Arkane Studios’ best works have become a part of me. I was introduced to the developer’s catalog through Dishonored and it still remains one of my favorite games ever made. As a result, my journey to binge the studio’s work began with the sole reasoning of “I love Dishonored, so why don’t I try everything else they’ve put out?”
But now, I love more than just Dishonored, as the company has managed a surprisingly consistent output of quality titles. There’s only one Arkane game I can say I actively don’t care for, but everything else they’ve created, including the developer’s very first title, are absolutely worth experiencing.
Here’s every Arkane Studios game ranked from worst to best.
10. Dark Messiah of Might & Magic
Beyond Dark Messiah’s frustrating combat and lackluster narrative, the game’s greatest offense is that it’s without Arkane Studios’ fascinating world-building. One of the developer’s best qualities is its ability to build settings with alluring depth. Arx Fatalis’ post-apocalyptic twist on high fantasy tells the story of a sunless world forcing its inhabitants to adapt to civilization underground. Whereas Dark Messiah has no twist or hook; it’s a traditional Tolkien-inspired fantasy world set within Ubisoft’s Might & Magic franchise, one that takes us through traditional caverns, crypts, villages, dungeons, and kingdoms. The furthest the game goes is that the player is the dark lord’s son and is meant to bring him back to life. While being in-line with “standard fantasy” is fine, but it boasts none of the charm found in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
Instead, Dark Messiah offers over-sexualized dialogue from its female characters and a simple narrative about chasing an artifact. The player is accompanied by a succubus that communicates telepathically, and while that could have been interesting, it feels like it was written for horny teenagers. Even the other female protagonist, Leanna, is unbelievably thirsty for the main character in ways that will make you cringe.
Dark Messiah also lacks Arkane Studios’ other iconic quality: non-linearity. It’s the most straightforward Arkane game; the player has few alternate ways to approach a situation and is often sprinting forward in a level. Progression is handled in a similar way, as you gain skill points for completing main objectives. Even though the game offers mind control, telekinesis, fireballs, ice spells, and far more, those are rarely used to explore the levels uniquely and instead just let you kill enemies differently.
Dark Messiah does have some cool secrets, though. Briefly branching off from the linear path offers small rewards and challenges, like using your rope bow to climb up to the top of a well and acquire an infinite quiver. The game also has ridiculous physics that give it a comical appeal: Destroying parts of the environment and kicking people off of ledges just to watch them flail around like dolls is hilarious.
9. Prey: Mooncrash
Mooncrash is a Prey spin-off that applies its systems to a roguelite foundation. You can play as a series of characters who are involved in a narrative around the mystery of what happened on this moonbase, and your ultimate goal is to help everyone escape in a single run. If that sounds appealing, you’ll probably love this DLC, but it didn’t click with me in the way it did for many others.
Yes, each area is compelling and serves as an interesting experiment for what Deathloop would eventually look like, and I did enjoy those moments where something changed or I learned new information about the story, but ultimately, this game is a lot of the same. If Prey: Mooncrash was standalone and didn’t borrow so much from the original, it would have been more novel to me, but because it reimplements much of what was present in the base game, it didn’t hit as hard as it could have.
To be fair, the new things it adds are awesome. I’ll never forget running around the moonbase with low gravity being chased by a Moon Shark or when I pulled out my laser sword and started hacking at monsters for the first time. The way it redistributes abilities towards certain characters is a clever way to reimagine what Pray does, alongside how those limits make everything a little bit harder.
But in reality, it’s a lot of the same, and due to the way the DLC is structured, it’s reliant on repetition. Other roguelites thrive on a larger foundation or a more expansive concept, whereas this one has you redoing the same things with mechanics that are a little too familiar. I still enjoy Mooncrash for the reasons I listed above, but it’s one of my least favorite projects from Arkane.
8: Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall
The Knife of Dunwall is the first story-based Dishonored DLC, thrusting the player into the shoes of Daud, the man responsible for assassinating Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. Yes, you are one of the notorious villains of Dishonored, yet when you’re in his shoes, things change. You understand his motivations, and although you know what he did was wrong, you sympathize with him and his goals.
