Dishonored review

Tom Francis at

I think I can jump onto another light fitting from here. I’m wrong. I slip, fall, and land inches behind a gold-masked Overseer looking out of the fifth-story window. I only have a split second headstart in getting over our mutual surprise at the situation, and I use it to stab him in the neck.

A second after his body hits the ground, I hear carpet-softened footsteps coming down the hall. Panic. After mentally rejecting three even crazier ideas, I hoist the Overseer’s body over my shoulder and jump out of the window.

Dishonored is mostly a stealth game, where you play a kind of assassin, in a somewhat steampunk city. Those floundering qualifiers are part of the fun: you don’t have to hide, you don’t have to kill anyone, and while the city of Dunwall mixes matchlock pistols with crackling Tesla tech, it’s a rusty, crumbling place that feels unique.

Suspicious, or posing for a cover shoot?

If you don’t manage the stealth part, the first-person swordfight that breaks out is surprisingly fun, and surprisingly survivable. Time your blocks right and you can take out a squad of guards with vicious counter-attack executions. It’s not always viable later on, and I’m keen to avoid it on this mission anyway. My target is the Grand Overseer, head of Dunwall’s witch-hunting religion, and any alarm will send him running to his underground bunker.

As I sail out of the window, still holding the dead guard, I twist round and Blink back onto the window ledge. There are only six magical powers in the game, and you probably won’t use them all, but you’ll definitely use Blink. It’s a short-range teleport spell that’s almost free to cast, and quickly becomes your main way of getting around the game.

It’s silent, so it makes stealth faster and more versatile: you can Blink past the path of an approaching guard to stab him in the back when he investigates your former location. And it also gives you a precise and reliable way to climb on the scenery. The game shows you the spot you’ll jump to as you aim the spell, so the kind of player who habitually falls off light fittings can still blink to a fifth-story window ledge without falling to his death.

You're never far from the plague fallout.

The ledge is safe and out of sight, but I don’t think it’s wide enough to drop the body on. And the huge, rainlashed courtyard below is crawling with guards. I circle half the building before I finally see an open dumpster at ground level. I think I can toss him into it from all the way up here.

I’m wrong.

Dishonored’s missions unfold across huge chunks of this plague-infested city. The best of them spend that space in breadth as much as length, letting you explore several city blocks outside of the building you plan to infiltrate. You’re free to sneak through the rat-riddled alleyways, clamber up to the rooftops and Blink between them, or dive into every open window and ransack the buildings for secrets and loot. It’s a fantastic sense of freedom.

There are even side quests in these extensive regions, and masses of incidental storytelling. Books, notes and diaries offer you enigmatic clues to stashes of loot, safe combinations and magical items.

The city watch patrol most of it, but other sections are ruled by thugs, the gutters crawl with plague-zombies, and some apartments are inhabited by stranger folk altogether.

OK, maybe I did stab too many people.

This courtyard, though, is patrolled by Overseers. And a very dead Overseer has just fallen out of the sky and landed heavily on a spiked metal fence, dangling from it like a gruesome warning. I freeze. They haven’t seen it yet. I slip quietly back in through a different window.

I’m in the meeting room my target is headed for, and there are two glasses on the table. My mission is to kill the Grand Overseer, but there’s an optional extra: he’s about to poison one of the few good men left in the city watch, and I’ve been asked to prevent it. I’m just about to do something clever with the glasses when the doors swing open.

I Blink behind a screen in the corner of the room and hold my breath. The guards yell in alarm, I switch to grenades and brace for them to... rush out through the other doors. They didn’t see me! They must be responding to something else going on. Oh, the bloodied Overseer I just threw off the building? I guess that might be it.

An objective note tells me I’ve prevented the poisoning, with my ingenious and totally intentional distraction technique, so now I just need to take out my target. I slip back out of the window before the metal shutters come down, and Blink down to street level. There’s a gutter down here with a tiny window into the Grand Overseer’s safe room, so all that’s left to do is to load my crossbow and wait.