Dishonoured review

Dishonoured is a game that while truly exceptional, lacks something. In fact, it lacks a lot of things. While the core gameplay mechanics are very good and the use of blink style movement is a joy to mess around with, Dishonoured just keeps feeling like it's falling short of a mark the designers set for it. Virtually every idea presented in the game is very good in concept, but it isn't fleshed out enough. There are not enough areas, not enough upgrades, not enough explanation for things in the narrative and certainly not enough play time. It feels like they had a great team of designers and creators who came up with a wonderful vision, but just didn't have the money and/or  time to make it a reality. Consequently instead of cutting out individual elements and building the remaining ones up to full potential, they kept everything and just build it up to middling levels. A broad, shallow pool instead of a narrow deep one, if you will. Or to raise the spectre of a game that has a similar problem (but to a far worse degree)- Spore.

The plotline mystifies me. The core plot is simple enough, but then there are several other sub plots that just go absolutely nowhere. The game makes a big thing about whales, hinting from the very start that their being hunted is going to be a big part of the plot. It's mentioned in any number of books that you pick up and read, Whale Oil tanks are your battery substitute for electricity puzzles, the charms and runes you carry are made from whalebone. There's even one lore book that states each one is physically distinct (raising in my head a comparison between them and the Entelexia in Tales of Vesperia). However, despite the massive focus on the leviathans of the deep (which is far more than simple set lore requires), they actually play no role in the story at all. Literally nothing. Why go to all that detail and not make something of it?

Then there's the Outsider, a mystical being who is the source of your magical powers. What is it? where did it come from? What does it want? Does it like you? Are you just a tool to it? I don't see the point in personifying this power if you are not actually going to do anything with the personification. Just have it as a mystical power that no one really understands, it raises less questions and does the job just as well from a narrative and gameplay standpoint. He serves as a narrator, but that job could just as easily be filled by Samuel- assuming you even need a narrator. Hell Samuel would make a more interesting narrator- seeing what effect your actions have had through the eyes of a common man instead of the nobility, political high flyers or disembodied dark eyed demons.

I'm not normally one to complain about game time (hell I defended Portal 2 on that score), but I feel that Dishonoured is way too short. I breezed through the game in 8 hours, and that was taking my time, exploring areas, uncovering (and completing) optional missions or objectives too. Plus I don't see much replay value either. You can get most of the upgrades early in the game thanks to there being so few, so unlike say Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where alternative playthroughs can actually present a new gameplay experience depending on which augs you select, in Dishonoured you might play the first mission differently, but after that the rest of the game is pretty much going to be the same unless you power through, going out of your way not to collect runes.

My biggest concern is the fact that the build team are obviously talented enough to recognise these problems with the game, which suggests they may be intentional. And given that they can easily be rectified by simply adding to the game that means- you guessed it- DLC. I have a strong suspicion we will see two DLC packs for the game, both of which take place after the game's completion. One will deal with the whales, the other with the Outsider. Both will of course add new powers and upgrades. This is the sort of DLC tactic I really despise- setting up your game specifically to sell the DLC, to the point of leaving stuff out if needed. It weakens the core experience and means I need to pay more to get the game to the level of quality it should've been at. In short, it's selling you back something you should have had from the start, instead of giving you something extra.

I may be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

The graphics though are gorgeous. While the quality is a little shabby at times, the art direction and design is splendid-  creating a living, breathing world that oozes style, charm and atmosphere. It's very reminiscent of the old Thief games in that regard, indeed Dishonoured seems to have drawn heavily from them at every stage of the design process.

Piggybacking on that, the level design is also very nice. Unlike most games that allow you to choose a playstyle, Dishonoured never feels like its presenting you with "TEH STEALTH ROUTE" or "TEH FIGHTING ROUTE", the path you take through each area evolves naturally depending on how you play the game and (for the first mission at least) what powers you have at your disposal. It's refreshing as it feels like you're carving your own path through the game.

The combat is fun and tactical, requiring careful use if your equipment and powers if you're planning on taking on more than one enemy at once. The first person sword fighting is very well managed, opting for a system that rewards timing and finesse over rapid clicking. Enemies react to you accordingly and will (where possible) try to execute flanking manoeuvres and squad tactics to bring your down more easily. Combat is very lethal, but not usually unfairly so. I played on hard difficulty and after a while I could quite easily take on three or four watchmen at the same time when needed. More than that though and things get problematic. While combat is always an option, stealth is your first recourse.

There's not much more I can say. The general feeling of 'lack' permeates the entire game, and while it remains a very enjoyable way to spend 8 hours, I have to say that in order to experience this game at its very best, it'll probably be worth waiting for a GOTY edition to also get the (inevitable) DLC included in the box price. Taken on what's presented though, Dishonoured is still a great game. It's just sadly obvious that the designers intended there to be so much more.
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