Dishonored: An immersive stealth action classic

By NICK McCOY
Tiger Media Network

The immersive sim, as a genre, is largely defined by player choice, manipulating and changing the world based on their actions and giving them countless avenues to complete objectives. Some of the most well-regarded PC games of all time, including the late great Looking Glass Studios’ “System Shock,” “System Shock 2”, and “Thief the Dark Project,” and Eidos’ “Deus Ex”, and the rest of the “Deus Ex” series, are all what people think of when immersive sim is mentioned. A good example for me is also 2007’s “Bioshock,” another masterpiece in immersive gameplay and storytelling. 

In the 2000s, Bethesda would begin working with a lesser-known studio, the French and later American-based company Arkane Studios, on what would become another defining title. Arkane, a studio with an unfortunate history of canceled games and publisher mishaps, would take the original idea of a stealth game based in Japan, change its setting and aspects of its gameplay while keeping its stealth elements and the original name: “Dishonored.” 

While the game certainly has its rough edges, “Dishonored” is still an amazing game and one of the best examples of an immersive sim out there. Its stealth action gameplay, combined with its story of revenge and betrayal and its emphasis on player agency, took the world by storm and put Arkane on the map, leading them to develop other games of the same caliber. Whether you’re a fan of stealth games or like a game that gives you as much freedom as possible, “Dishonored” is a worthwhile title that is only enhanced by its DLC and sequel. 

Release: 

  • Released on October 9th, 2012 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PCs
  • Released in August of 2015 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
  • Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks
  • Received two expansion packs: “The Knife of Dunwall” and “The Brigmore Witches”
  • Followed by a 2016 sequel, “Dishonored 2”. 

“Dishonored” takes place in the fictional industrial city of Dunwall, heavily inspired by Medieval England, that combines more advanced technologies with magic and otherworldly forces. Dunwall is a dark, grimy city that has been decimated by a plague carried by rats. The main protagonist of “Dishonored” is Corvo Attano, the bodyguard of Empress Jessamine and her young daughter, Emily. After returning from a two-month trip to seek aid for the plague, Corvo, the Empress and Emily are attacked by a group of assassins, who proceed to kill the Empress and kidnap Emily. Corvo is framed for these actions by Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows and High Overseer Thaddeus Campbell, the former taking control of Dunwall as Lord Regent. Imprisoned and sentenced to death, Corvo escapes with the aid of the Loyalties, a secret group who seeks to give the throne to Emily, the rightful heir. Armed with an assortment of gadgets and wearing a mask to conceal his identity, Corvo becomes a vengeful assassin, seeking to clear his name and get revenge on those responsible for Jessamine’s death. Along the way, he receives assistance from The Outsider, a mysterious, god-like being who grants Corvo a variety of supernatural abilities. 

While the story is not “Dishonored”’s strong suit, it still presents its premise and purpose incredibly well. The characters are all intriguing in their own way, even if I do think the main antagonists should have gotten a bit more screen time. Corvo, despite being a silent protagonist, is still great to play and a character you wish to succeed, although he is much more fleshed out in the sequel. Still, many of the ally characters feel real and genuine, and are each great in their own way; Samuel the boatman, inventor Pierro and the eccentric artist and genius Anton Sokolov are particular standouts for me. 

By exploring the game’s levels, the player can also encounter some truly memorable characters, such as the blind, crazed witch Granny Rags, and gang leader Slackjaw. Easily the most interesting character in this game is Daud, the assassin responsible for the Empress’s death. He goes through a good character arc and has a distinct personality, and is greatly expanded upon in the two DLC packs, where he’s the playable protagonist. All in all, “Dishonored” does a good job with its characters and makes you feel for them and their relationships with Corvo. 

“Dishonored” is, by all accounts, an immersive sim, and puts much emphasis on player’s choice and freedom of approach. This is where “Dishonored” truly shines. Players can kill every single enemy they face, while it is also entirely possible to complete the game without killing a single person. It goes beyond just playing lethally or non-lethally; however, players can take virtually any method they wish when it comes to completing missions and taking out targets. You can face enemies head-on, use stealth to kill or knock out enemies, or avoid them altogether. Security systems can be shut down by removing their power source, rewired to kill enemies instead of you, or completely avoided by sticking to high vantage points. Your various powers also come into great play here; Blink, the default teleportation ability, becomes your most versatile tool. By design, “Dishonored” also encourages multiple playthroughs in order to experience everything the game has to offer.

