Dishonored is a sandbox. Don’t let the level-driven narrative focus fool you. Once Corvo Attano is handed a mission and unleashed in the dirty, plague-ridden streets of Dunwall, the methods you use to complete that task are entirely your own to decide. This level of freedom can be daunting though. That’s why I want to take some time today to run through some of the less clearly defined game systems and offer some tips for making the most of your time in Dunwall.
Save Early, Save Often
The old PC game adage “save early, save often” should be your mantra while playing Dishonored, especially if you are attempting a non-lethal and/or ghost run through a mission. Get into the mindset of manually saving your game whenever you overcome a particularly challenging obstacle. There are checkpoint locations that autosave for you, but they are relatively few and far between. Dishonored is the rare game that allows you to save anywhere, at virtually any time, and there’s a reason for that. ‘Take advantage.
Don’t Fear the Reaper
Most video games are built around the idea of having you learn as you proceed. Come to a nasty boss fight and you might die a few times, but each new attempt brings added knowledge of patterns to watch for and weaknesses to exploit. Dishonored doesn’t feature any boss fights, but it rewards trial-and-error play. Don’t be afraid to run out into the open — after saving, of course — and seeing what sort of trouble you stir up. You might be intentionally dooming yourself, but you also might catch sight of an access point that you hadn’t noticed before.
Also be sure to take advantage of the no-strings-attached tutorial mission that amounts to Corvo’s escape from prison. Achievement/Trophy hunters take special note here: most of the game-spanning goals do not apply during this mission. Take advantage of that to experiment. Learn how Dishonored’s stealth system works. Get the hang of blocking and countering in open combat situations. You can do this anywhere in the game, of course, but the first mission is there specifically to train you… so take advantage.
The Path of Which Resistance
Once you’ve got a handle on how Dishonored works mechanically, it’s worth spending some time figuring out how you want to play it. Will you ghost your way through the game, quietly avenging the Empress’s murder from the shadows? Would you prefer a more merciful path, never once allowing your blade to taste the enemy’s blood? Or will you stalk the streets of the city openly and brazenly, meting out justice as an unstoppable angel of death that strikes fear into the hearts of one and all?
Whether you sneak quietly or go loud, your choices have repercussions as the game unfolds. The attention that you draw to yourself and the death — or lack thereof — that you leave in your wake contributes to the city’s overall Chaos level. This determines what sort of resistance that you’ll be facing with each new task handed to you. At the end of each mission, you will be given your chaos ranking, but it is about more than just killing, there are certain objectives you can do if you want to raise it that may not be clear. For example, in one mission you are given a non-lethal way to take down a key figure. You could always just kill the target, but for the best chaos boost, complete the non-lethal method, then as others are coming for him, kill him as others look on. Watch the shocked guards then proceed to freak out.
In broad terms, the city becomes increasingly hostile as your Chaos level rises. Conversations with your allies and those overheard will reflect that, and the story is slightly modified to match. Leave too many bodies and alerted guards behind you, and you can expect to encounter a heavier enemy presence during future assignments. Not just town guards either. Your handiwork also quickens the spread of the plague, since there’s more rotting meat for the rats to feast on and less guards to enforce the quarantines. This means that you can expect to deal with additional rat swarms and Weepers as well when you have a high Chaos rating.
Of course, maybe that’s the challenge you’re looking for. There’s nothing inherently bad about having a high Chaos rating, especially if you’re going lethal and loud all the way. The endgame reflects this, and the final mission will play out much differently. The story’s conclusion won’t be quite as happy if you choose to bloody your blade too frequently, but the only real “penalty” for a high Chaos rating is stiffer resistance.
Blink Or You’ll Miss It
If you are into achievements/trophies and have seen a list of all the available rewards, you may have noticed that there is one for completing the game without unlocking any of Corvo’s supernatural abilities. Thankfully, Blink is excluded from that, and for good reason. You’re forced to unlock it, sure, but the game is also virtually unplayable without it. Blink allows you to move a short distance (its range can be upgraded) in any direction without anyone noticing, and it’s hard to overvalue Blink’s usefulness.
You can use it to slip past guards in an open space where they might otherwise catch you. Or locate hard-to-reach access points. Or zip around the battlefield to flank behind an enemy before he realizes what’s going on. If you are falling to your death, you can even use it to teleport closer to the ground and drop without taking damage, and if you Blink to within a step of an enemy, you can instantly take out that guard from behind. It is, by far the most flexible ability in Corvo’s toolbox. Use it, abuse it, learn it, love it.
Vengeance Can Wait
Take your time in each mission. Dishonored might be a level-based game, but you’re not ever following a linear set of corridors from point A to point B. There’s a lot of ground to cover in Dunwall, with an assortment of nooks and crannies hiding all of the best gear. Take the time to find them.
The first thing that you should do whenever a new chunk of map loads is pull out your Heart. You receive this item early on in the game, and it points out the location of each Rune (used for upgrading you skills) and Bone Charm (offers passive bonuses) on any given map. Use it when you arrive in a new location to get a sense of what’s out there. It is also worth equipping it and using it like an ability now and then. If you do it while pointing at a guard, it will tell you things about them. Doing so when facing a key target will give you a more complete picture of life in Dunwall, and the role they play. If you use the heart without a target in sight, it will tell you a bit about the area you are currently in.
Make finding the Runes a priority before proceeding with your mission. Not only will you gather useful items, you’ll also inevitably find other goodies hidden away as well — things like gear, upgrade blueprints, valuable collectibles, and cash-money. Quest-givers too. Keep an eye out for secondary tasks during each mission. Often you’ll find that helping someone else unlocks additional access points or offers non-lethal options for neutralizing your primary targets. There are even instances where helping a character at one point will open up other missions later on, while ignoring them, or even killing them will close that thread for good.
Blink is essential for exploration. In planning out your skill upgrades, it’s best to prioritize Blink and then at least level one of Agility — which more than doubles your jump height — to aid in your Dunwall wanderings. The first level of Possession helps too, since ratholes sometimes provide access to areas that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. If you intend to remain non-lethal, the Dark Vision and Bend Time abilities are handy as well; if you choose to take the bloody path, offensive abilities like Devouring Swarm and Blood Thirsty should be your focus.
Victory Through Experimentation
The city of Dunwall is extremely well designed with regards to offering multiple approaches to most situations, but it’s Corvo’s toolbox of skills and gear that really allow you to embrace Dishonored‘s sandbox. Be sure to read the “tips” section for each skill, but it’s equally important to simply mess around and see what works. There’s not an in-game reward for engineering creative kills, but there’s a personal sense of triumph that comes from exploiting the tools laid before you in unexpected ways.
Did you know, for example, that you can rig a rat with a springrazor trap? Try doing that, then using Possession on the rat and walking it right into the middle of a group of enemies. Use Bend Time at the right moment and you can snatch projectiles and grenades right out of the air, adding them to your stock or directing them right back to their sender. Want to get really cute? Use Bend Time to stop a bullet in midair then possess the person that fired it and walk him in front of his own shot.
The possibilities are endless, especially since you can use thrown objects or fired crossbow bolts to direct an enemy’s attention in one direction or another. Why distract someone when you can instead draw them over to a location where you’ve set a trap or used a rewire tool to turn a piece of machinery into your own agent of death? You’ve got that save anywhere feature, so take advantage of it and experiment to see what sort of inventive tactics you can engineer.
For more on Dishonored, check out our roundup that includes interviews, videos, and our full review here.