For those of you who picked it up Dishonored during the Steam Summer Sale, congratulations! You are now a licensed assassin with a vendetta against a usurper and are searching for the ten year old daughter of the empress you failed to save.
Here’s the Top Tier Tactics review of Dishonored.
A mask won’t hide these scars
Like my Bioshock Infinite review, and all reviews going forward, I’m going to start this article discussing where Dishonored falters or outright fails, and it actually does both in a separate cases. Worst news first: Moral Choice System plus Crappy Ending Cutscene.
Morals, who needs ’em?
There’s no need for a moral choice system in Dishonored. Moreover, the vast majority of the abilities available to the player are expressly for murdering people. If I want the “best” ending to your game, Arkane Studios, don’t give me the ability to turn people into ash when I kill them if I’m not supposed to kill them. More importantly, don’t make everyone angry at me for killing people when by definition assassins kill people.
I could go on about all the little things that make the moral choice system in Dishonored unnecessary, but without making this a rant-review, I’ll mention the worst offense. The only indication that you’re being “evil” or “overly sadistic” is a little tick mark at the end of every level denoting High vs. Low chaos. From a story standpoint, I get that killing a lot of people in a plague wracked city would make things worse, destabilizing the community and generally is generally a bad thing. But if it affects the final outcome of the game, the player needs to know it’s a major factor, not just one of two words at the end of each level. I like that the final level can’t change the built up chaos rating, however. So if you went all nice-guy, you can go all sadomasochist and rack up a huge body count.
And if you did indeed go for the high chaos option, not only will the final level be at night, but the boat guy will scold you mightily. If you were a good person, he pats you gently, but either way he leaves and is never heard from again. Mostly because the final level dovetails directly into the ending cutscene. Which is shit.
The Outsider, the source of your magical abilities, does a nice little voice over detailing the results of your actions, says good-bye, and lets the credits roll. It’s all one big missed opportunity. A final confrontation a la the Half-Life G-Man (on whom the Outsider is strongly based), or even a short final level allowing players to explore the world they helped save (or destroy) would have bee more than welcome. But no, we’re met with a set of still images in the Outsider’s dimension that, beyond giving a little more insight into how he sees the world, is less than underwhelming.
Some worlds aren’t built, and some fights aren’t fair
Dunwall is an interesting take on the Victorian going-through-apocalypse setting. Crippled by plague and in a state of political and social upheaval after the death of its Empress, one wouldn’t peg it for City 17 with an 1800’s coat of paint. And yet here we are, hearing a PA system mimicking Doctor Breen, a power structure similar to the Combine minus their Vortigaunt foes, and an end goal of fixing everything by making things worse. Nothing beats removing the entire existing power structure and replacing it with a ten year old and her recently-pardoned-assassin father-figure.
Then there’s the stealth/combat side of things. While I understand that stealth is the main mechanic in Dishonored, sometimes I just want to be a superpowered killing machine and I’ve got the tools to do it. Of course, though, you’re only given enough health to take on a couple regular guards at once, not to mention the power-draining Overseers and heavy-guards who have laser beam aim and more health than ten of their lesser underlings. Early on, killing sprees might last an entire level, but by game’s end you’ve no chance and the sound of an alarm might as well be the sound of your funeral bells.
I’m aware that health potions and other health recovering items are plentiful, and you can hide to make the guards go away. Still, I wish there were more opportunities for outright badassery rather than hit and run tactics. I will say the stealth works fairly well, but some enemies see you when they shouldn’t and going on the lamb can be a major difficulty if the game decides it wants to screw with you. Lastly, I think the whole, “Oh, your enemies can negate your powers” bit is unneeded. Mistakes are costly enough (unless you don’t mind loading a previous save), and dying because of what I’d call an unfair enemy isn’t fun. The lore behind the mechanic is a little weak as well, but that’s a minor quibble.
Every decision is your own
I could spend another thousand words going running the gamut of little things that make Dishonored a very good game, but I’m keeping this last section short for the sake of emphasis, and because the topic not something I can do justice to in writing.
Every level in Dishonored, save maybe the final one, is approachable from any direction you the player can dream up. Stealth is of course the highest priority, but the freedom Arkane gave in dealing with your foes is to be admired. Escape routes are plentiful, hides even more so. The Blink power gives access to unexpected locations to exploit guard patrol routes, and I’d wager the way I handled a situation is nothing like what the next guy went through. Like I said above, I don’t care much about the kill or spare moral choice system in the game, but a lot of the time not killing your target opens up parts of the level you’d have otherwise missed.
The best part of the open-ended level design Arkane’s trust in their players. Too many games nowadays think players need their hands held through even the simplest of tasks. Even Far Cry 3, one of the best open worlds I’ve seen in a long time, was inundated with “Go here, do this, no not that way, this way.” That a mod like Ziggys Mod even exists tells me Ubisoft thought little of their players’ intelligence.
Arkane understood that anyone playing their game was intelligent enough to navigate a map, and if they weren’t, they’d learn quickly enough. They mention the open-ended nature once and once only, at the beginning of the first mission, and never broached the subject again. Seasoned players would pick up on the fact quickly, but neophytes might not, and for most people, showing is far better than telling. Once revealed, it need not be repeated, because the environments tell more than enough. Something like Crysis 3 fails because Crytek created a level of pseudo-openness, where everything is essentially linear with the word “freedom” painted on top. Dishonored is like a circle, always moving but easily navigable.
I’ll stop now before I get started on the modern shooter single-player. Toraka would have my head, I’m sure.