Artistic freedom. The publisher Bethesda has released one of the most unusual games of the year with Dishonored. The ambitious stealth-action role game mix fuses various genres into a captivating total bundle. The key question of our review: Just how high are the hardware requirements of this steampunk world?
Fans of classic shooter entertainment will be just as wide of the mark as hardcore role game fans with Dishonored. Arkane Studios, based in France, has designed the title primarily toward stealth-action adventure. When looking at the developer's last projects, it quickly becomes clear that Arkane has never aimed anything at the mass market.
For example, "Arx Fatalis" released in 2002 was a gloomy first-person game that scored well with its eerie atmosphere, a highly interactive gameplay and interesting story (the sun's extinction forced mankind to flee to the underworld). The main criticism was the botched controls.
After "Arx Fatalis", Arkane released the popular game "Dark Messiah of Might and Magic" in 2006. In contrast to "Arx Fatalis", the title was clearly more action-packed. Dark Messiah reaped in a lot of praise thanks to the vicious battles and physics gimmicks. The developer did not have as much luck with its next big project. "The Crossing" was to fuse single and multi-player elements to a successful whole. We emphasize "was to" because the very promising game was aborted after years of production.
Now Arkane dares to try again under the leadership of Harvey Smith (the creative director was already involved in "System Shock" and "Deus Ex"). Dishonored has received a lot of advance praise in the past few months. Unsurprisingly, as any unique game stands out from the action monotony at the moment. Will the final version really be exciting?
It would be best to start off with a bit of background information about the scenario. Dishonored takes place in the Victorian-inspired metropolis "Dunwall" that is stricken by a rancorous epidemic. The player is not a simple inhabitant but a guardian of the Empress who is assassinated shortly after the start. Corvo finds shelter by a few Empress-devoted residents after he is mistakenly arrested and escapes prison just before his execution. We do not want to reveal more of the plot at this point.
Dishonored's biggest strength is its fantastic atmosphere. Despite the older graphics, Arkane easily manages to captivate the player. The extravagant steampunk world delivers agreeably unique looks. We often thought ourselves to be in a mixture of "Half Life 2" and "Bioshock". Few competing products offer such a coherent overall appearance.
The outstanding soundtrack also helps immersion into the game. The excellent narrators, the well-made ambient sounds and the entrancing (though a bit oddly implemented) music ensure an extremely dense atmosphere. However, it is too bad that the main character does not speak at all and thus remains correspondingly insipid. Dishonored wastes potential here. Otherwise, we quite liked the first hours of the game. Since the game runs enjoyably smooth and its controls are intuitive, even newbies will manage quickly.
Great: Remote from the main path, you frequently find small challenges, hidden rooms or other secrets. Scattered books and documents let the player sink deeper into the universe and its story. A decent game-save system (quick-save function available) is not a matter of course either.
Regrettably, the developer has not done a perfect job with one of the most important aspects, namely the stealth framework. Although you can peek through keyholes and drag opponents knocked-out from behind into dark corners (some bodies disappear after a while) in proper style, several weaknesses are seen in the details.
For example, you cannot destroy any lamps, which is actually a must in a stealth-game. The absence of a brightness indicator is also annoying. The developer should have looked at other games. The player gets a lot more feedback in the almost seven year-old "Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory".
However, the AI disappointed us most. Enemies neither respond to opened doors nor absent comrades – at least in medium difficulty. Beyond that, the view of the AI is rather limited. You can usually slay enemies easily when they are in fact in their colleague's field of view. As a result, the game gets too easy and unchallenging (especially with the magical abilities).
Overall, Dishonored cannot reach the stealth-level of other members of this genre, like "Thief". The stealth system is more in the range of "Deus Ex: Human Revolution". But this does not mean that the title deteriorates to a boring click game – Dishonored is definitely not an ordinary action-game.
We use the beginning of the game where Corvo is being brought to the Empress on a small boat for the benchmarks. Using the tool Fraps, we record the refresh rate until the boat reaches its destination and the pier is extended.
The 1.5 minute sequence allows very consistent results and a high comparability due to the predefined course. Our experience shows that Dishonored runs a bit slower than usual in this passage. Ergo, the game should be rendered properly in the corresponding settings when a graphics card receives a green value (chart below the article).
The outdated Unreal Engine 3 is noticed clearly in Dishonored. Particularly the texture quality is often unsatisfactory. Many object wallpapers are extremely muddy. The general lack of polygons also reduces attractiveness . Only water, light/shadow effects and the faces/clothes of the various characters are fairly acceptable.
Other games based on Unreal Engine 3 (e.g. "Batman: Arkham City") look much better. The technically equally weak "Borderlands 2" can hide the graphic's inadequacies (the prominent comic-look belies the weak textures quite well). In return, the hardware-hunger is surprisingly low.
Generally, the technology seems quite developed to us. Apart from the fact that the settings are not saved correctly in offline mode (everything reverts to default the next time the game is started), we did not observe any crashes, graphics errors or other problems during the benchmarks. The game also has to be praised for its short load times.
The graphics menu does not have many options available. In addition to the brightness and the field of view (FOV), it is possible to adjust the texture and character details. The light shafts can be turned on and off, just like rat shadows. Anti-aliasing is also optionally available (MLAA or FXAA). However, unclean edges turn up despite enabled anti-aliasing because high-level MSAA has been omitted.
Regardless of that, there are controls for the full screen on/off, vertical sync and resolution in the video settings. However, Arkane set a limit of 130 frames per minute.
As already indicated, you do not need a high-end computer for Dishonored. 1920x1080 pixels and maximum details are playable on a graphics card from the upper midrange. For example the GeForce GT 640M: Nvidia's Kepler model accomplished a good 40 fps in our sequence.
"Normal" midrange GPUs, such as the GeForce GT 630M, also manage high options – that is if you do not overdo it with the resolution. Only low or medium details should be used on entry-level models, the like of Intel's HD Graphics 4000. Owners of an HD Graphics 3000 will always have to reckon with stutters.
Although there are reasons for complaint in a few categories, we can recommend Dishonored with a clear conscious. The game is not only suitable for stealth fans, but also for gamers who want to experience a new world and a mysterious story. In contrast to other action-blockbusters, Dishonored offers a lot of gaming elbow room. The title invites you to experiment and rewards tactics, and we must mention the superb art design.
Most results were ascertained on laptops from Schenker Notebooks (mysn.de):
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M, GTX 680M & Radeon HD 7970M, 8 GB RAM)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M & HD Graphics 4000, 8 GB RAM)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000, 8 GB RAM)
The following GPU drivers were used on the latter laptops: Nvidia 306.97, AMD 12.9 Beta and Intel 184.108.40.20661.