Saturday, 16 March 2013

21st Century Gaming: Dishonored (Part 1)

Generally, this blog is about old games, as I revisit classic games from my past or play through ones that I missed the first time around. However, I'm not just interested in old games! There are amazing new games being made all the time, and so I'm going to devote a little time to the ones that I've been playing. First up: Dishonored.


Dishonored is a first-person game, with a focus somewhere between exploration, stealth and combat. From what little I had read about it before purchasing, it seemed to be heavily influenced by the Thief series. After a few hours of play, I find it's influences are far more broad than that. But first: what is the game actually all about?

The boat ride, showing off the art department's handiwork

You play as Corvo, the Lord Protector to the Empress. You've just returned from a mission to get help to combat a plague that has afflicted the city of Dunwall, and returned with bad news. However, your debrief with the Empress gets cuts short by assassins, and perhaps a little too predictably you are blamed for the death of the Empress and the kidnap of her young daughter. The whole set-up is unfortunately quite obvious, with the plotters that frame you having the subtlety of Disney villains. What excuses this is how quickly it is all over (it is just an introduction after all), and it serves as an adequate way to get to the real meat of the game.

Lady Emily, a princess to be rescued

It seems like your time is up, but the day before your public execution, you are assisted in escaping the jail and meet up with a diverse band of outcasts who need your help in spearheading a revolution against the new government. Calling themselves Loyalists, they want to avenge the death of the Empress, and put her daughter on the throne. There doesn't appear to be a socialist republic option, so I guess replacing one autocrat with another is fine for now.

Empress Jessamine, reading some bad news: she gets killed off in the intro

The world itself is a dystopic nightmare of dark and twisting streets, tall stone buildings and winding rivers. The city is darkly atmospheric and has a vaguely Victorian era feel to it, with the local guards sporting swords and wheel-lock pistols. Corvo gets a variety of weaponry and gadgets, from the aforementioned sword/pistol combo to the mechanical and the mystical. I'm tempted to label it steampunk, but that's not exactly right. There is a certain anachronistic level of technology around, but rather than steam it's whale oil that is the basis for it all. I'm rather impressed with how well the setting has been constructed.

The second female character you meet, dead within the first few minutes

As is usual these days, the lore and backstory is often presented to you by the way of overheard anecdotes, discarded notes, audio-logs and excerpts from books. These allow a player to immerse themselves in the world as much as they care to - you can either find each scrap of information and pay close attention, treat it as an action-adventure by following quest markers or just find your own middle ground. I feel like they've really done this as well as any other game I've played so far. The information is often repeated from different sources, so anything important is difficult to miss. Also, it gives a lot more flavour to the world, filling in those gaps which otherwise would have to be overlooked or crammed into some sort of in-game manual (like the overly lengthy but information-rich Mass Effect codex, which had a vast amount of information that provided colour to an often sterile game environment).

Curse your sudden and inevitable betrayal!

It's the setting and the gameplay which make this game work, and I'll talk more about the gameplay in the next post, but for now I'll continue with some musings on the setting. Firstly, I find it a little funny the the first game I've played after watching the first Tropes vs Women video (Damsels in distress), is actually about a damsel in distress. I perhaps wouldn't have noticed so easily otherwise, but the game begins by killing off one female character, and having the other kidnapped. At my current point in the game, there are only three female characters that I've interacted with since that point, two Loyalists who have said very little, and an old woman for whom I did a couple of side-quests.

The Hound Pits, a home away from home

Overlooking this, the setting provides many high points. You have an oppressive somewhat theocratic regime, a collection of misfit rebels drawn together from various parts of society, a city crumbling due to a devastating plague, and hordes of rats. The early game suggests that the rat plague is not a natural occurrence, but who stands to gain from a severely weakened city is not clear yet. Your band of misfits seem a little at odds with one another, in particular the Admiral (essentially your commanding officer) and a member of the aristocracy brought low. The religious faction seems to wield a lot of power (with references to witches and inquisition-like methods of aquiring "confessions"), but there is a heretical force which they are in opposition to.

The Seven Scriptures, part of the game's religious aspect

It's that strange force that comes to you in a dream, during your first slumber after leaving prison. You are given a mark by a being calling himself "The Outsider", who offers you assistance with your quest. The cost of such help is not clear though, but his symbol is found amongst heretics around the city and can be used to boost your magical power and abilities. I'm sure that this will prove a much larger part of the plot as the game progresses, as the assassins that killed the Empress seemed to possess similarly magical powers.

A whaling ship returns with it's cargo

Next time, I'll go into the gameplay elements, and which games they've been influenced by.


  1. Really like the steampunk style setting. Going to have to dive into this soon.

    1. I'd highly recommend it!

      I'm going to be writing a lot about it I think, I've already got one more post half-finished. It has taken inspiration from a variety of games, and blended it well.