Each level in “Dishonored” is presented as one section of the city that players can freely explore. Because of this, players can enter houses to loot for health items and coins, which they can use to buy ammo and upgrades. Players can also locate artifacts like Runes and Bone Charms. Runes allow players to buy and upgrade Corvo’s abilities, while Bone Charms offer specific perks when equipped. Exploring each level also reveals new information or items that can be of great importance to the current mission, as well as in later missions. “Dishonored” does an incredible job at letting the player feel immersed in its world, and giving them an incredible amount of freedom. 

Easily “Dishonored”’s most stand-out feature is its Chaos System, which became an essential part of the series’ identity. This system is the game’s way of reacting to the player’s actions and how they approach missions; specifically, how much violence the player causes. If players are leaving behind stacks of dead bodies in each level, they will have High Chaos, and Dunwall will become an ever darker city. In the gameworld, high chaos will result in more guards patrolling the streets, larger groups of rats who will swarm the player, and a higher presence of “Weepers,” plague-ridden citizens of Dunwall who have been reduced to a zombie-like state. In contrast, Low Chaos means much less enemy numbers and a much better outcome for the city. The player’s chaos also directly affects the narrative and how other characters react to Corvo, and results in two very different endings. It’s an incredibly well-done system, and another aspect that encourages a number of playthroughs.

Other highlights:

  • A fantastic atmosphere and tone throughout
  • Great writing and dialogue
  • Fantastic voice performances from well-known actors, including Chloe Grace Moretz and Michael Madsen (voicing Emily and Daud, respectively). 
  • A timeless and instantly recognisable art style
  • Some really fun and surprisingly deep combat if you’re going for High Chaos.


My biggest criticism toward “Dishonored” has to be the lack of options for a Ghost playthrough. Playing the entire game without being detected and without killing anyone is definitely the more difficult way to play, as it requires more planning and a general knowledge of an enemy’s pathing. It is also, at least for me, the most rewarding way, as there’s nothing quite like getting through an entire hostile area without being seen, even if it means a lot of reloaded saves. 

Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear the game’s arsenal was tailored towards a more aggressive combat style. The player has access to a variety of weaponry, including a trusty sword, a pistol, a crossbow, grenades, and traps. Corvo also has several fun abilities outside of Blink, including being able to bend and stop time, possess humans and animals, summon an entire swarm of rats to devour enemies and create gusts of wind that knock back enemies and destroy barriers. 

Sadly, if you decide to go for a Ghost playthrough, you’re only going to be using a quarter of your entire gear selection. The powers that are most useful for stealth are Blink and Dark Vision (which highlight enemies and power sources). Bend time can also be really helpful, but only when fully upgraded. Plus, it drains a lot of Corvo’s mana, which is required for power use. You can forget about buying Devouring Swarm and Wind Blast, as they’re pretty much unusable in stealth and nonlethal runs. When it comes to Corvo’s weapons, literally the only thing you’re going to be using are sleep darts, which are great for knocking out enemies from longer ranges. The only other option is sneaking behind enemies and choking them unconscious. While this playstyle is still fun and provides its own challenge, Arkane should have given more options for players who wanted to take a more quiet approach. Considering that the quiet, low chaos run also gives the best ending, most players would have gone for this on their first playthrough. Considering how much freedom the game gives players otherwise, it feels like such wasted potential in this regard. 

Minor criticisms:

  • Enemy AI is questionable at best (Although granted, this is funnier than anything). 
  • Blinking from platform to platform, especially from the ground, can be finicky. 

Despite this, however, Arkane still absolutely knocked it out of the park with this game. “Dishonored” is, in my opinion, one of the most fun, rewarding, and replayable games ever released in the past generation, and is absolutely brimming with atmosphere, character and an amazing sense of freedom. It is Arkane’s landmark title for a reason, and is a perfect example of what the entire immersive sim genre is all about. It has stood the test of time, is a pinnacle of the genre, and is one of my all-time favorites. I can’t recommend “Dishonored” enough. 

Nick McCoy is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs, and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS.

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