I blink up to a second story ledge and pull myself over the railing, when a guard catches a glimpse of me. Before he can raise the alarm, I blink again, placing myself directly in front of him and within striking range. After dropping the guard with my sword, I see my target leaning over a balcony before me. I sneak up behind him and render him unconscious before I throw him over the edge and into the water 20 feet below.
This entire exchange could have gone completely differently. I could have avoided killing anyone, which is what makes “Dishonored” incredible. Arkane Studios has created a game that is not truly open-ended, or even open-world, yet still manages to allow players to complete objectives however they want.
Killing is almost discouraged by the game, as non-lethal solutions to problems are made obvious for each mission. Although you will take on the role of Corvo the Assassin, death is not the only option. In fact, the entire game can be completed without killing a single enemy.
Dunwall is a city literally plagued by disease, corruption and evil itself. Modeled after Victorian London, Dunwall looks, sounds, and feels stunning. This is a world that feels eerily familiar yet completely unique. Guards line almost every street with military checkpoints placed periodically between sections of the city.
Traversing the streets of Dunwall is almost as much fun as the combat. With the multitude of magical abilities available to Corvo, you can blink across rooftops, climb up and down walls, and even possess rats to crawl through vents and small spaces.
Crossing swords with enemies feels great; enemies actually react to your swings and will block, dodge and return your attacks. Although there aren't many types of enemies, you will be under fire from guns, as well as incendiary arrows, while fighting off zombies, mechanized enemies and standard human guards.
Stealth is clearly a highlight of the game, as you can enter a stealth mode to deal with tricky situations. Stopping time is entirely within Corvo’s skill set, and avoiding detection is usually just as much fun as shooting a bolt into a guard’s head. But “Dishonored” makes a point of allowing you to do whatever you want.
Most abilities are not unlocked for you but must be purchased for runes, which are littered throughout the world. Choosing to unlock an extra level in blink may force you to skip over the time stop ability, but this game encourages multiple play-throughs.
Although “Dishonored” clearly focuses on gameplay, the story helps hold the entire game together. Despite some obvious plot twists and a clear idea of how the game will end, Corvo’s journey to avenge the murder of his empress is worth following.
This is easily one of the best games of 2012. Following in the footsteps of “Bioshock,” Arkane Studios has made a game that merges RPG elements with first-person action in a way that is uniquely exciting.