The Knife of Dunwall opens spectacularly, kicking off with the protagonist — or antagonist, depending on your perspective — slipping through an enormous slaughterhouse and whale oil processing facility. Daud is on the hunt for a monstrous businessman with abusive tendencies to learn more about a ship called the Delilah. It’s brilliant, littered with secrets and offering plenty of choices in the narrative; it also makes for a great stepping stone in what would be a huge part of the future story. I fell in love with this first mission, and I will never forget entering a giant section of this warehouse that had an enormous whale strung up to the ceiling.
But The Knife of Dunwall is brought to detriment by its final mission where the player is thrust in-between nearly empty alleyways in a dark city full of haphazardly placed guards. This area is minimal in detail, but worst of all, it lacks a compelling final goal. You return to your base to find it ransacked, so you kind of just have to get to a certain place without much discourse or learning anything new.
7: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
Death of the Outsider is Dishonored’s finale — at least for now. Billie Lurk and Daud come out of the woodworks for one final job: end the culprits behind the world’s unnatural destruction. They hope to remove the origin of the “Mark of the Outsider,” an ability that allowed key individuals to rule or exert their will at an absurd level of power. These supernatural forces helped Corvo Altano avenge the Empress, aided Daud with fighting Delilah, and supported Emily with saving her father, but this DLC asks an important question: Wouldn’t it be better for everybody if those powers no longer existed?
With this compelling opening, Death of the Outsider’s Follow the Ink and The Bank Job missions, which seamlessly weave into one another (thus making them feel like one big level), is one of my favorite experiences in the Dishonored series. In the shoes of Billie Lurk, the player is helpless in a way that wasn’t present in the other games. You can’t just run and gun, and the limited selection of abilities in your arsenal mean you have to be quieter, stealthier and more strategic than any other games demand of you. Running through this huge town before ultimately breaking into one of the most important banks in Karnaca is unforgettable.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider’s finale is a little disappointing, though. It ends on a note that is far too vague to be exciting, and there’s a lack of tension within the last bits of the story. I also didn’t enjoy the final two missions anywhere near as much as I did the earlier ones, although I still had fun hiding from those bizarre void monsters and running through that cultish underground facility.
6. Dishonored 2
Dishonored 2 made me realize something: I’m a sucker for this franchise’s formula. Whether it’s the first Dishonored, its two DLC, this sequel and the Death of the Outsider expansion, these games just speak to me. From its very specific Steampunk aesthetic to the (admittedly binary) morale system to the vertical level design to the focus on stealthing through dingy alleyways, it all comes together in a way that is absolutely for me. Yes, Arkane has done a great job weaving this formula in subtle ways throughout its other properties, but Dishonored is unmistakably Dishonored, even if other games can channel it.
Yet at the end of the day, that’s just what Dishonored 2 is to me: more Dishonored. This isn’t a bad thing, though. As I wrote earlier, I thoroughly adore this formula and I had a blast playing through this sequel. The level-based mechanics blew my mind and I appreciated that it finally lets you play a female protagonist. However, the experience is nowhere near as transformative or impactful as some of Arkane’s best. Dishonored 2 is simply a solid experience where you can enjoy more of a formula you love.
If you’ve played Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches, you will find this game’s narrative familiar. The ending and final boss fight are eerily similar to the first game’s DLC, which made the whole thing sour in my mouth somewhat. Instead, what makes Dishonored 2 most intriguing are the little stories embedded within each level, like when you can replace a powerful political figure by bribing his doppelganger to pretend he’s him. But even if those individual stories and levels do stand out to me, the lack of a great throughline makes Dishonored 2 feel like an awesome collection of missions rather than a fantastic singular experience..
5. Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
Similar to the Knife of Dunwall, this is a DLC with only three levels, so I won’t spend too much time on this blurb. Regardless, those three levels are fantastic and excellently built upon the foundation of Dishonored’s lore. This DLC is relevant to the foundation of the next two games, as Dishonored 2 pretty much copies this DLC’s ending and both Daud and Billie remain important figures in Death of the Outsider.
