A lack of enemy and level variety makes Dishonored a dull and repetitive stealth-action game that does not live up to its reputation as an immersive simulation (im-sim) and successor to Thief. Minor complaints include an annoying UI, dated morality system. Positives include pretty environments, and some cool abilities.
Although this might seem innocous at first, Dishonored is held back by a tecnnological limitation: every level is divided into sub-levels. For example, during one mission it is required to infiltrate a mansion and blend into a party, the inner part of the mansion is loaded separately from the exterior. This means that you have to click on the front door and wait in a load screen before loading into the mansion. NPCs, including guards chasing the player, cannot pass from the outside to the inside and vice versa, not even if they are being carried by the player. For all intents and purposes, the interior and exterior are treated as entirely separate levels. This breaks immersion and simulation (the "im" and the "sim") and is a huge step back from Thief which features totally seemless levels. In fact, Thief has a very similar level with a mansion that has a seemless interior and exterior. This is not excusible due to hardware limitations because Dishonored was released in 2012 and Thief in 1998. Considering the technological leap that happened during this time period, it should have been possible for Dishonored to look and play better without compromise. Dishonored's levels are not more ambitious than Thief's and offer less variety conceptually, visually, and in terms of gameplay. Invisible walls, dead ends, and unscalable buildings are common and serve the function of funnelling the player through a few intended paths. Sadly, this is not the only way in which Dishonored fails to live up to its reputation.
At numerous points throughout my playthrough, Arkane Studio's systematic design failed to account for simple, straightforward actions I took to complete mission objectives. Take, for example, the mission mentioned above that requires the player to blend into a party. The guard AI does not fully support this gameplay. They would become hostile to me if another guard in another part of the house saw me break cover. Logically, they should not have been suspicious of me since they didn't see me break cover and I killed the guard that did see me right away. Strangely enough, despite the overly aggressive guard AI, nobody at the party was bothered by me walking around brandishing a blood drenched sword. NPC AI is generally quite dumb. Being able to make NPCs surrunder by surprising them with a gun like in Metal Gear Solid 2 would have made for smoother stealth gameplay. In another level, there is a large water wheel that can only be passed through after flipping a switch which causes it to stop spinning. Logically, it should be possible to pass through it even while it's spinning by using the blink ability which allows instant travel, but this is not allowed. Some missions have optional secondary objectives. One such objective was to prevent somebody from being poisoned by the assassination target. My attempted solution was to use a sleep dart on both of them to makes sure nobody drinks any poison, kill the assassination target, then carry the sleeping man with me to the getaway boat, but this was where I first learned that I couldn't carry NPCs between sublevels so I had to leave him behind. After I completed the missions, I was told that he still died, but the cause was not given. Failing to account for these situations reveals a lack of thought regarding the game's systems making Dishonored unworthy of the praise it receives for its im-simminess. Finally, I have a few nitpicks regarding the UI and story.
Opt-out accesibility options include objective completion popups, and objective markers. These are very annoying and unecessary since levels are fairly linear, but they can be disabled. However, I could not avoid reading the load screen tip that warned me against too much killing because it would affect the ending. At the time of Dishonored's release, binary morality systems were trendy (see my review of Spec Ops: The Line for another example). A load screen tip that partiially spoils the ending is very silly and shows a lack of confidence in the game's direction. It can also have the (intended or not) consequence of encouraging the player to avoid killing which would make for a very dull experience especially on the hard difficulty which makes guards more alert.
Thankfully, I didn't care about getting a bad ending and the ending I got was really not so bad. The biggest issue with the story aside from the wooden voice acting and mo-cap, is the unsatisfying manner of getting revenge on those who killed the empress and betrayed me, culminating in a very lame ending that's over with a single bolt to the head of the jerk who betrayed me. This was the exact same manner of execution I used on countless other no-name guards as well as the boatman who I'm sure would have betrayed me had I not killed him, but it was also the only sensible way to resolve the predicament I found myself in at the end. After wrapping up the main story, I started the first DLC campaign, but found that to be more of the same so I didn't finish it. The most notable aspect is the presence of a female assassin companion who never appeared in the main story where every assassin is male. I assume this was done as a counter-balance to the traditional gender roles of the main story which involves a typically masculine hero and typically feminine damsal in distress. For better or for worse, this awareness of gender roles and desire to subvert them marks an interesting transitionary period in the history of Western video games.BACK | HOME