My first impression of this game was soured by the fact that whenever I searched for it on the net I would get a message telling me “The game Dishonoured does not exist” which I found annoying for two reasons. Firstly because I was certain that the game DID exist – or at least about as certain as I was that anything in this world exists, and secondly because it highlighted my inability to retain crucial information in my brain for longer than 5 seconds.
It wasn’t a good start.
DishonOred professes to be a ‘stealth / action’ game but in truth does neither satisfactorily. The stealth system has no easy way to work out whether you can be spotted or not and instead relies on rather shaky guesswork. The combat is frankly so easy that, even on the hardest setting, every level can be cleared by just getting your gun out and shooting the handful of guards that run straight at you from some distance to attack one at a time with their swords. Having a gun would be fine if ammo was scarce enough to make it feel like a treat but the fact ammo is relatively plentiful just makes the game feel unbalanced. Throw into the mix the fact that you also have magical ‘powers’ enabling you to teleport, stop time, conjure up rats to gnaw enemies to death, blow enemies away with a wind and so on and it all smacks of the developers desperately trying to jazz up a stealth game they realised half way through production just wasn’t going to work.
Well you can’t have it both ways.
Without challenging combat the stealth system becomes redundant as combat carries no fear or reason to be avoided. Once combat is initiated every guard in your area runs to your location to line up to be shot (or gnawed to death by rats, or eviscerated or whatever) leaving you to walk casually around an empty level to the exit lamenting the numerous, now redundant, hiding places you’ll pass on the way.
In the end I had to role play this game as a master assassin who has a crippling fear of blood and human interaction – crushing guards like ants only when I absolutely had to and then running away like a girl to hide from the next human punchbag that came running after me.
And while this allowed me to fully appreciate the interesting level design (which is pretty great) it made the whole experience feel slightly pointless.
The game is filled with potential that just doesn’t pay off. Early on you pick up a device which allows you to hear secrets and background information about each character you meet in the game, from lowdown thugs to allies to bosses. This is a great idea, and if I was immersed in the world it would be a really interesting additional layer of depth. Unfortunately the characters and world are so bland and uninspiring that any attempt to fully engage yourself in the story or the world is about as enjoyably immersive as joining your dog in running after sticks and chasing down cars.
In the end DishonOred doesn’t deal with stealth as well as a game like Splinter Cell or Thief. It doesn't handle combat as well as a game like Condemned or even Skyrim. And it doesn't handle magic as well as pretty much any Ultima game you’d care to mention. Add to that a bland world and confused storyline and frankly in hindsight my first impression that this game didn’t exist perhaps represents the zenith of my opinions.
If they made the combat harder, constructed a more original and interesting world, gave the characters greater depth and focused on improving the stealth system then the next DishonOred game could be really great. Indeed the last level of this game almost serves to represent what could have been. The guards are plentiful enough to make for a bit more of a challenge and your only goal is to get to the top of a small island, leaving you to discover the numerous routes to get there and choose different combinations of your powers along the way.
The ingredients are right – they just need to work out how to put it all together properly to make a LOVELY PIE.