A juggling act with too many balls in the air
Dishonored. Where to start? Well, it's billed as a stealth game, so let's start there. Dishonored is a bad stealth game. Why? You might ask, it has multiple ways to deal with the guards and open levels, surely it's an amazing steal game. Well, that's true, but we also have a long range teleport and probably some of THE best first-person melee combat ever. I looked forward to every brush with a guard, every encounter. That's not a stealth game. I shouldn't look forward to carving my way through eleven guards the moment I get spotted. Now then, let's take away the stealth focused mechanics. What do we have? The most competent action-adventure-first-person-cut-em-up in history with good world building, interesting powers, and a decent variety of characters. Ever watch The Princess Bride or ever watched any movie where swashbuckling is involved? The mechanics here favor that. I could make an entire game based solely on the sword-fighting mechanics of this game. There's even blade locking! But there's also gunplay, with single shot pistols! Some of the most fun I had in this game was having an impromptu pistol duel with a guard who came up with the brilliant idea of shooting the sword-wielding assassin rather than try to stab him. And then there's "Lady Boyle's Last Party", the level that proves intrigue and a masquerade ball can be done in a AAA video game and it can still be fun. I'd go over it in detail, but it needs to be played to be believed. Oh yes, the powers. Sum this up in one statement: Time Slow Level Two: Time Stop. Need I say more? Now then, gripes about the game. It's relatively short, which is fairly disappointing. And the [Censored] binary moral choice system THROUGH GAMEPLAY MECHANICS! It gets old, it renders your entire arsenal worthless, and it ruins the game entirely. I'm an assassin, not a man on the edge dammit! Other than that? Corvo needed a voice actor, the characters could have used more personality, and it feels like a tech demo. Get Dishonored. But not at full price. It's games like this that inspired me to become a game developer. If Skyrim had combat this good, I wouldn't harp on it not being so hostile towards mages.
So close, and yet so far.
I was looking forward to Dishonored since I first saw it announced in Game Informer. I was HYPED by the steampunk setting, by concept of a supernatural assassin, by the sheer number of combinations one can make of Corvo's powers to tear your foes to shreds. The last point being why I have such a love-hate relationship with Dishonored. The graphics were great, the controls crisp and fluid. The game played wonderfully. But the morality system KILLED my enjoyment and fed it to the plague rats. Out of all your weapons, gadgets, and powers, only three, THREE of them saw regular use in a pacifist run: Blink, Dark Vision and Tranq Darts. Use of the other, more lethal tools at your disposal, like the trip mines, plague rats or even Corvo's SWORD, raises the Chaos meter. Too-high Chaos gives you the grim, downer, 'screw-you-for-being-a-murderous-bastard' Bad End that honestly makes less sense the more you think about it. There's a couple of problems with this. MAJOR problems. A pacifist route's not a bad idea on the surface: it's been done in Metal Gear, it certainly raises the challenge of the game, and some of the non-lethal fates of your targets are truly cringeworthy and worth checking out. But for god's sake, DON'T MAKE IT MANDATORY, especially not after billing your main character as an ASSASSIN. Don't release trailer after trailer of all the lethal combinations the players can use to dispatch their foes, getting them all excited for the prospect of the Time-Bend/Possession combo that has an enemy shoot himself, and then scold them for doing it. Bethesda created a world of choice, of thinking on your feet and creating combinations of weapons and powers, and then hamstrung players by penalizing them for taking advantage of these things. Dishonored never should have had a Karma system, or if it absolutely had to, it should have been tied to side quests or the like, not how many faceless guards you kill. Or at the very least, give us non-lethal equivalents to lethal gadgets and powers: gas mines to use in place of the shrapnel mines for instance. Should Bethesda ever release Dishonored 2, I can only hope they can let us fully enjoy the world of choice they clearly meant Dunwall to be before fumbling at the very end.
