It's almost been three years since Dishonored snuck onto the PlayStation 3, and when we donned the daunting mask of Corvo Attano back then to creep through Dunwall without so much as killing a soul or making a sound, we still regard Arkane Studios' runaway success with much-deserved admiration. Whether you choose to take a quiet route of redemption by sneaking past your foes with cunning or dash the opposition to pieces in epic brawls and from the shadows, this stealthy, visually gorgeous escapade is welcoming to players of multiple play styles with its versatile, solid gameplay. Now with a remastered take on the Game of the Year edition, does it make revisiting the city's desolate streets worth another go-around on next-gen hardware? We know that the answer is not a 'definitive' yes.
We're not implying that Dishonored: Definitive Edition is any worse, though. The game's still as refreshing and imaginative as we remember it, right from the start of its tale. You observe that royal bodyguard Corvo has returned from an assignment given by the Empress of the Isles, who is seeking help from the neighboring nations to heal the capital city of Dunwall, which is undergoing a vicious rat plague. The Empress' ardent desire to heal her sick people and city is honorable, but proves inconvenient to her political cohorts, who have arranged her assassination and the kidnapping of her daughter.
Left alone at the scene of this heinous act, Corvo is thrown into jail without due process. Dunwall's now left in the hands of the treasonous officials that instigated this event, who are tearing the city apart so that they may prosper. Corvo's been betrayed, framed, and left to rot in a prison, but that's not the end of his story. He escapes with the help of some political leaders who were loyal to the Empress, gains an arsenal of weapons and gear to seek revenge, and is bestowed with supernatural abilities from a godlike entity that desires to see Corvo change the fate of Dunwall. What you do with these gifts is up to you as you rid the city of its corruption, one way or another.
The main story itself is light on details from there on out with a simple plot to follow, but the major events and twists are enjoyable. We remained engaged with every story beat as we went from one target to another, but our was doubly motivated since there is extensive lore to dig into that makes this dark world even more intriguing to invest yourself in. Much like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, books, journals, and letters litter the levels detailing everything from the way the government functions and everyday citizens live to the tenets of religious groups and mysteries of that strange god called The Outsider. The majority of this information is out of your way and must be discovered as you check every level's nooks and crannies, but we feel that this works well for sparing those who aren't compelled by the extraneous details, while rewarding others who want to flesh out their knowledge of the Empire of the Isles. The lore also gleans into the backgrounds of the generally compelling characters, which expands their defining traits so that you're more emotionally invested in them.
The city has unusual character, too, thanks to it being a gloomier take on 18th century London with a Victorian, steampunk flair that doesn't go overboard. It's also strange that it all looks hauntingly beautiful with its distinct art style that looks like a partly realistic and stylistic oil painting come to life in 3D. It helps that the sound effects are surprisingly thorough and bring out the atmosphere exceptionally well, too, and with a moody, dissonant soundtrack that's driven by a zither, strings, and minimal percussion, it feels like Dunwall itself is producing its own eerie tunes.
It's a shame, though, that this remaster hardly improves the visuals. The edges of character models and buildings look fairly smoother, in addition to some objects and environmental details having been retouched with more defined textures. But in our direct comparison of the old and new versions of the game, you have to look long and hard to notice what's changed. We think that it feels better to play with the DualShock 4 at least, but the game isn't even 60 frames per second, and load times are no faster. Sadly, these disappointments are indicative that this port is something of a frustratingly lazy cash grab.
What defines the title to its core is the outstanding stealth and action gameplay. With superb controls and tightly tuned mechanics, you can handle any situation with finesse. Equipment like your sword, pistol, and grenades are suited for loud encounters, where you'll be parrying and swinging your blade, tossing explosives or mines, and more in hectic close-quarters combat. What gives you an edge, though, are Corvo's supernatural abilities, like summoning a hoard of rats to devour enemies or briefly stopping time to perform a sequence of actions. On the other hand, you could use your crossbow with sleep darts and choke enemies from behind if you want to be quiet and non-lethal instead, and there are abilities that aid this play style like Blink – which can teleport you a decent distance – and Agility, which allows you to run faster and jump higher.
We could talk at length about all of these options at your disposal, but it only gets better since you can find runes to upgrade your powers, blueprints to improve your equipment and armour, and a host of bone charms that slightly boost natural or supernatural skills. Everything that you obtain has a good reason to be there, so when there was something out of the way, we always felt that incentive to explore. Side missions bolster the livelihood each stage, especially since they're designed to subtly alter the game's direction based on you choosing to be violent or not, which goes for just about everything else that you do as well.
At this point, we can't stress the appeals of the gameplay for much longer. Each location is brilliantly tailored for multiple ways in which to reach an objective with light parkour or tackle an obstacle, and no matter what route you take, you will be challenged with your proficiency in stealth and/or combat, and have plenty to do along the way.
That said, it's not a perfectly balanced system. The diversity leads to the problem of a combat-centric approach being too quick and easy, but you do get to use your entire catalogue of weapons and abilities. If you want to be stealthy and non-lethal, your patience is tested and rewarded by feeling like a true assassin, but you're limited to less than half of what you can use since most of your arsenal is noisy and involves violence. Striking a middle ground is viable and is certainly fun, but for a Low or High Chaos ending, you should adapt a more consistent play style. All in all, we wish that there were more risks and consequences to combat, and more abilities and equipment for being non-lethal in order to balance the play styles out.
So, what about the extra content? Fortunately, this re-release has all of the Game of the Year version's downloadable content included. Dunwall City Trials is composed of a selection of challenge maps that tackle specific aspects of Corvo's many talents. Two maps deal entirely with stealth, whereas another map is about surviving numerous rounds of fighting. More peculiar ones involve quickly drop assassinating every target or taking out as many people as possible while time is briefly frozen. If you want to become a Dishonored aficionado, these challenges will help you get there by truly testing your skills.
Then there's The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, two parts of a full story that explore what Daud – the murderer of the Empress – was doing while you were prancing around as Corvo. As the plot moved forward, we were pulled in by Daud's blunt yet introspective personality and a master plan that thickened in scope as we approached the finale. It's a worthy tale that wraps up Daud's path to redemption, or depravity.
Both DLC offerings are surprisingly well crafted with new and familiar areas with loads of lore, runes, and bone charms to collect. There are a few minor twists on supernatural abilities and new ones specific to Daud, like summoning assassins to fight or pulling objects and corpses toward you, and there are a few novel items such as the stun mine and chokedust grenades which slightly remedy there being too little non-lethal options in the main campaign. While a couple levels were underwhelming due to some relatively barren areas and simple solutions to problems, we were met with plenty of excellent scenarios, tough level design, and meaningful, out-of-the-way objectives that made for this, and reminded us why we loved the game in the first place.
Despite everything that Dishonored still does right, the Definitive Edition is a lacklustre port. The 'improved' graphics can hardly be called remastered, and the lack of a better frame rate is very disappointing. As such, we wouldn't recommend this to those who've played it before. However, while we'd perhaps advise newcomers to consider the lower priced Game of the Year edition on PlayStation 3, we have no doubts either way you'll adore Dishonored's dark setting, striking art style, and deep lore, along with its brilliantly dual-sided gameplay.