I enjoyed Dishonored. The stealth game-play and the innovative gear selection combined with the powers all made for quite the fun game. I did a primarily non-lethal stealthy run, because there are enough games that I can be a mass killer and get the hero complex high from. With Dishonored I got high on the feeling of getting through a mission where no one even saw me.
But that is not what I want to talk about here. Awesome as the game is (I recommend you play it and enjoy it in your own personal way) I want to highlight one of the best parts of that entire game. The City of Dunwall. The dying city of a lonely empire, trapped to slowly sink into its waterlogged grave to be consumed by the rats that were spawned by its decadence and depravity. One of the best environments that I have ever beheld and had the pleasure of playing in.
City of Dunwall, a city afflicted by the worst plague known to man and quarantined by its neighbors. Left to slowly rot in its own rat infested watery filth. I describe it in this way because that is the only way to do as such. When I first entered the game I saw the stunning visuals and gleaming surfaces of the Royal Palace. The art direction and the color palate were all fantastic choices and quickly I became engrossed.
Then the story began. Forced to escape from a grungy prison into the filthy sewers I saw what the true nature of Dunwall is. A dying city full of disease, corruption, and a failing government. The wondrous thing is that the games doesn’t have to tell you any of this. The corrupt government, the slipping control, the filth and disease that grips the city, all of it is conveyed realistically through the visuals depicting the city itself.
A perfect example is the rats. In the beginning of the game you only see rats in the swears and the poor quarters, swarms of rats to be sure but only in areas where one would assume there would be rats. But as the game goes on one begins to see rats becoming more frequent, and in places of high society or rich political figures. At one point two healthy guards are attacked, killed and eaten to their bones in just a few moments by a swarm of rats, highlighting the inability for even those in charge to control the problem.
And it’s all the little things that make you notice that the city is dying. Water on a main street seeping up through a crack. Body bags stacked up for collection. Sick people treated with fear and revision and quarantined viciously to die or just killed outright. Soldiers and guards of the regime slaughtering citizens in the streets, barricades set up and notices to turn in anyone who looks like they are sick.
Gangs running amuck and scrawling messages all over the city, shadowy organizations and rouge arms of the government operating at their own agenda as central command and control recede. And the rats, did I mention the rats? Whole areas of the city being blocked off and left to die, waterlogged sections becoming centers for assassins and black market dealers. And all while the corrupt government flails around attempting to contain a city dying of plague in the aftermath of a coup.
I will say it again, the game doesn’t tell you this straight up. Some is conveyed through dialog and other nuggets are shown in plain text, but the vast majority of this feeling of decay and disease are displayed through the environment. Subtle clues as to the fate of a watchman locked in a room and an empty pistol at his side, an old widow mumbling to herself as she sifts through piles of garbage, guards causally discussing getting a drink after work as they walk past piles of dead bodies.
Its all the little things, tied together with a vision of a city in turmoil, a striking and unique clockwork Elizabethan empire sort of feel. A cruel government killing and capturing its own citizens through fear and anger while the rats multiply in the shadows. Did I mention the bloody rats?
Towards the end of the game you are tasked with infiltrating the Royal Palace, that gleaming and beautiful refuge of health and stability seen before. Only now, in stark contrast, it has become a fortress. Walls with guards patrolling, barbed wire encircling towers equipped with search lights, gardens turned into barracks and a lazy river turned into a moat. A distinct Orwellian vibe and a sense of desperate fear, as if the remnants of the usurping regime are holed up in a closet with its backs to a wall, desperate to avoid the horrors and rot that are affecting the city below. And the rats, always with the rats!
A striking and vibrant visual game, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good stealth game-play and wants to see a city dying of plague. The dialog is kinda crap, and the combat could use some polish, (sword fighting in first person is hard to do well) but other than those caveats the games is awesome.
Come for the sneaky game-play, stay for the story, marvel at the
pretty dying city.