Chance and Choice
I think the choice mechanic in video games are fairly superficial most of the times. After all the only real choice asked of a gamer is to play the game and the only responsibility of developers in the hope of a fun experience. The idea that making an evil choice or a good choice in a game, with each choice telegraphed as good/bad supposedly passes moral judgments is a two year's old idea of decision making. Dishonored manages to rise past this limitation by making choice a matter of style. As per your style and mood, Dishonored can be a First Person Shooter, a Hack and Slash game or it can be an environment platform stealth game about mood, secrets and observation. The level design in Dishonored is a thing of beauty, one that offers choices as per style, where players can create their own unique experience as per their style and with the democratic conceit of neither one privileged over the other, there's equal drama in both gameplay unlike GTA IV where its clear from a storytelling perspective that the game really ends with the the death of Niko's cousin and the ironic choice offered at the end is hollow and lazy writing. I loved the mission where you deal with Burrows and spontaneously you can Take a Third Option of a quick exit by jumping off a ledge into water and swimming over to Samuel. There's wit there, a gag at gamer's imagination where they would look at levels and lament not crossing the low fence that by any standard of logic is surmountable. The story of Dishonored is perfectly simple. I wish they gave Corvo a voice though. The characters are all cool, especially Slackjaw, the maids, Piero and Sokoloff, the Outsider and above all Daud, who you play in the remarkable DL Cs. It shows real maturity that the only person Corvo identifies and relates to in the sad story is the man who killed the woman he loved.
If I would want to describe the recipe of this game, it would be something like this: One part Thief, two parts Bioshock, one part Deus Ex - Human Revolution, and just a bit of Half Life 2 sprinkled on top. In detail: The Game was good and really fun to play. The great number of possible solutions to each situation, the stealth aspect, the gadgets, the magic powers; they were all fun an really engaging to mess around with. However, there are some really blatant problems in the game's design. First off, the stealth aspect is too enforced. If you want to have the "good ending", you are pretty much forced to sneak around and use nonlethal means, but that makes a lot of your gadgets and powers completely useless, including the great sword-fighting mechanics, and this arguably detract from the fun-factor of the game. I also had problems with how the game's designer couldn't get away from his previous work at Half Life 2, as a lot of the reminiscent designs were just sticking out of the industrial-punk environment like a sore thumb. The game also has a weird problem, where it is great at subtly telling the story through books, overheard conversations and the public speakers, but at the same time it's terrible at stringing the main plot together and making it interesting. Not to mention, the "plot twists" were telegraphed from a mile away and most of the characters were cardboard cutouts (though at the same time some of the characters were really good, so take that as you want). Finally, the ending was just lackluster. I don't complain about it being anti-climactic, as it was expected that the "final boss" won't really be able to put up a proper resistance, but the "epilogue" felt tacked on and only explained things in very broad strokes, and it completely failed to address the two biggest issues; the Outsider's presence and his relation to Corvo at the end, and the "the world will soon end when the whales die out" point that was alluded to several times during the story. Overall I really enjoyed the game, but I couldn't help but feel that it could have been much, much better if only it's plot-points weren't rushed and if Corvo wasn't a silent protagonist. Oh well, I stop complaining about wasted potential now, it was still a really good game, one of the best I played this year, 8/10.
A really fun game, way too damn short.
This is one of those games that try really hard to shove in as many innovative things as possible, but still fails on some levels. The biggest offenders: length (I did a ghost run on this game at the highest difficulty and it took me less than 20 hours and I'm usually slow at videogames especially when I'm sneaky), and the actual stealth aspect. Blink feels like it's almost a hack. It's fun to use, but it makes it way too easy to sneak around guards. The guards themselves are not that threatening when you fight them since you have so much equipment available and it's so easy to exploit the AI with your arsenal of powers. Corvo is what you would get if you gave Garrett super strength and magic powers. It sounds really awesome in practice, but it makes him nigh-invincible even on the highest difficulty where guards are supposed to inflict fatal damage. Don't get me wrong, this game absolutely delivers in terms of gameplay. My entire time playing it, I was enjoying everything even if it felt like I was in god-mode by using the powers. The sword-play is probably one of the funnest parts of playing this game and probably the best use I've seen of it in any videogame. One thing I felt was handled extremely well was the world-building and the story (mostly.) I did feel like the way your actions directly affected the story was a great choice on the developers' part and I loved exploring Dunwall and reading all the books with the back-stories on Dunwall. Which is why I was so disappointed that this game was so short: it feels like there's a whole world I have yet to explore, in fact it feels like the game covered a microscopic part of what the world of Dishonored was built up to be. Long-story short: Fun game that delivers for the most part, but tries packing in too much innovation at once and it left me feeling a little unsatisfied (i.e. I wouldn't recommend buying it at $60.00 like I did.) Great game that I'd recommend to everyone? Absolutely. GOTY material? In my opinion, probably not. That being said, I'm definitely going to play the game again and this time I'm going to try to beat it without using any powers which, if you want the feel of a real stealth game, is what I'd recommend you do.