Video Game Review: Dishonored: The Definitive Edition (PS4, 2015)

Published by the acclaimed Bethesda and developed by Arkane Studios, Dishonored launched to critical and financial acclaim when it was released in 2012. While it was far from perfect, it certainly presented something fresh and forced players to think rather than merely kick a door down and shooting everything in sight. The Definitive Edition is now available for current gen consoles and this reviewer will happily admit that my initial impressions have now been severely altered.

Set in the the fictional city of Dunwall at the turn of the 19th century, Dishonored tells the story of a world ravaged by a rat plague and under rule from a new threat.

Returning from a voyage, you play as Corvo, an assassin whose home coming is short lived when Dunwall’s Empress is abruptly murdered and her daughter – and friend of Corvo – Emily kidnapped. When Corvo is accused of the murder, he is imprisoned and sentenced to death but during his incarceration, he receives a letter and means of escape.

His escape leads him to a pub where he finally meets his mysterious comrades who call themselves The Loyalists. Their plan is to enlist Corvo to assassinate the new regime and end its tyranny.

Now for all of its nice little improvements, Dishonored: The Definitive Edition’s story is obviously untouched and unfortunately it is the weakest part of the game. While its premise gets points for originality, it isn’t long before they’re deducted for failing to capitalise.

It starts out strong and intriguing: An assassination plot set during a plague against a steampunk backdrop is an enticing concept but for 12 hours of gameplay, its pace is firmly locked at one speed. I always like my action and adventure games to hold even just a minimum amount of weight but it seems like Arkane gave less of a shit about their narrative than I did.

Twists ensue, yet they’re hard to care about because of some unethusiastic voice acting and dull characters. And while we’re on the subject, Corvo takes the cake for that particular critique. Dude has absolutely zero personality. His bio can be described as “assassin who is fond of little girl”. He doesn’t say a word for the entire game and if his background was explained at some point, then I must have been out of the room. I venture to say that he may be the most boring main character in a game ever. It doesn’t help his cause that the very essence of the game is choice, meaning that YOU define the type of person Corvo becomes.

Other characters exist merely as pawns that move things along. Nobody is very interesting or has any noteworthy dialogue because Dishonored’s cast of players don’t function in black in whites. No one is truly malevolent or contemptible and no one is overly good and wholesome either. Maybe this is an attempt at subjective exploration but when everyone is so stupidly shallow and uninspired, that methodology loses traction.

The woeful story notwithstanding, 3 years ago I wrongfully accused Dishonored of not only being visually unimpressive but I believe I dubbed it “a poor man’s Bioshock”.

When I played Dishonored  upon its original release, there were subtle visual implementations that I either never picked up on or were simply lost on last gens hardware.

With the Definitive Edition I concede that its perceived graphical shortcomings have been put to rest. Character models are uniquely exaggerated accompanied by out of proportion limbs; water looks wonderful as it cascades off of rocky formations and through sewers and representative of its time and setting, Dishonored’s industrial locales and multi tiered buildings are at times astonishing.
The real kicker though and what exemplifies the redux is its art style. Dishonored’s  textures are reminiscent of oil paintings and tie in wonderfully with its theme.

There are a couple of ugly little features that failed to carry over well. Foliage is flat and one dimensional and in an extremely dated choice, lifting objects results them just hovering in front of you as you walk. They aren’t game breakers but they’re the type of things that Arkane will (or should) no doubt fix for the confirmed Dishonored 2.

There was a reason I likened Dishonored  to Bioshock. A first person adventure where you dual wield weapons and powers? On the surface you’d be forgiven for thinking the two are part of the same franchise but you couldn’t be more wrong. The aforementioned similarity is where the comparisons end. Dishonored  places a tonne importance on stealth but if and when that fails, it bears more of a resemblance to Assassin’s Creed’s sword fights. On harder difficulties, enemies will rush and surround you and because of some shocking load times, dying is something you definitely want to avoid.

Your right hand permanently grasps Corvos dagger but your left is privy to a range of choices, be it Corvos trusty pistol or a crossbow for quiet kills. However your most important weapon for that interchangable hand will be your magic. Early on Corvo is ‘marked’ by an outworlder and is gifted with diverse powers. Blink is a must, allowing Corvo to essentially teleport short distances in a split second; Dark Vision lets Corvo see enemies through walls and track their eyeline; and Bend Time enacts that age old gaming staple and slows time to a halt allowing Corvo to get the drop on his foes and collect bullets out of mid air. I won’t spoil them all here but suffice to say summoning an army of vicious rats to dispatch enemies (dead or alive) and forcing opponents off the edge of a building with Wind Blast are insanely fun and showcase just how many options for combat there are.

Indeed Dishonored encourages you to explore and experiment with your playthrough. It is after all centred on a choice system that affects the balance of not only the final outcome but how decayed the city becomes. You can play the whole game without killing a single person (Low Chaos). Sleep darts, patience and and a keen sense of your surroundings are fundamental. But if you’d prefer to stab every hapless guard through the windpipe and rewire their traps so that they are instantly disintegrated, then feel free to do that too (High Chaos). The only problem I found with trying to play the game undetected  is that there is almost no room for error. You have to know where literally every guard is. The AI isn’t stupid and their guard patterns are unpredictable. Before you know it you’ve been made and now you’re fighting 4 sword wielding guards while a Tallboy (an augmented archer on stilts) fires explosive arrows at you. It’s frustrating being overwhelmed but it forces you to strategize every single move you make.

There is a currency system for purchasing upgrades such as the zoom in Corvo’s optics and standard weapon modifications.
You can scour levels for runes and bone charms too using a magical heart that beats faster and louder as you get closer.
Runes help you procure and level up powers while bone charms give you small boosts such as health and underwater vitality.

There are multiple pathways in which you can take. Corvo can traverse virtually any piece of the environment so the rooftops are every bit as viable as possessing a rat or fish and sneaking past your foes.

Although Dishonored is broken down into about 9 or so missions, each taking place in a different location, the levels themselves are quite expansive. They can stretch up, down and wide and among them there are safes to be looted, secrets to be found and bonus objectives to completed. A quick playthrough may make it appear as though it’s short but Dishonored can be stretched for much longer if you take the time to explore every corner and complete optional tasks.

The Definitive Edition is packed with all 3 DLC’s (The Dunwall City Trials, The Brigmore Witches & The Knife of Dunwall.)
So with 2 distinct styles of play on offer and different endings, it all makes for a nice little package with plenty of replayability value.

If Dishonored: The Definitive Edition has achieved anything, it has prompted gamers – and on a personal level, myself – to reassess a title that perhaps didn’t receive the praise it originally deserved.
Yes, its story is boring and it’s characters bland but beyond that is a fascinating world that begs to be explored, however you like, with a real sense of reward for watching your plan of attack go off without a hitch.

Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Pros: Innovative setting and art style; rewarding combat; various ways to play
Cons: Bland story; dull characters; poor load times
Developer:  Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: August 27, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4