“Dishonored” is the rare sort of game that contains many games within itself.
It lashes violently when it is a fast-paced hit-and-run game, reminiscent of “Assassin’s Creed.” It contains elements of a long, drawn-out stealth game like “Thief” and “Splinter Cell.” It burns runes into its hand, developing supernatural powers, summoning rats while nodding quietly toward “Bioshock.”
This is not meant to imply that “Dishonored” simply copies other games. Yes, there are influences present, but it’s definitely a beast of its own.
“Dishonored” contains multiple possible games and leaves it up to the player to act in such a fashion that causes one or more of these games to emerge. The game can be played helter-skelter, and the content can be rushed through, but to squander “Dishonored” like that is short-sighted. Frankly, this game deserves the rapt attention of the player for a dozen hours.
The basic goal is often the same: assassination. The tools at the revenge-driven protagonist’s disposal are a slew of gadgets and powers including time-stops, sleeping darts, wind blasts and short-range teleportation.
What makes “Dishonored” so compelling is not the weapons or the goals but the environment in which the assassination takes place. There are a ton of ways to engage with the game’s places with various effects and efficiency, from shooting in the front door to ghosting an assassination without anyone knowing it happened. Not only does the game permit these things, but it also reacts to them in surprisingly detailed ways. For example, citizens may talk idly of the murders if the player is too overt or leaves too many bodies in the streets.
No, the system is not perfect. The task of building a city and populating it with this much content daunts like nobody’s business, but the developers tried their hardest to fill in as many cracks as they could find. The issue remains one of volume. There are limits, holes and shortcomings, just as in any world that invites exploration.
However, these instances fall flat when compared to how much the game actually allows, such as using the possession power on not only enemies and bystanders, but also rats and fish, blink-jumping over walls and into windows that would have never been accessible otherwise and finding entire other threads of the story that bear no outward indication of importance.
The world itself has as much character as any of the actual characters, although to be fair, some of the characters are a bit lacking at times. Although it smells a bit thrown-together and the quality can fluctuate somewhat, the bizarre fictional city of Dunwall runs effectively as deep as the player will allow it to.
There are many small fragments of the world that can be discovered by simply allowing enough time for exploration and discovery. Entire quests can be missed, and big chunks of content, both in gameplay and in world exposition, can go unnoticed. There is lot to see and do in the world of “Dishonored” if the player is equal parts patient and thorough.
Ultimately, “Dishonored” gives back whatever the player is willing to put in. Treated well, the game is a wonderful escapade into a dark and fascinating world. Treated poorly, “Dishonored” becomes a five-hour slashfest with little depth beyond a couple of cool jumping powers and rats.
So many rats.