Dishonered is something rare. It's a video game offering players a true choice. Yes, it's tale is filled with betrayal and greed, superpowered skills, and potentially a great deal of bloody, M-rated vengeance. That stuff feels pretty typical for a fantasy adventure game of this stripe. But it can also be a sneak-and-quest title that produces little more than one or two digital deaths—a challenging mental exercise with what could pass for T-rated levels of destruction. It can offer you a difficult but rewarding happy ending.
It all comes down to what you want to see happen.
The Princess and a Bodyguard
Gamers play as one Corvo Attano, a trusted bodyguard to the empress of the kingdom. As the digital tale begins, Corvo is just returning from a diplomatic trip of great importance. The industrial city of Dunwall, it seems, is in dire need. A great rat-driven plague is ravaging the land, flooding the sewers with disease, killing thousands and turning many into shambling zombie-like husks called weepers.
Right in the middle of the kingdom's attempts to find help, however, a political coup begins unfolding. Corvo returns home only to see his beloved empress murdered and her young daughter, Emily, snatched away by magical time-stopping assassins. And in a fiendish twist, Corvo himself is accused of being the "dishonored" villain.
A small group of conspirators (or are they patriots?) help the capable Corvo free himself from his death row bonds. And the former bodyguard must set off to find and protect young Emily, upend the evildoers schemes, keep the power-hungry desires of his newfound allies in check, work toward a cure for the plague and somehow set the kingdom aright once more. This is a compelling and immersive story of intrigue, heartbreak and victory that keeps unveiling one twist after another. It boasts a cast of creatively depicted characters who roam an expansive steampunk-style world of fantastic mechanical inventions and cobblestone streets. It offers gamers lots of shadowed alleys, dank sewers, crumbling homes and palatial estates to creep through. And while evading or attacking enemies, you discover secret documents, magical runes and other items that boost your preternatural abilities or stock your arsenal.
The weapons on hand include a crossbow, pistols, grenades, razor-flinging proximity mines and an ever-present sword that can be used to attack, block blows or break through wooden barriers. Superpowered skills include such abilities as slowing or stopping time, teleporting over short distances, propelling enemies backward with wind gusts, seeing through walls and even summoning a swarm of rats to attack foes. They're all given to Corvo to adopt and/or upgrade by an undefined god-like character called the Outsider.
To Kill or Not to Kill …
It's the game's initial slaying and Corvo's choice of paths from there that determine how players will use all their tools and abilities. Nonlethal interaction with the world around you is a choice that requires a lot of patience and skill. It's rewarding, but not easy. To trod the other path, the path of revenge, is easier. It's always easier to rip, tear and shred than it is to stay your hand. But it sends you on a trip that is incredibly brutal and goopy, one on which you will even behead and/or devour enemies.
Your rat-summoning skill, for instance, calls forth a swarm of rabid beasts that pull a foe to his knees and rip flesh, muscle and bone to bits, leaving nothing but a pool of gore behind. And slipping silently up on an unsuspecting baddie and driving a blade into his throat delivers even more spurting blood—but not more than what happens when you lop the head off altogether. Wind gusts can send folks off a precipice to crash onto the road or rocks below. The stop-time ability suspends the world just long enough for Corvo to run up to a frozen victim and gut him, suspend an arrow in front of his eye or leave a grenade hovering before him—to gushing and dismembering results once time begins flowing again. You can drop something large and heavy on someone from above, then zip down to ground level in time for a front-row view of the bone-crushing impact.
… That Is the Dishonored Question
You can see now how things all come back to that issue of choice. The more you hack and kill, the darker the tale's ending—even to the point of all hope for the princess and the kingdom being lost. In that way, the game does spur players to pursue the more difficult but less bloody resolution. And that is a gaming encouragement rarely seen.
But even with the steeliest resolve and the sunniest of outcomes, gamers beware: There's no avoiding the mystical/spiritual dimness, not to mention the foul language that includes f- and s-words, and brothel-employed ladies in their underwear.