A cadre of conspirators helps you escape imprisonment, and you find out that they are plotting to bring down the very men who wronged you. These characters embody familiar archetypes–the dutiful admiral, the egotistical nobleman, the cheeky servant–but Dishonored is not content with one-dimensional portrayals. An excellent voice cast (which includes a number of notable actors) and stylish character design help bring these people to life. As you listen to them talk (you remain mute throughout), read their journals, eavesdrop on conversations, and learn whispered secrets from an arcane, psychic item you acquire, you come to know the characters and the world they live in. This kind of knowledge is engaging, so even when the main plot follows some well-trodden paths, you’re always interested and eager to press on.
Exploring Dunwall is another one of Dishonored’s great pleasures. The city prospered from the whaling trade in the recent past, but has fallen on hard times since the influx of a deadly plague. Brick walls and wooden beams loom over alleys crawling with rats, while granite facades and metal barricades block off the cobblestoned plazas of the wealthier neighborhoods. Dunwall evokes a British city in the grip of the industrial revolution, but painterly coloring and slightly exaggerated proportions give the place a unique feel. The lovely artistic design shines on the PC, bursting with detail and making Dunwall an immensely appealing place to inhabit.
Figuring out how to move through the environments is an enjoyable pursuit, and one of the first powers you get allows you to teleport a short distance. The quick pop and blurry whoosh of this power provides a nice audiovisual accompaniment to the thrill of defying natural law, and if you choose to supernaturally augment your jumping ability, your range of locomotion is drastically increased. Though you’ll likely have some awkward moments as you try to go places that the game won’t let you, Dishonored’s level design is consistent enough to make such moments easy to avoid once you get the hang of things.
In addition to these superhuman movement abilities, you can choose the power of possession. Slipping into the skin of a rat or the scales of a fish allows you to navigate small tunnels and reach new areas, and when leveled up, you can even possess other humans for a short while. Acquiring and improving your supernatural powers requires runes, though, and there aren’t enough for you to max out every power. There are no bad choices, thankfully, though some clearly favor lethal or nonlethal approaches. Pacifists will appreciate the ability to stop time, for example, while assassins might favor the power that instantly turns corpses to ash.