But what makes The Brigmore Witches great are the levels themselves. Whether it’s breaking into a prison, patrolling a small town occupied by two factions who are in the middle of a war, or finally invading Delilah’s mansion where you fight off demonic witchdogs and take her down in a one versus one, I adored all of these missions. It was a great way to cap off the story of the original DIshonored game. In fact, it’s so great that the game’s forthcoming titles feel a little too attached to this DLC.
4. Arx Fatalis
Arx Fatalis is Arkane Studios’ first developed game, and it blew my mind. I had no plans to play it initially, but after some convincing from a friend, I gave it a shot and was quickly taken aback by its premise: The planet’s surface has shifted into a snowy, frozen wasteland after the sun’s mysterious disappearance. This forced humans, dwarves, goblins, ogres and more races to work together and rush into building civilization underground. The basis of this setting is essentially high fantasy with a nightmarish twist; it’s a fantastical world pushed to a dystopian, claustrophobic extreme, bordering on a post-apocalyptic tale.
As the player witnesses the ways in which each of these races have adapted to underground life, a one-of-a-kind sensation is brought about. I spent 19 hours over the course of two days exploring and experimenting throughout every floor of these staggering labyrinths. I couldn’t resist the desire to unlock every door, break every magical barrier or parkour to find secret entrances, to the point where my first nine hours of the game were spent descending each floor without ever reaching the human kingdom (which is meant to happen very early in the game).
Whenever I ran into a roadblock, I found a clever way around it. Thanks to Arx Fatalis’ cryptic nature, it always felt like I found those solutions on my own rather than them being handed to me. This is easily Arkane Studios’ most freeing game; I had the opportunity to outsmart the developers with certain decisions, yet by the way the story progresses, it’s always clear that Arkane accounted for those choices.
Arx Fatalis’ magic system is equally unforgettable. Drawing runes in air to cast spells is ingenious, as haphazardly turning pages in my spellbook while being chased by monsters is a hilarious sensation that could only be felt in the shoes of a novice wizard. Having to actually memorize runic combinations and sigils rather than just pressing a button to cast a spell is the closest I’ve ever felt to being a magician in the medium.
I started Deathloop with some mixed feelings, but when I got into the flow of things, I was enamored by the lore of this bizarre island occupied by homicidal leaders who want to maintain a day that never ends. Putting the pieces together of Colt’s origins was a blast, and although the game advertises itself as a roguelite, it feels like a linear detective story. And unlike some other folks, I’m perfectly fine with that.
Blackreef is a sight to behold — its 1960s aesthetics can go anywhere from showing us the brightest, strangest funky design trends to submerging us in technologies and machinery that feel straight out of the Cold War era.
Yes, the game only takes you through four key locations, but the levels are designed in a way where it can offer unique experiences every time you return. I explored Fristad Rock plenty of times, but when at the right spot in the narrative, you can enter an enormous club that has you dodging and weaving through neon corridors escaping the sights of creeps in masks.
Updaam hosts a cut-off section on an isolated island called Condition Detachment, where Blackreef’s notorious game-maker, Charlie Montague, has everyone roleplaying in a tacky science-fiction setting. These moments are smaller than something at the scale of a typical Dishonored level, but I loved how the player enters these places through organic means rather than it being available through a level select screen.
Deathloop also has my favorite bossfight in Arkane Studios’ history: the player enters The Complex at night to find the place booby trapped with landmines and trip wires. After you carefully parkour your way to the middle of the snow-filled area, you’re greeted by an invisible boss pelting you from afar. It’s up to the player to carefully set up traps for them to no longer be hidden. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt whenever the enemy triggered one of those traps, or when he would be in a position I didn’t remotely expect, causing me to jolt up in fear.
But the most potent aspect of Deathloop is that other players can appear in your game and hunt you down. Whether you’re in the middle of an important task, simply want to continue the story, find some important item, complete an objective, cap the night off, get a new ability back to safety, or end the loop, any of those things can come undone by the actions of another.
Julianna has the ability to ruin your plans in an instant and it’s terrifying. It was a source of frustration for me in the beginning, but I had to build smarter. Every moment of what should be a single-player game, I was forced to prepare and protect myself as if I was playing a PvP game. This synergy between linear single-player narrative and competitive multiplayer experience is divine, and although it had been done by Dark Souls previously, there is an intensity present within Deathloop that not even Soulsborne has made me feel before.
