for his freedom, is tasked with assassinating those involved in order to rescue Emily Kaldwin and place her on the throne.
It's not an especially complicated story, if you remove all of the strange proper nouns from the mix, however, and while there are plot twists, they feel obligatory rather than shocking. The flat plot is made more vibrant by a fairly large cast of characters involved, most of them fellow conspirators. Thankfully, Dishonored takes the time to explain the motivations, histories, doubts and thoughts of those characters in detail, usually in subtle ways that you will only pick up on through exploration, rather than hitting you over the head with stereotypical traits or exposition dumps. That attention to detail keeps the story interesting throughout, and I was pleased to find that upon a second play-through, many little snippets of dialogue and events were able to gain new meaning in retrospect.
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