Dishonored is quite something, Chris loved it when he delivered his Verdict, but as one of the biggest titles of the year, and perhaps the biggest original IP of the year, it deserves to have more than just the one voice talking about it. After the break, you will find thoughts from a few of us here at Reticule Towers, enjoy.
Dishonored wasn’t what I expected. Where I was expecting a spiritual successor to Thief, with hours of sneaking around, waiting for the perfect moment, instead I found a game where the protagonist has so much power over his environment that nothing presents an obstacle to him.
Players used to the strict sneaking enforced by games like Thief may find the Blink ability takes a little getting used to. On several occasions I found myself waiting for gaps to appear in guard patrols before realising I could just teleport to the other side of the road without risk. Your ability to move instantly between locations with no danger of being spotted is completely overpowering, but for people unfamiliar with the patient waiting stealth games demand, it’s a fine way to introduce them to the genre.
Dishonored has a few too many tricks up its sleeve to be considered a true stealth game. Its magical powers enable you to merrily dance between hiding places with little danger of being discovered. You can teleport over, under, and even inside patrolling guards in your progression through the game, rendering the danger a single guard poses utterly insignificant.
I’ve only just finished Dishonored, achieving a near-perfect ghost-playthrough, and I found the tools on offer made the assassinations incredibly simple to achieve. Does this mean I didn’t like the game? Good grief no. Dishonored is incredible – the atmosphere and level design alone is enough to lift it to contender for Game of the Year, it’s just not what I was expecting.
For my second run, I’m intending on avoiding the use of magic other than where the game dictates it as necessary. I’ve only just finished the tutorial and begun the first assassination, but even now, the game I was expecting Dishonored to be is starting to emerge.
Now I get it. It’s not the spiritual successor to Thief, nor is it the combat environment the Half-Life level design would suggest. It’s both. It’s a spectacular steampunk platform, and what you chose to do with it is up to you. Arcane Studios have given you the game, now it’s up to you how you play it.
I was cagey about Dishonored. And it wasn’t just because I felt there should be a “u” in there somewhere. From the earliest previews I had in mind exactly what it was going to be and exactly what it wouldn’t, and so I resisted friends and complete strangers full of hyped-up enthusiasm insisting it was going to be a genre-defining (or defying? I forget) epic.
And, with those expectations, I was very happy to play it through twice. I truly don’t think it’s the groundbreaking instant classic some make it out to be. But it’s a thoroughly enjoyable game that sticks its hand down the sofa of Nostalgia and pulls out a welcome bunch of things that games have done before, but not frequently.
To take that metaphor too far, it’s a gem, but a gem covered with suspicious bits of fluff and crumbs and who the hell has been eating toast on the good sofa, god damn it people. Wait no it’s more apt than I thought; it’s gunk that doesn’t obscure the glitter but it’s obvious and could’ve been removed with a vigorous scrub.
For starters, some have tried to make it out as some kind of emergent sandbox and I don’t think Dishonored is that game. The mechanics present a particular kind of logic (i.e., killing is bad) in regards to the high/low chaos reactance and while this is made painfully obvious from the start, it’s not exactly nuanced or far removed from the classic sliders of Good and Evil.
If I can give any newcomers advice about this game, it’d be to set aside all concerns about your nebulous chaos rating and the finale that will entail and just play it your way. Buy into the huge array of combat powers and equipment upgrades that would be pretty damn useless if you wanted to be entirely non-lethal (but pssst, you don’t have to, even if you want the low-chaos ending: just don’t make a habit of slaughtering everything on two legs).
Yes the event toggles are distinctly binary, with two flavours of chaos, but the actual gameplay is great and I’ve already seen a swathe of bizarre and intricate stunts and combos up on YouTube. You can mangle hostiles in a great many ways, with bullets and blades and explosives or the various powers that augment your mobility or let you control or otherwise throw enemies around, and maps tend to be large enough to enable alternate routes and subquests. The scenarios are very specific— they don’t change from playthrough to playthrough, despite a few randomised target variations— but there are a number of ways to approach them.
So to focus less on what it could have or “should” have been and talk about what it is, Dishonored is that rarest of things: a game that I replayed immediately after finishing it. It’s a whole lot of fun, and as I stab and sneak and magic and shoot I’m left wondering why we left that gem down the side of the sofa in the first place. Or why I persist in using that metaphor.
I walked into the world of Dishonored and was braced for excellence. Deus Ex alumni, delightful art-design, imaginative world building and glorious freedom, it’s like someone made a design document deliberately designed to make me swoon.
Why then, after playing Dishonored do I feel a little bit disappointed? Is it the way the game swerves towards linearity in its closing acts? Perhaps it’s because throughout all the hiding, the stabbing, the blinking and the err… hiding I rarely felt as though I was really being tested. Maybe it’s the way the potential of the characters was never fully realised. On the surface they were interesting and some of them were voiced by some of the finest actors (let alone voice actors) in the business. But none of them really sticks in the mind the way the characters of say Deus Ex, System Shock 2 or Thief did. Or maybe that’s the problem, the ‘immersive sim’ as that elite genre is generally known, has produced some of the finest moments in gaming. Dishonored doesn’t feel unworthy of walking in those hallowed footsteps, but for me it never really rises out of their shadow either. Perhaps judging it against them is an urge I should have suppressed.
Maybe I was just playing it wrong. I usually approached levels in a stealthy manner, but once cover was broken I wanted to use my character to his full potential and see how he could adapt to the chaos unleashed. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the game more if I’d applied a credos to Corvo. An all stealth rule, or a no killing rule would certainly add self-imposed challenge to a game that was all too easy the way I played it.
Dishonored still ranks as a good game for me, maybe even very good. But I still left the game feeling as though it hadn’t quite fulfilled its potential, I’ll play it again at some point, to see how things change when you follow a different path, when you imbue your character with a set of values and follow them to the letter. But for now it ranks as an enjoyable experience, if not quite unforgettable.
I covered most of my thoughts on Dishonored when I delivered my Verdict on it, in short, I believe it is a brilliant game which will probably stand near the top of my Game of the Year rankings. Whether it stands up to the likes of Deus Ex, System Shock 2 or Thief I don’t know, and in all honesty, it probably won’t as time goes on. The nature of games has changed since those halycon days, perhaps the golden era of PC gaming and the immersive FPS.
In the present climate where the charts are largely dominated by sports franchises and blockbuster sequels, I think Dishonored shows that there is still room out there for an all new IP, even if it is only a singleplayer game. It is far from perfect, but no game ever is unless you wear rose-tinted glasses, but it goes about its business very smoothly, even if it can be claimed to fall apart slightly after the big twist, which isn’t really much of a twist if you are paying attention.
I am keen to go back and continue my second playthrough and accept the consequences of my actions, rather than reloading as soon as I get spotted. Indeed, I am eager to fully explore some of the areas I left relatively untouched, especially Lady Boyle’s manor which I probably rushed through and really didn’t give as much time to as it deserved. As I said in my Verdict, if you treat it like any other corridor shooter, you won’t truly experience the joy of the game.