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Critical Reception: Arkane Studios' Dishonored

This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Arkane Studios' stealth game Dishonored, which reviewers describe as "a meaningful and successful reinvention of the core ideas behind Deus Ex."

Danny Cowan

October 10, 2012

5 Min Read

This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Arkane Studios' first-person stealth game Dishonored, which reviewers describe as "a meaningful and successful reinvention of the core ideas behind Deus Ex." Dishonored currently earns a score of 89 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Cam Shea at IGN rates Dishonored at 9.2 out of 10. "Are you getting sick of playing games that don't actually let you play?" he asks. "You know the ones I mean: they funnel you down a narrow path, don't give you much freedom in what you can do, and rely on cinematic set pieces to drive the spectacle. "I am, and that's why Dishonored is such a refreshing experience. It picks up where games like Deus Ex and BioShock left off, and puts choice back in the hands of the player." "As Corvo Attano, protector to an Empress, players find themselves in Dunwall, a grimy port city whose population is being decimated by a rat-born plague," Shea explains. "It's also a hive of corruption, political machinations and power grabbing, and this all comes to the fore when the Empress is assassinated, and Corvo sets out to avenge her death." Shea finds that Dishonored supports multiple play styles. "Unlike so many video game protagonists, Corvo is not pre-ordained to be a mass murderer," he notes. "The entire game can be completed without killing a single person, so guards can be avoided or knocked unconscious, and non-lethal options can be found for assassination targets." Shea cites a standout gameplay sequence: "In one mission Corvo has two targets to take out inside a brothel, but there is, of course, an alternative to killing them. If you can find another guest in the complex and get him to give up the code for his safe, you can then give this code to a character in the Distillery District and he'll make both your targets disappear. In my first playthrough, I got the code, but went and eliminated both the targets anyway, then took the contents of the safe for myself.“ "These kind of options make missions much more engaging than if players were simply tasked with the usual 'go here, kill this' objectives," Shea states. "That said, it's actually the moment to moment gameplay choices that make Dishonored so compelling." Joystiq's Andrew Sliwinski gives Dishonored 4.5 out of 5 stars. "Dishonored is something special," he asserts. "It's a self-contained first brick in what is sure to become a larger universe; a stealth action game that lets you play as a creeping assassin, or abandon that notion and go through it as a first-person shooter with mystical powers." "There are a wealth of options on how to approach each mission," Sliwinski continues. "Thanks to mystical gifts provided by the Outsider, an entity whose motives are never fully explored, Corvo will gain the ability to teleport, see through walls, bend time, summon rats, possess living creatures and more." Players are offered a variety of approaches to each mission, thanks to the main character's many different abilities. "Reaching a mark may involve overhearing a conversation about their location, blinking (teleporting) from rooftop to rooftop onto a window ledge, using dark vision to observe enemies through the wall and choosing just the right moment to enter," Sliwinski recalls. "Then, once inside, possessing a rat in the house, scurrying through a vent (possession in Dishonored is a full transference of body) and finally blinking into the target's room. "That's just one stealth approach. Should you choose, you can also just walk through the front door and cut down everybody in your way, summoning rats to gnaw on anyone who gets too close." Gameplay occasionally frustrates, however. "Dishonored is remarkably polished, bending stealth action in new directions and offering plenty of freedom," Sliwinski notes. "One tried and true genre element it doesn't depart from, however, is a reliance on trial and error. [...] If stealth games are your kryptonite, Dishonored is more forgiving than most, but be sure to save often, because you'll be reloading twice as much and checkpoints aren't necessarily convenient." Patrick Klepek at Giant Bomb scores Dishonored at 4 out of 5 stars. "Countless creators have chased the phantoms of Deus Ex since its release in 2000, and most fail," he admits. "Dishonored is not the groundbreaking achievement Deus Ex was, but that would be asking too much. It is, however, a meaningful and successful reinvention of the core ideas behind Deus Ex with a singular focus on making this dense style of game more accessible." The combat system is especially polished. "Everything about the combat feels good, from basic shooting to swordfights," Klepek notes. "An easy-to-use counterattack system makes it effortless to take on five or six enemies at once, and feel in complete control. "Besides making Dishonored a more competent, accessible game, it simultaneously solves another design issue found in both this and more stealth-focused games like Metal Gear Solid. Getting caught no longer means you're immediately reaching for the quick load button, and can instead choose to tackle the enemies with your array of combat options, or quickly skitter away with a little dose of magic." The narrative is uneven, however. "It's important players are able to tell their own gameplay story in Dishonored, since the story the game is trying to tell isn't great," Klepek warns. "Every beat is predictable, twists and all, and the few noteworthy mysteries, like the Outsider, are never satisfyingly explained. [...] Graffiti repeats ad nauseum, as does idle dialogue. The line 'think you'll get your own squad after what happened last night?' comes up again and again, and does a terrific job of breaking any sense of immersion." "Dishonored is an excellent game, and one worthy of your attention," Klepek concludes. "Dishonored's greatest contribution to the genre games like Deus Ex helped establish will be best appreciated by those who've been with it from the start, but Arkane has made a game rooted in manipulating artificial intelligence that plays just as well to the guy or gal who wants to shoot stuff. That's impressive."

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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