Revisiting Dunwall: How ‘Dishonored’ Got it So Right

With the release of Dishonored 2 under two months away; I invite you to stroll down the blood-soaked cobblestone streets of Dunwall one last time before you set off for the sunny shores of Karnaca to understand what made Dishonored such a remarkable game – just watch out for the Gate of Light up ahead!

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The Story

The catalyst that sets the events of Dishonored into motion is a simple one; the assassination of an empress that sees Corvo – the former bodyguard of said dead empress – framed for her murder and abduction of her daughter. The act sends you on a path of revolution against the newly installed totalitarian government. At the heart of Dishonored is the age old story of saving the princess.

See? Pretty simple right?

Well, the story becomes a bit more complicated here. Before you set off on your task; you are visited by a mystical figure known as the ‘Outsider’ who endows you with supernatural powers to aid your mission. What is strange about the Outsider is that he holds no stake in the events that transpire; he is merely intrigued as to how you approach your work.

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And so the ‘pretty simple’ story is complicated somewhat. The by-any-means-necessary hero approach that the prologue afforded you is no longer valid, all of a sudden there are both moralistic and physical consequences for your actions. Whilst these types of features are now a semi-trope of contemporary games; it is no less an extra layer of story that brings a sense of ownership to your actions. It is because of this ownership, this culmination of choices that are laid out before you at the game’s conclusion; that means you will happily play through a story you know off by heart – because you have imprinted a piece of yourself onto the actions of Corvo.

Level Design

Dishonored is certainly the kind of game that many studios would have thought welcomes a huge open-world. One in which players could have chosen which targets to assassinate at their leisure. However, Arkane Studios decided against this; instead opting for medium-scale non-linear level design – and this is a decision that has bought out the best of the game. Giving the player a finite space to work with means that there is more thought behind the space available. Now, I really enjoyed Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, but one of the drawbacks for me were that all the missions felt like obstacle courses which took a sharp turn and dropped you into a large open space with not too much to do. This is what Dishonored did so well through level design. Rather than having the powers become second nature as players used them to traverse the streets of an open-world, the nature of the design allowed players to explore a relatively large area and come to their own decision as to how they approach their objective. Simply put, the choice of design works to allow more creativity in the player’s actions – whether they be lethal or non-lethal.

The World

The level of depth within Dishonored is reflective of the immersive factor that runs throughout the titles of Bethesda; with players being treated to the aesthetic delight of Dunwall, with its winding rivers, shadowy alleyways and variety of architecture. The creation of a retro-futuristic Victorian London is an excellent choice, allowing for a creative interpretation of the Industrial Age of the early 19th century. Of course, you can also make links between the choice of setting and the implementation of neo-Gothic features balanced against the progressive use of science which again compliments the choice of setting. All this allows for a hugely diverse world in which the player can plainly see the differing sections of Dunwall – something that I believe is made more effective by the choice of level design.

Of course, as with any Bethesda game, this sense of world-building extends beyond the physical aesthetics. As any hardcore fan will already be aware, much of the lore surrounding the Dishonored universe is located within the texts and audio notes found across the various nooks and crannies of the rooms you find. The detail that is recorded within these notes works to develop the first and second points of this article; as the lore builds up the role of the Outsider, the thought behind the Empress’ assassination, and the role that Corvo accidently plays in the act.

It is these varied aspects of the game – each different yet dependent on one another – that act as the foundation of an immersive and enjoyable game that, if nothing else, proves that bigger is not always better. But it really does do more than that; I have not been drawn into a game so effectively since Bioshock Infinite and if by some twisted fate you have still not played this game: go outside, run to your nearest shop, and throw money at the employees until they give you the game (or just download it form the Playstaion or Xbox store).

What do you think? Did I miss anything out about the game? Do you think the game was as good as I do? Are you excited for the November release of Dishonored 2? Let me know in the comments and why not follow me on Twitter @jreetun – see you on the sunny shores of Karnaca!    

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