The newest IP on the market is finally here. Published by Bethesda and developed by Arkane Studios, these guys have previously worked on the art and animation of Bioshock 2. It’s no wonder that Dishonored looks very Bioshock-esque and the combat similar to the weapon/plasmids formula in the series.

The slums of Dunwall

You play as Corvo Attano, the Empresses’ most trusted Lord Protector who has just returned home from a diplomatic mission in a bid to seek help to relieve the city of Dunwall of their Rat plague. Upon your return things go bad pretty quickly. Framed for the Empresses’ murder and the kidnapping of her daughter Emily, you end up in prison – so much for being a ‘Legendary’ Bodyguard!

Six months on and it’s now time for your execution and just like a good Bond film, your true enemy reveals themselves and their devious plans, right before you break free with the help of some ‘friends’. The group known as the loyalists believe you are innocent and that you are the key to overthrowing the corrupt power that has assumed control over Dunwall.

So begins your journey of revenge, turning from bodyguard to assassin as you seek to clear your name, rescue Emily and reveal the true perpetrators behind the Empresses’ murder. The game is played from a first person perspective, with missions handed out to you from a base of operations – a pub hidden away in the slums. Using canals, you travel to each location and embark on sandbox style missions laid out to offer multiple routes and vast opportunities for exploration. Each mission has several side quests to uncover, many of which offer dark humorous storylines and once complete, reward you with Runes or additional assistance in completing your main objective.

There are multiple ways to get through a mission

The freedom and choice of how to tackle the levels in Dishonored is what makes this game standout from the crowd. With multiple entry points into buildings and various routes through a level, Dishonored also allows you to mix up your abilities in any way you see fit. It’s this freedom and creativity that will be your greatest friend and enemy. Like Minecraft, your creativity is limited by your own imagination – thinking outside of the box reaps its own rewards and it’s refreshing to play a game where you have the freedom to experiment and play the game as you want to.

At the end of each mission you are presented with your level stats, which detail how many items you have found and what kind of carnage you left behind. You are also given a Chaos rating which dictates how the game will play out and which ending you receive. Chaos increases with kills, bodies found and how often you are spotted. Higher Chaos increases the frequency of enemies and rats, which attack in packs. Also, at high Chaos people won’t respond to you very positively. Doing good deeds or killing less than 20% of the guards in a mission will reduce your Chaos rating.

The combat is particularly satisfying

If you do want to play like a mad man, then you will be pleased to hear that the combat is particularly satisfying. You handle your sword well, combat is fluid and dismembering foes and stabbing them is pretty gruesome. Blocking works well and you can reel your assailant back with a successfully parried blow. Grenades, a Crossbow and a Pistol (all of which can be upgraded) are held in your left hand enabling you to dual wield.

So what about the supernatural side to Dishonored? Well things get weird as quick as they got out of control when the Empress was murdered. Awoken from your bed during your first night as a free man, The Outsider visits you manipulating the world around you into a Scarecrow-esque illusion. Imbuing you with his mark you are gifted with powers – now the fun begins! Starting with the blink ability you can speed to different locations at the blink of an eye. To gain new abilities you have to find Runes in the real world, help is at hand though – The Outsider gives you a mechanical heart which when equipped, will help you locate Bone Charms and Runes – beating faster as you draw closer. The heart also contains secrets and by targeting a person or a location it will whisper them to you. It’s a pretty gruesome object but the dynamic of it works well, the heart’s secrets immerse you further into the world of Dunwall and is excellently voiced by April Stewart – soothing but strangely eerie as she whispers into your ears. I would have liked to have seen more depth to The Outsider’s world, maybe with Mirror’s Edge style missions putting my athletic and Blink abilities to the test.

Mana makes the world go round

It’s the creative use of abilities that make this game so much more than just a sneak em up, but here’s the catch, you need mana to use your abilities and by mixing up your skills you will drain it pretty quickly. Mana does recover over time but to use your skills in a creative way you will need to rely on your stock of vials. Here is where the reins are slapped on – you have all these neat tricks to use but at a cost, which caps the frequency and haphazard experimentation of their use. Spread throughout each level are hidden Runes and Bone Charms which do help reduce the amount of mana you consume but not nearly enough that you can be frivolous with your skills.

