There's dignity and integrity to Dishonored's vision, projected from creators who have pursued their ideals with conviction. "This is what we think video games are about," says Arkane Studios. They're about being a rogue catalyst with power(s) and agency, wedged inside a tightly wound coil of combat mechanisms, traversal techniques and environments that communicate an alternate world, history and life without using words. They're about finding paths and learning how to exploit your abilities. They're about blocking a painter's view of his subject, just to be a dick. They're about emptying a safe before you sell the combination to an ignorant buyer. And yes, they're about stabbing necks and piling the attached bodies beneath the mansion's stairwell. Maids hate their lives while a vengeful assassin is on the loose.
Every repeatable component of play has a hook in the fiction. Rats are present because it's a time of plague, but they're really instant vehicles for possession parked all over the place. You can hear every minion's secrets if you listen to the bio-clockwork heart (thank you, video games, for making this an acceptable phrase), and use that information to dole out death or forgiveness. You won't earn EVIL POINTS – not quite – but you'll have taken a complex moral stance without the game wagging its finger or giving you a cookie.
And that is why Dishonored is like a cookie. No, that is why ... it's like a scarf? Just a minute ...
Okay, that is why Dishonored is like, well, a video game. It stands out as one of the year's best because I, like many of you, will agree with Arkane's thesis on what is truly at the heart of our hobby. You can skulk through Dishonored with nary a soul seeing you, save for the designers who never forget that you're there.
Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2012 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far: