Once upon a time, there was a series of games made by Looking Glass Studios that really defined what it meant to be a stealth game. The Thief series was really something special that forced players to think about their approach to things rather than simply pull out a bigger gun to shoot down the next enemy. While I would never call the thief games perfect (do away with the supernatural enemies that stealth doesn't really work on...then ask me again), they really were pretty great.
Since then, there hasn't really been anything that captured the same kind of feel. The next closest thing that comes to mind for me is the Deus Ex series (in particular, the original from 2000). They both shared a design philosophy that allowed players to take many different paths to reach their objective. You could kill everything in your path (carefully, especially in Thief), incapacitate enemies instead, or even just avoid detection and conflict altogether.
The last year and change has brought back Deus Ex, with the excellent Human Revolution entry into that series. Since we are still waiting for the release of Thief 4, that time has now brought instead a strong spiritual successor to Thief itself to our table in Dishonored.
There are a lot of similarities between Thief and Dishonored. The setting is a somewhat dystopian steampunk inspired one, where metal rules, but the bow and sword still have a home. Light and shadow balance against each other carefully in both games, with the player naturally gravitating toward the latter. Both let you take down enemies from afar as well as up close (though I do much prefer the blackjack to simply putting a sleeper hold on people). They both also include some supernatural elements, though they do seem to go about it somewhat differently with Dishonored placing that much more on abilities of the player as opposed to just gameplay elements that get introduced in the world.
While there are many similarities, the games do have a different aim and there are many differences. The stealth system in Dishonored is not quite as robust as in Thief, and it seems to aim a bit more at giving the player the tools to either never be in the line of sight of enemies, or simply to escape quickly as opposed to Thief's more lighting focused system where you create your own darkness in which to hide. Similarly, while both incorporate sound into the stealth system, unless the difficulty in Dishonored is really cranked up, it won't really play a noticeable role as compared to Thief's more nuanced presentation. It's a little unfortunate, because while you can use sound to lure enemies into different areas, the noise you make yourself seems to play much less of a role than I would like in a stealth game.
The game is less about robbing from the rich and giving to yourself, and much more of a revenge story as the lead, Corvo, and his allies look to take down a corrupt establishment. Missions revolve around taking down specific targets, though you do tend to end up with alternate ways to neutralize the threat that the target poses without necessarily ending their life. The moral choice element of the game is an interesting one. Your choices to kill or avoid conflict throughout the game snowball to change little things in the game as you go on. Kill more people? The world gets more dangerous, and you change the ending you can expect.
One of the neat features of the game is the Blink spell/power that you get after only a little ways into the game. It's just a short-range teleport, but as the game goes on the utility of the spell really increases as you learn to use it more effectively. You can use it to get from rooftop to rooftop, you can use it to get up to the rooftop in the first place, and you can also use it to teleport to just behind that guard so you can take care of them. Permanently. (This is about the most fun you can have with this thing, it's awesome.) It's much too easy to begin to rely upon Blink, and that starts to expose some faults with the game. It's not too hard to find yourself in situations where that ledge that's clearly within range has some magic invisible wall protecting it, keeping you from going that way. Similarly, later on you can kill and kill and kill, and guards keep coming until you finally advance to the next checkpoint. Things like that can really get frustrating, and quickly eat into your health. In a game which gives players so much freedom, these little sorts of things that limit you really stand out.
So, to aim toward wrapping things up, I'll just say this: Dishonored is good. It's not some sort of transformative, genre defining tour de force, but it is really good. It'll certainly end up as one of the best games released this year, and it really does an excellent job of reviving the stealth genre in big titles as Human Revolution couldn't (you can be stealthy in that game, but it's not a stealth game by any stretch of the imagination). Dishonored isn't perfect, and it has moments where it feels cheap in combat and overly restrictive in terms of player movement. Both of these are more than made up for by all the times where you pick one of two ways to complete a level, only to realize there were 3 others you didn't notice until you were already on the other side--all those times where you just make it look easy.
I took my time and went through Dishonored in about 15 hours (not bad for what I'd heard was just a 5 hour game). There's a bit more room still for playing through in different ways as well. It's on sale at the moment in a couple different places, such as Steam, Green Man Gaming, and more. Is it worth the full price? Maybe, maybe not. These days it's a little hard to justify that kind of thing. I'd like to see some better graphics, a bit more length, and more nuanced gameplay for that. Picking it up for just about $20 though? Worth it.
Overall: B+/A- depending on how you look at it.
Verdict: Buy. Play it in a day and revel in the really cool setting that I'd love to play in some more in another game.
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