The lights are on
I'm assuming you've read GI's article, but if you haven't, here's my abbreviated and ridiculously referential version:
Dishonored's setting is a direct result of Napoleon conquering Charles Dickens at the end of the Industrial Revolution. Dunwall is a Londonish island city filled with quasi-religious magic, quasi-magical assassin's, and a plague of the bubonic variety. As Corvo, the Empresses's High Protector, you are within the first few minutes of Dishonored, framed for the boss lady's assassination and subsequently slapped in the joint; dishonored, out of the gate. The game is all about you're quest for vengeance and setting right all that's been dystopiated (not a word) by the real conspirator's in the plot to assassinate the Empress. Aiding you in your quest for rehonoring (also not a word) is the French Resistance and Faust's business partner. Viola, Dishonored.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business. From start to finish, Dishonored is a stealth gamer's wish come true. I for one spent a lot of time with Splinter Cell simply because I loved creeping around in the shadows, infiltrating enemy strongholds, achieving my objective, and slipping out the back door leaving the enemy none the wiser. Dishonored takes the stealth reigns that Splinter Cell relinquished a few iterations ago, replacing 3rd Echelon's hyper-technology, with an interesting array of quasi-religious magical abilities and some yesteryear weaponry. After escaping from prison in your first playable mission you're visited by the Outsider, a dark and mysterious god/devil being who visits you in your dreams to give you his mark, and with it, the abilities that make Dishonored the great time that it is.
The first of these unlockable abilities is Blink, the ability to transport yourself forward (up, down, and all around) in shall we say, a blink of the eye. This is your bread and butter ability in Dishonored, but only one of the tools you can unlock to make Corvo the type of assassin you feel most comfortable with playing as; something that Dishonored does very well in a number of different ways. Whether it's your 19th century weapons, like the Crossbow and the flintlock Pistol, or your Magical Abilities, both of which you unlock by spending resources found throughout the city (magic: Runes, weaponry: cash money); Dishonored leaves your path toward vengeance and undystopianating (not even remotely a word) completely up to you. For example. Creeping along the rooftops you find your path blocked by a guard or two. Through your choices in both weaponry and magical abilities you can proceed in one of two ways; lethal or non-lethal. On the one hand, you could have unlocked the Possess ability, giving you the power to more or less go from a physical to spiritual state, possess a rat and sneak past completely undetected, returning to human form once you're safely past (the rat doesn't fare so well). On the other, you could have picked the Devouring Swarm ability and summoned a deadly carnivorous swarm of plague infested rats to overwhelm and devour your enemy. Those are just two of the various ways you could've approached that situation; two of the magical choices that is. If you're a fan of head on assault you could opt out of the magic altogether and just toss a grenade or two, fire off some crossbow bolts, or take a shot with your pistol. The choice, of which there are many, is all yours, but your essential moral choices are of the binary sort. And in Dishonored, those moral choices have consequences.
Depending on how brutal and lethal you are, or how peaceful and non-lethal you are, Dishonored's world reacts accordingly via Chaos. Now I haven't played through multiple times yet so I don't know firsthand exactly what it looks like, but the in-game explanation leads me to believe that a particularly questionable decision I made, may have made an entire area of town Weeperville (advanced stage plague victims not unlike your average zombie) as opposed to Gangville (trust me, you'll prefer the latter). The more violent and bloodthirsty you are, the more dystopiated (it will be a word) and violent the world around you becomes. I can't wait for my second playthrough as the devil incarnate, because it'll be interesting to see just how distorted the world becomes. But aside from Dishonored's Chaos determining the ultimate fate of the world you're trying to save, it also determines how the story itself all plays out, both of which Dishonored does fairly well.
Dunwall and it's inhabitants, both the 1% and 47%, make for an engaging city that keeps you invested and immersed in every part of Dishonored's reality. Graphically I felt like something was lacking in the detail department, most noticeably in faces. I don't really know if this is some sort of console restraint or just lax standards, but truthfully, after seeing what was digitally possible with upcoming technology, it all looks crude to me. It was however, noticeable, and initially I was concerned it might distract me from enjoying the interesting gameplay mechanics. But it didn't take very long at all before the story and the universe Dishonored presents made me forget all about whatever issues I first had. And while it's not like vengeance is exactly a new idea in video games, Dishonored's iteration is much more than just that basic premise. I don't want to spoil any surprises, so let me just say, your ambivalence will be challenged. The character's occupying the world that your Corvo self inhabits aren't at all times unique or memorable, but the central characters, particularly the 'good' guys, command some level of investment in their fates. My digital morality was pushed to the breaking point on a number of occasions, mainly because of Emily, the Empress' daughter. Architecturally, Dunwall is a beautiful backdrop for Dishonored's universe. As a strategic piece of the puzzle it allows for a varied amount of freedom, but some assets felt regurgitated at times. Each mission, and each locale offer something new, and more often than not, unique, but I couldn't help but feel like Dunwall's buildings had far too many outdoor vents. As a sum of it's parts, Dunwall does well what locations are supposed to do; give the story and it's viewer a reality to be a part of. Aside for the fact that a British Goudi built almost every building, Dunwall is a great container for Dishonored's universe.
If you're a stealth fan, ignore GI's sub-9 score, because it doesn't really reflect the merits of Dishonored. Initially I could've cared less about the bits and pieces of Dunwall and the world it was a part of, but as you fall in love with the unique and enjoyable mechanics, Dishonored's universe truly does grow around and envelop you. You're not in for that GI 10 experience, but your also not in for the 8.75 experience. Or maybe you are, what do I know? I generally avoid the 8's because at $65 a pop, I'm looking for 10's every time. I do however, understand all the points they've taken away from Dishonored, because there are certainly shortcomings, I just don't feel that those shortcomings infringe upon the playability or enjoyability of this game. Subtract that 1.25 for it's graphic, character, and narrative imperfections, absolutely. With all of it's unique and enjoyable underpinnings, Dishonored could have, and should have been a much better final product. But since I'm not bound by GI's dedication to objectivity at any cost, I'm going with a 9 purely because I feel that every missed mark in Dishonored is either immediately, or eventually, overshadowed by all the things it does right. If choice, stealth, magic, and inventive 19th century weaponry are somewhere in your gaming realm of interest, pick it up, put it in, and thank me later. Dishonored is well worth the price of admission.