Dishonored is the game that introduced me to Arkane Studios. I remember purchasing it at my local GameStop on the PS3 back in 2012. I was 14 years old, and I recall being interested solely because I saw Bethesda’s name on it and instantly assumed I would get an experience akin to Elder Scrolls. When I checked its Metacritic score, I was even more sold by it.
Instead, I was lost when I booted up the game and trudged through the first couple of missions. It’s stealth focused? There are consequences to your actions? Where’s the open-world? Where are the RPG mechanics? Why isn’t this more relaxing?
In the end, it was nothing like Elder Scrolls, although the series (along with every Arkane game) boasts elements that feel very “Bethesda” in style. And although I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game back in 2012, it took me several revisits to finally finish it in 2015 when I repurchased it on Steam. And when I did end up beating it, I fell in love.
Dishonored’s take on Steampunk is one of the most memorable settings in gaming. It’s hard to forget Dunwall, its specific styles, the guards who walk the streets, the sharp look of the weaponry, the little knick knacks that occupy every corner store, the little bar that the player returns to after every mission, and the general feeling that this is a world that’s truly wrought by plague and death. It is these little details in the world design that makes Dishonored stand out to me so much.
Dishonored has also always been a stressful game series for me. The player must have their guard up at every moment, and the slightest decision can bite you back without even realizing it. The world is against you, with no place you can feel safe, and beyond that just being the actual narrative, it’s always how I’ve felt when playing the game, too.
Putting what Prey means to me into writing is more challenging than I’d like to admit. My forthcoming words aren’t as simple as an attempt to explain why the game deserves first place in some arbitrary list. Instead, I’m trying to encapsulate a 30-hour journey that has become an inseparable part of me.
What makes Prey special, first and foremost, is the feeling that you can approach situations in whatever way you want. And every time you get through an area, it feels as if you did it in the way only you could. Plenty of games advertise this as a selling point; that illustrious freedom that allows you to take different paths or use unique abilities to fight and explore. But many games fail to live up to that, yet I always felt in control while experiencing Prey.
Whether it was because I upgraded my hacking early and was able to open doors that led me through areas harboring enemies far scarier than I’d expected, or used my high strength to open shortcuts into differing paths, or accidentally found bizarre secrets that I only understood by paying attention to the story, it felt like the journey I took through Prey was my own.
Plenty of design choices have kept with me ever since I played. I remember every time I’d have to manually enter a security station and go through a list of hundreds of crew members on a computer just to find the one name I was looking for. Or when I’d have to use a toy crossbow to shoot a button through a small opening in a reinforced glass pane to get a door open. Or firing little bits of Gluu on the wall to make my own vertical paths around the interior of the station.
Excluding its abrupt ending, Prey’s script is superb. It delivers excellently written side-quests that actually give you a reason to care about the survivors, alongside a goose-bump inducing performance from Benedict Wong as the antagonist. I’ll never forget the brilliance of making the player themselves a character with a story that needs unraveling. Sumalee Montano’s performance as Morgan Yu always stands out to me, as seeing yourself go through various memory iterations trying to unravel the decisions you made and why any of this is happening was gripping.
Even beyond the main story, I’ll never forget a romance between two crew members the player had been following through notes and voice recordings culminating after finding the corpse of one of the women who was in love. And when you find out an escaped convict pretending to be the cook you’ve been working with was responsible, you’re set on a mission from her surviving girlfriend to avenge her. At that moment, I remember not caring about any of my other objectives. I had so many things to do around this station, but I hunted this man throughout every corner of Talos I to get my revenge. That feeling of being so fueled by a narrative arc that it impacts the way I played was phenomenal. I’ll never forget it.
I have fallen in love with Arkane Studios’ catalog of games, but it is Prey that convinced me the developer will be one I follow for the foreseeable future. Regardless of whether or not Redfall is my type of thing, I’m going to play from start to finish because I’m dedicated to this studio and the work of its amazing artists.