The final verdict on one of 2012's biggest and best video games yet!
Bethesda sure have a helluva reputation, having provided us with the award-winning The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (10/10) last year, but many of us remained rather uncertain when the developers announced their step back to let co-dev Arkane Studios helm one of their new projects, Dishonored. It is with a heavy sigh of relief, then, that I can turn around and confirm that we needn't have been worried- if anything, this masterful role-playing experience is an even more tightly refined and consistent affair than its massive fantasy predecessor!
Dishonored's tale is set around a protector of an Empress for the mysterious kingdom of Dunwall, the former of whom is framed for the latter's murder at the hands of masked conspirators. It's a quick and accessible premise that leads into a whole world of gameplay styles, whereby the player can choose to play the game either stealthily, ruthlessly or mix up those two vastly contrasting styles. Naturally, achievements, trophies and multiple endings are available for those who choose to play the game through several times, but it truly feels that you're able to craft your own play and as a result the consequences of your actions and intentions shape how things end up come the game's possible conclusions.
Dunwall is undoubtedly a sight to behold, mirroring BioShock's Rapture, Gears' Sera, GTA's Liberty City, the Arkham game worlds and even Bethesda's own 2011 beauty for depth and immersion on the player's part. You'll find yourself effortlessly drawn into the land, its inhabitants and the events that have brought the kingdom to the state which you find it in upon your arrival in the opening sequence. This provides a totally empathetic reasoning for you to pursue the emotive quest which you're handed, and thus indeed to approach it in the manner that reflects your reactions to those characters who live within the story. Just as Irrational are moving elsewhere with BioShock Infinite for fear of dampening Rapture's legacy, so too does it feel as if this brief yet inspired glance into Dunwall's walls is the perfect experience in terms of the amount of time there, rife for further exploration within this solitary instalment yet perhaps a land that's best left untouched in sequels and spin-offs. Who knows? Either way, Dunwall is truly a technological marvel.
Thankfully, the gameplay engine more than lives up to the immersive world and Dishonored's stunning narrative. Here we get some of the best shooting and sword-play mechances ever to feature in a video game, the latter form of combat in particular surprisingly capable of apeing recent swashbuckling hits like Pirates Of The Carribbean in its execution. Additionally, the scope of gameplay styles and choices remains massive throughout, with powers such as Blink and Possession providing completely different routes through the nine huge 'worlds' (missions) in which you carry out your assassinations, and indeed the moral ambiguity of the script ensuring that you won't even have to kill your targets or come into contact with them to dispose of them. To explain how this system works would be to spoil the pleasurable surprise, but sufficed to say that there are entire side mission arcs which can be missed but ultimately prove crucial to your immersion into the world and thus your overall enjoyment of the piece.
I never expected Dishonored to be a game which ranked very highly in my list of 2012 video games, and yet surprisingly, it's likely to end up right near the very top! Dishonored is a groundbreaking role-playing experience that beckons the way for the next-generation of storytelling and gameplay freedom, raising a finger to the Call Of Dutys of this day and age that believe they can get away with the same cookie-cutter tactics year in, year out. The general consensus on these lazy efforts based on Arkane's latest offspring? If things keep going the way they are, COD and its derivatives may soon be a thing of the past.