Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Fall of Dunwall

"One day this place will swallow all the lights in the sky."
- The Heart, on The Void

So I've finished Dishonored recently, and I'd say it probably is one of the best games released this year.

I think it's best to get this out of the way first - the game was built on Unreal Engine 3, which meant that the engine's age (with regards to graphics) was apparent throughout the game. The devs could have optimized it to look prettier but the game's mechanics were engrossing enough for a decent player to get over that fact.

Dishonored tells the story of Corvo Attano, the Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall. Having been framed by the Royal Spymaster for the Empress' murder in order to usurp the throne, it is up to him to clear his name and seek vengeance against those who conspired against him under the guise of the Masked Felon. This, along with the fact that Dunwall is suffering from a deadly rat-borne plague and is in a state of civil unrest, makes for a very interesting setting.

Dunwall is based on Victorian-era London and integrates steampunk technology as an element of daily life. Its economy revolves around whaling, and the creatures are portrayed as mysterious leviathans that seem to be more than they initially appear to be. A militant religious order leads an inquisition on the city's populace, targeting those who find spiritual comfort in the mysterious otherworldly entity known only as the Outsider - who grants strange powers to those deemed to be of special interest to him. The player is fed bits of the world's lore in the form of book excerpts, notes and random conversations that could be overheard while sneaking around. In this regard, the game feels like it was inspired by some elements of the Cthulhu mythos and reminds me of one of my favorite books.

In terms of gameplay, Dishonored is a first-person action game which allows players to incorporate their favored play style to accomplish objectives. The game encourages players to find different approaches to any given scenario - one could choose to leave a trail of destruction in their wake, a pacifist could look for alternate (and nonlethal) ways to go about things, and others could walk the road in between these two extremes. While levels comprise of individual closed-off sections of the city, they provide the players the freedom of choosing how they'd traverse it - be it jumping over the rooftops or stalking darkened alleys while avoiding the city guard.

Combat is primarily close quarters and is surprisingly fluid - allowing the player to smoothly transition between melee, ranged weaponry and magic to deal with threats as necessary. Players could also opt to take the stealthy approach by employing nonlethal chokes and darts to do the job.

The most interesting thing about Dishonored is that the environment (and the story) is affected by Corvo's actions during his missions. Aggressive players may soon find themselves in a city consumed by anarchy and disease, while those who prefer to run around quietly would experience something entirely different. It will take several playthroughs for someone to see everything that the game has to offer, and each one will be unique.

All in all, I found Dishonored to be surprisingly well-made. The set design and background music blends very well with the game's dark story and the attention given to the smaller details deepen the level of immersion that the game provides.

I'd say it's worth a look into, especially if one is interested in a literary genre that is rarely explored nowadays.

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