Dishonored, developed by Arkane Studios, the studio behind Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, is a stealth action game set in the steampunk city of Dunwall. Dishonored aims to give the player a huge amount of freedom to carry out assassinations the way they choose whilst providing a challenge through the unpredictable nature of the enemies and the environment.
While the concept of revenge is shown to be a primary motivation in the storytelling, the nature of such revenge is to be up to the player. Creative director Harvey Smith promises non-lethal options for resolving combat, even in boss encounters, meaning the game can be completed without a single kill.
The player controls Corvo Attano, renowned bodyguard of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and guardian of the young princess Emily. Having just returned from a trip over-seas, the Empress, not long after being reunited with Corvo, is assassinated while Emily is kidnapped, Corvo taking the blame for both. As a result he is imprisoned and sentenced to be executed. The mastermind of the plot, the shadowy Lord Regent, becomes the head of state in the Empress's absence.
An underground resistance movement seeks Corvo's aid, and there is much to be gained in return. Corvo must become the fist of vengeance for his fallen Empress and ensure the safety of Emily by assassinating or disabling allies of the Lord Regent, and eventually install Emily as the new Empress before the Lord Regent gains complete control of the country.
The setting for this story is a steampunk universe; more specifically, the port city of Dunwall, separated from other nearby archipelagos by monster-infested waters. The main power source of the world is whale oil, a product that in the past had made Dunwall a wealthy trading hub. Political tensions run high, however, and due to a plague that has wiped out over half of the city, other countries refuse to help and eventually embargo the once powerful city. The plague is transmitted by rats who run rampant throughout the city spreading the sickness to those that cannot afford the expensive elixirs that treat the malady. Much of the city is in ruins because of the plague, with victims wandering the derelict streets, while other parts are under martial law to prevent the spread. The population is oppressed by both financial and military constraints, so many have turned to religion or black magic.
Corvo is a stealth professional and beside his natural talent and new-found supernatural powers, he also has the ability to bend time, and "possess" living things, allowing players to take control and play as them for a short time. Most important of these powers is the Blink spell, which allows the map to be traversed both vertically and horizontally. These powers were granted to Corvo by a figure known only as The Outsider. This supernatural being is the source of all magic in the world. Its nature, origins, and intentions are all shrouded by mystery.
The story will change depending on the decisions players make: the more death that Corvo causes, the grimmer the final outlook of the game. Similar to the Deus Ex franchise, the game will require players to make tough choices without breaking the flow of gameplay, and also giving the player a limited amount of time to do so.
Dishonored offers an experience that can be vastly different depending on how you choose to play it. You can be a ghost, never being seen or heard as you complete your objectives; the assassin, leaving a trail of dead bodies in your wake, or a combination thereof. These choices are applied to the main assassination targets, as well. There is always a non-lethal option for the main target in a mission, but it requires a lot of extra effort from the player. You have both health and mana bars that are refilled through consumption of potions, but mana will regenerate to a point based on how quickly you are using your magic based skills.
The story of Dishonored progresses in a linear fashion, but every mission in the story is its own sandbox, open to exploration. The rooftops, sewers, and even the ocean are explorable. Each mission is filled with secret areas and pathways, and there are usually a few NPCs to find that offer side-missions.
Dishonored keeps track of the player's actions with a "Chaos" system. The more the player chooses to kill, the more rats and plague victims will be roaming the city. The Chaos system also affects the story of Dishonored, making it much darker in tone if the player has killed many people.
Corvo is granted some unique abilities by the Outsider that are unlocked through the exchange of Runes. Runes are scattered across the various maps and unlock different skills based on your choice of how to play the game. Skills have two tiers, with the second being more expensive than the first, so you can have a few powerful skills, or an array of weaker ones. Choice in skills is permanent, so decisions on what skills to use must be made carefully.
In Dishonored you are always dual wielding, holding the sword in your right hand and an item or spell in your left. Kills can be done in a detected or stealth mode, allowing for different play styles. In detected combat you can block opponents attacks, which leaves them open for deadly slashes or stabs, or simply slash and use gadgets to reach victory. Stealth kills require you to sneak up undetected behind your target which will allow you to use lethal or non-lethal take-downs. A lethal take down is quicker whil you must choke your victim during a non-lethal take-down. You can also perform jumping assassinations from high locations onto lower platforms without taking damage. Combat is a completely avoidable scenario throughout most of the game.
Enemies in Dishonored often use the same tools as the player. Common enemies carry nothing but a sword or a club, while higher ranking enemies carry a gun or a crossbow, as well as a melee weapon. There are also enemies that have access to magic, though they are very rarely seen.
There are a number of options for playing stealthily. Pressing the crouch button will darken the edges of the screen, indicating that "Stealth Mode" is enabled. While Stealth Mode is enabled, the sounds of player movement are muffled, and hiding in the shadows will reduce a nearby NPC's sight range. There is a "leaning" function which allows for peaking around corners without the possibility of being spotted. Keyholes on closed doors can be peeked through to scout out a room before proceeding. Loose objects can be picked up and thrown to create a noisy distraction. The short sword can also be used to create distractions by bashing it against solid objects.
While in the hub area, Corvo can fully upgrade his equipment by talking to an inventor named Piero. There are several upgrades to choose from, including accuracy and damage of ranged weapons, or an increase to the amount of grenades that can be carried. All of this is done with coinage that is found throughout the missions. Equipment will change visually, as well, as different parts are upgraded/modified. Some upgrades can only be gained after finding blueprints, which are obtainable through black market merchants or found on missions.
Designer Viktor Antonov wanted to blend a variety of time periods into a singular cohesive world, taking inspiration from Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. The world is described as a "futuristic steam-punk totalitarian London-esque environment."
Dishonored's world combines mysticism, industrialism, and Victorian aesthetics into a world that almost feels Lovecraftian.