Bone Charms also have various additional effects, like increasing the chance an enemy may miss when firing at you. As well as reducing the amount of mana consumed, Charms unlock and upgrade your powers and passive skills. An additional benefit of collecting Runes is that you will uncover more dialogue from The Outsider, which is mainly of him observing and questioning your actions rather than divulging any further information about his being.

There are various items to find in each area of Dunwall, which are used to craft items by visiting Piero Joplin. He makes weapons, ammo and upgrades to your gear. You don’t have to collect specific items; rather you collect stuff that Piero sells on the black market for money.

Faces look awesome in the ‘watercolour’ art of Dishonored

While the combat is tight it’s the stealth I particularly enjoyed. I won’t spoil things, but the set pieces are elegantly crafted – perfectly mixing stealth and combat it makes for some truly exhilarating moments. I snatched a guard right from under my targets’ nose, my heart was in my mouth but I pulled it off to great effect by relying on the ease of hot swapping my abilities to get in and out. Sneaking about works well although without a visual indicator of how effectively you are hidden it can feel a bit hit and miss as to whether you will be spotted. When behind an object you can lean out without risk of being spotted even though it may appear you are in plain view! Enemies also give you some warning with a visual indicator of three bolts, which appear above their heads. The stealth is closer to MGS rather than that of Splinter Cell and Thief. One thing I would have liked would be a way to tell whether a character is a friend or foe, several times I was close to neutralising friendly NPCs, had I done so I would have missed out on valuable information or help to complete my mission objective.

With vast levels that have multiple areas it would have been nice to have had the option to plot routes through a map. Instead the lay of the land is left to your own mental mapping and with a vast amount of other things to consider I certainly would have liked a map, especially when planning my getaway.

The steam punk world of Dunwall looks great and how I’d imagine some of the places from Terry Pratchet’s discworld to look. In places Dunwall also feels very Victorian London with overtones of Fable’s Albion and Half-life 2’s City 17. The style looks like a big watercolour painting, but whereas Borderlands has a defined ink edge to give its cell shaded world detail, Dunwall’s watercolour looks beautiful from a distance but on closer inspection its texture can look a bit messy, which contrasts against the excellent artwork in character’s faces.

Powers give a great edge to combat

The voice acting throughout is sublime. With a cast list that boasts legends such as Susan Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Carrie Fisher, and Chloë Grace Moretz, you know that your ears are in for a treat. It’s just a shame that Corvo has no voice, save for the odd yelp or scream when you meet your end. While the story is engaging I found the twist to be rather obvious and even if you do collect the majority of the Runes, the mysterious story of The Outsider is limited and could have been better explored, especially as so many people and wall graffiti make reference to him. As the end credits rolled I was left wanting more; the story wrapped up too hastily offering you an interesting playground to explore but requiring nothing more than a simple assassination – there’s no epic finale which left me feeling dissatisfied following all my efforts to complete this wicked game. The 9 missions took me just over 15 hours on a straight run through, although I have spent many more experimenting and playing about with my powers, exploring the hidden areas of Dunwall and enjoying eavesdropping on conversations.

At first glance it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with Assassin’s Creed and Bioshock. At closer inspection the game is more akin to Hitman and the Thief series, but Dishonored brings enough ideas and gameplay mechanics that it creates its own niche in a genre full of great titles.

With the freedom to tackle missions in any way you see fit, it’s strange having the reins removed when you’re so used to the usual ‘hand holding’ that exists in the majority of games these days – it’s very refreshing. Dishonored is a game with vast possibilities and multiple solutions, if you enjoy a game that forces you to think then this will certainly be worth your time. Fans of the stealth genre will definitely be satisfied and gamers will undoubtedly be clambering for more content and certainly a sequel once they have had a taste of this fun new playground.