Corvo Attano was never supposed to be an assassin. He was a bodyguard - no, the bodyguard - to the Empress, and he was trusted with all of her biggest secrets. Her city was dying though, and so to protect his majesty he was forced to leave her for a short time. He returned early, but a mere five minutes after his return, she was dead at the hands of magical assassins - and the blood on his sword painted him as the murderer.
Naturally his response to this is to escape from jail, don a mechanical mask, gain magical powers and then seek his revenge. Dishonored isn't about saving the world. It's not about rescuing the princess. Dishonored's tale is one of vengeance - and so it lends itself naturally to the bloodthirsty action that takes up the majority of the game.
Well, the bloodthirsty action that took up the majority of my game, anyway. You see, Dishonored is one of those crazy games that gives you options. Not tired bullshit like "say the obviously good thing" versus "say the obviously bad thing" - it's about the decision to kill a person or not.
Dishonored does a great job of making you feel those kills too. The city guards chat amongst themselves while they go on patrol - talking about how the city is being run, gossiping and arranging to meet up after their shift. It's helpful when these don't repeat themselves - I only heard one of these phrases cycle through more than once, and it was so out of place it was like an arrow to the knee.
This means that when you teleport behind a guard and stab him in the back, or you trick him into walking through a Wall of Light you hacked, or you shoot a barrel of whale oil near him and it explodes, blowing him to kingdom come you might just feel a pang of remorse - and this is the game working as it should.
As I mentioned already though, you don't have to kill them. You can avoid guards, you can shoot them with sleep darts or you can choke them out if you want. As long as you don't leave your unconscious victims anywhere vulnerable - in a rat infested sewer, or down a well, or some other place they might die in their sleep - your conscience can remain clean.
In fact, I had a clean slate until I hid a guard on a ledge and I watched in horror as gravity kicked in, sliding him off a rock and down a three storey drop onto the cobblestones below. After that it just seemed like killing literally everyone who stood in my path was the obvious solution - and the game world changed with it.
Characters like Granny Rags seem like they'd have barely anything to offer a man who had chosen the pacifist path - they embody the revenge Corvo is chasing so earnestly, and it's hard to imagine how they'd impact your game otherwise.
Instead, people who aren't killing anyone will find themselves exploring every nook and cranny and avoiding people wherever possible. It's interesting to see how much more there is to the game for both playstyles - how balanced each facet of the game is.
It's effortless to play, too. By the end I found myself almost able to chain killing enemies by teleporting behind them, stabbing them in the throat and then teleporting to the next person - provided I plan my attack well enough. The weapon/power wheel works really well - slowing down time to a fraction of its typical speed, but still allowing enemies to attack you if you do it mid-combat.
You're very easily able to engage 'Stop Time', 'Blink' your way to an enemy, 'Windblast' them off a tall ledge, turn and stab his friend, enable 'Dark Vision' to see if any other guards were alerted to your attacks and then switch to your crossbow to shoot enemies as they run at you. No kidding, it wasn't until the last mission that I realised you could actually assign four powers to your directional buttons - the wheel just isn't intrusive enough a system for me to have cared to find an alternative until then.
There's so much to love in Dishonored, and so much of it is just small stuff. The way shadows aren't some all encompassing invisibility cloak is wonderful, and it really makes you think about stealth in other games. The fact that a guard won't always stay on his patrol is another - they're still obviously following a path, but if the big bad overseer abandons his post to hit the WC and it lets you sneak through his area undetected, you feel less like you're exploiting an AI and more like you're exploiting a weak bladder. Of course, if you happen to be hiding in the WC when he decides to go that feeling of success will be somewhat mitigated.
Possessing a rat and sneaking into a room you couldn't previously access makes you feel like a magical explorer, and throwing a dead body to lure a swarm of rats away from you is a morbid way to solve an immediate problem.
Another thing you can't help but love is the art style. The game looks gorgeous. Not graphically - in its own way it looks like a current generation game - but the art direction is reminiscent of Half-Life 2, and there's an attention to detail that's hard to ignore. Whether it's the various flyers advertising the two different anti-plague elixirs, or a massive Blue Whale tragically draped over a whaling vessel - only visible on the horizon due to its massive size - it's impossible to get over how gorgeous the world is.
When you couple this with the writing - whether it's the script or the many books and notes you find around the world - you come away with a city and a world you want to get lost in. I want to know more about the religions these people adhere to, about the factions that make their lives in a city gripped by plague. Better still - the game does its best to give you this information, and even as it answers your questions it gets you asking more.
Better still, the game has replayability up the wazoo. I didn't even touch more than half of Corvo's available powers, didn't try to upgrade most of his weapons and abilities and I certainly never went to a host of mission areas I might have taken advantage of (had I not been so driven on my bloody quest). You could teleport to the perfect place each time, kill your target and teleport away with laser-like precision - and you might finish that mission in under an hour. Or you might take your time, search the area, solve a few puzzling challenges from people who live around the area and find a way for your target to live (while they are still rendered ineffectual) - and it might take you three hours instead.
Dishonored, like Thief, or Deus Ex, is one of those timeless games you'll play a dozen times. The game world is gorgeous - a steampunk City 17, the story is spectacularly written and almost depressingly dark and the gameplay is wonderful - either as a stealthy game, or an action fighter... or anywhere in between. Dishonored is all about giving - it gives you the weapon, it gives you the name, and then it gives you the choice - vengeance is entirely up to you.