Die Another Play: Dishonored Review
Written by Jen Stayrook
This is Die Another Play, where every other week I play a new game and rate what it’s like to die in the virtual world.
I’ve been playing games for most of my life and because of this, I consider myself an experienced, albeit sometimes bad, gamer. More than that, I’m quite adept at killing my characters—the George R. R. Martin of gamers, if you will.
Today I’m rating Dishonored, the immensely popular action-adventure game developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks.
VERY BASIC PLOT OUTLINE FOR THOSE YET TO PLAY THE GAME:
Corvo is an ex-bodyguard who has been framed for killing the beloved Empress of Dunwall. After escaping prison, he searches the city for the Empress’s daughter, Emily, in an effort to restore her to power. Oh, and Dunwall is downright riddled with plague.
Let’s just go ahead and get the nasty business out of the way. Dishonored was a struggle for me. It wasn’t the story (which is fantastic), the world (stunning and steampunk), or that I couldn’t blow through every mission with grenades; instead, it was the forced first person POV. And I know what you’re thinking, “But Jen! You play FPS games. How can you dislike Dishonored for that?” And I’ll tell you why, internet. Because in other first person POV games, I don’t have to jump ledges or blink (teleport) from one perilously placed pipe to the next in a hostile environment where I have ten bullets and a sword at my disposal. And that’s only if the fall doesn’t kill me first.
And it did kill me. A lot. I can’t see my feet! What did you expect, Outsider?
Stealth is the name of the game in Dishonored. There’s a joke running around the internet (or maybe just Reddit) that Dishonored is the love child of Assassin’s Creed and Thief. That is accurate. When shit goes down in Dishonored, there is no “stand your ground and fight.” Three mobs at a time, absolute max. (Trust me on that one. I’m an expert in getting in over my head.) Dishonored likes to humble gamers by throwing them into hostile territories and then wagging a finger to remind them that if they pick a fight with one, they pick a fight with all, because guards will hear you, so find another way besides violence. Or at least quietly dispatch your enemies as you fall from a two-story building and stab them through the throat.
Especially on the first playthrough, Dishonored is a game about death and the choices we make about who to kill. It opens with death. It ends with death. (Depending on your chaos level. Mine was, as expected, exceedingly high.) Death is everywhere in Dunwall, whether it’s me shooting crossbows through the heart of city watchmen or the rat plague that has torn the city asunder.
All jokes aside, Dishonored is one of the few games that actually made me feel guilty about killing those around me. Which says a lot because I murdered everyone in Fallout’s Rivet City because one of the guards made a shitty remark and maybe I just wanted to loot the marketplace without being made to feel like a bad person. You’d think Harkness would be a little nicer after I told him he wasn’t human. But in Dishonored, it took one city watchman shouting, “You’ve just made someone a widow!” to kick me in the gut.
Maybe it’s because the world is so fully realized; maybe it’s because there’s death in the streets, tied up in body bags; or maybe it’s because of those experimental FEELINGS pills I’ve been taking to grow my heart three sizes; I can’t be sure. I’m not a doctor. But I do know that I had to take a break after I found the couple in the sewers who died in each other’s arms because they ran out of elixir rations. And then again when I came across a mother’s journal, detailing the gruesome loss of her family (and then finding their bodies soon after). These stories and more are rampant in Dunwall.
Despite the open world feel to Dishonored, there is no escaping death. There are no fun games off in a dank alleyway, where the poor get drunk and race rats to see who will be crowned Rat King for the week. Every mission and side quest alludes to death or directly affects someone’s life within the world. Dishonored doesn’t sugarcoat the eternal struggle, and nor should it; it isn’t happy; it isn’t easy.
TL;DR: Here’s a breakdown of how I rate the death in Dishonored*:
Importance of protagonist’s death: 4
Corvo…What can I say about you? You’re a stand-in, buddy, at best. Maybe if I could see the awesome mask or put you in a badass trenchcoat, I’d care a little more about killing you, but I don’t. I really, really don’t.
I felt awful about accidentally slicing a maid in two. I mean, I had to because she jumped out of nowhere and WHAT IF SHE HAD A WEAPON? I gave her a nice eulogy, left on her on the bed surrounded by empty glass bottles and jars of bull rat fetuses, as it was the best I could do at the time. But you, Corvo? Meh.
But if I haven’t saved, or the game hasn’t autosaved for me, then I lose my progress, so I have to care a little if Corvo dies, even though I don’t want to, especially if I “accidentally” murdered a few city watchmen and I wasn’t supposed to. What I’m saying is, save often, but kill Corvo all you want to find the best possible route to endgame.
Amount of death and gore in the game: 8
I’ve already gone into detail about all the NPC death in the game. I won’t enumerate here. It sucks. There is no hope. Look upon the rats and despair. Surprisingly, however, I rated death and gore in Dishonored less than the previously rated Tomb Raider, because while death fills the streets, it isn’t nearly as graphic as Lara Croft’s death scenes.
Death frustration (or how likely I am to want to rage quit): 4
There were parts in Dishonored where I wanted to quit, but not out of frustration. (You get used to falling off buildings or beaten to death.) There are several ways to do each mission, so there’s not much of the “try again, you ignorant fool,” nonsense. Instead, it was the tension that made me want to set down the controller and calmly walk away. Knowing you are surrounded by a horde of men who want you dead, and that you physically cannot kill all of them, is terrifying and requires a bit more patience than I possess.
Overall, Dishonored is a unique game with a gorgeous setting full of detail, interesting (albeit morbid) characters, and plenty of opportunities to screw up. Even though I didn’t enjoy the first person POV in a game that so heavily relied on movement, others might. Happy falling!
*Note: The process for calculating these ratings is far too complicated to explain without the help of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Trust me when I say it is incredibly scientific and not at all biased.
Have a game suggestion for Die Another Play? Leave me a comment below!