Today, the image of the masked face of Corvo has become something of an icon amongst video game fans. Even if you’ve never picked up one of the games there’s a good chance you’ll recognise Dishonored. The fact that the franchise has only just turned ten years old is something of a surprise and speaks to how well received the game is. Described as near perfect by a lot of reviews upon its release, Dishonored has cemented itself as a modern classic.
Developed by Arkane Studios, who had recently been purchased by publisher Bethesda, Dishonored began life as a first person stealth action game (which it remained), but went through a variety of different settings. Originally set in medieval Japan, the idea was quickly dropped, as the design team felt that they didn’t know the setting well enough to be able to portray it accurately, and believed that it might be hard to market the game. Partly inspired by the artwork of nineteenth-century painter John Atkinson Grimshaw, the setting was changed to London in the late 1600s.
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As the designs began to move further away from the real world, with their historical setting beginning to include things such as electric fences, floodlights, and other anachronistic touches, the developers made the decision to set the game in its own world, and began to embrace a more fantastical, steampunk-like retro-futuristic-industrial setting. Taking inspiration from a number of places, the game crafted an identity all its own.
Set in the fictional nation of the Empire of the Isles, the player takes on the role of Corvo Attano, the bodyguard to the Empress. After having been travelling for a number of months, searching for help with a plague that has been ravaging the capital city of Dunwall, Corvo returns home. However, he’s barely back in the city when the Empress is killed by magic using assassins, and her daughter, Emily, is kidnapped. Blamed for the killing, Corvo is arrested.
From here the game jumps forward in time six months, and the main bulk of the game begins with you taking back control of Corvo to break out of prison. After escaping, you meet up with a group of underground loyalists who want to take down those responsible for the conspiracy that killed the Empress, and to rescue Emily. Not only this, but Corvo receives mystical abilities after dreaming about a shadowy entity known as The Outsider. Equipped with a host of weapons, and new powers, Corvo sets out to avenge the Empress, and bring peace to the city.
Set across multiple open levels, Dishonored takes place in a first person perspective, putting the player in Corvo’s shoes as he takes to the plague-ridden streets of Dunwall. From here, the game gives you a surprising level of freedom as you’re able to approach your targets in a number of different ways. You’re able to use your stealth abilities to traverse the environment, searching the back alleys and rooftops for ways to sneak into your target, or you can grab some guns and go straight for your goal, killing anyone who gets in your way. The different powers that you’re able to unlock and develop across the game also enable you to take different approaches, allowing for a surprising degree of re-playability.
In order to encourage players to try out different methods of achieving their goals, the developers created a chaos system, in which your actions change the game around you. Rather than relying on the more traditional ‘good or evil’ system that a lot of other games use, Dishonored takes note of how much chaos you cause, taking into account things such as how many people you kill, how much stuff you destroy, and what abilities you deploy, in order to determine what ending you get.
These systems and freedoms received high praise when the game was released, with some players enjoying the fact that one play-through could be an all out action fest with a high body count, whilst another could become an intense stealth game where you can complete the game without killing a single person. Along with the freedom, the game was praised for its setting and story, as well as the distinct visual style that the team had developed for the series. The choice to change from a historical setting to one of their own creation had paid off, and had helped it to stand out from other game series, such as Assassin’s Creed, that took place in real world places.
The game also sold well, and even before its release it had become the third best selling game on the Steam platform via pre-orders. The sales only increased upon release, and Dishonored would become the fourth best selling game in October of 2012, behind Resident Evil 6, Pokemon Black, and NBA 2K13; three entries in already established series. Considering the fact that Dishonored was a brand new IP, the sales were extraordinary. Dishonored received more than just high sales though, as it was nominated for dozens of awards, and won Best Game at the BAFTAs, Best Action Adventure Game at the Spike Video Game Awards, and the Audience Choice award at D.I.C.E. Interactive Achievement Awards.
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The game’s success resulted in new downloadable content being released, expanding the game’s story, as well as a stand-alone game set in the same universe, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider in 2017, and a sequel, Dishonored 2, in 2016. A tabletop role-playing game based upon Dishonored was also released.
Considering the game wasn’t based upon any existing property, went through a number of huge changes, and had some major design overhauls, the fact that it has become an award-winning success, spawned a series of sequels, and become instantly recognisable, is a hell of a success story. So if you’ve somehow managed to miss trying it out, now seems like the best time to give it a go.
Dishonored was released on 9th October 2012 in the UK