Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dishonored is Pretty Good and Other Things I Didn't Think I'd Say

     After initial disappointment, and problems getting immersed in the experience, I finally finished Dishonored and... I'm in a weird place right now.

I can't outright retract everything I've said to this point regarding the story, the setting, the characters or the gameplay, but I would amend some of them to reflect the fact that I've finished the game.

Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but I just don't see enough in this game to warrant a rating of 8 or higher. Dishonored is a good game with inventive gameplay and a lot of potential, but the story and characters fall flat, as does the largely forgettable world.

I love the fact that the way you play the game affects the world. If you play with reckless abandon, raising every alarm and littering the streets the bodies of any and everyone you cross paths with, the world reacts, particularly with the ending.

I chose to play in a decidedly bloodthirsty manner while still saving Emily from death. But then her path to and reign as empress will be forever tainted by the pile of corpses you leave in your wake.

The alternate endings are great, but they don't make the story any better.

As previously mentioned, the story and characters just don't stand out in any way.

First, the characters.

No effort is made to hash out their motivations, why they're important, or make it so you can distinguish one from the others. Aside from Pendleton, I don't know that I can recall any of the character's names. The game seemed more interested in the titles of Lord Protector, High Overseer and Spymaster without giving any importance to the people occupying the positions.

I think it would have been wise to give the player reason to believe Corvo was as important as the game makes a point of telling you in the first five minutes rather than all but shouting, "CORVO IS IMPORTANT."

Seemingly all at once, we're given brief and vague introductions to Anton Sokolov, High Overseer Campbell,  the Empress and her daughter Emily.

The player is supposed to care about the Empress and Emily without knowing a single thing about either one, like how Corvo came to be in service of the crown, or possibly give him some back story of his own.

I get the idea of giving players the freedom to mold Corvo's personality through their own actions, but it is impossible to feel any connection to him without knowing the first thing about him. If the character didn't have a name, perhaps it would be easier to forgive the lack of back story, giving the player the chance to really feel as though they are the one in the thick of things.

But the lack of real introduction to the world or the characters leads to a disconnect between player and experience from the jump.

The story lacks cohesion. Yes there is a single narrative, the Empress is killed, Emily is taken, Corvo is blamed and a group of rebels break him out of jail and use him to topple the people who profited from the upheaval of the Empress's death, blah blah blah...

That narrative is needlessly broken up by a mission progress screen that details the coins you picked up, the bone charms and runes you collected as well as the level of chaos based on the playing style, side missions completed, alarms raised.

After each mission, you're taken back to a sort of hub world, a pub and a few surrounding buildings that work as a rebel base of operations.

I understand the purpose, the function, of a clandestine location, but there is no connection to the rest of the world. You return after each mission and depart to another location.

Rather than build familiarity with a place that will be important later in the game, it serves as a frustrating lull between action, whether it be stealthy or brutal.

Maybe open world games have left me jaded, but freedom is supposed to be the point of the game. So why limit players to separate, segmented locations that feel like individual levels rather than a cohesive world?

I don't want to repeat myself with this retrospective, so I'll move on to the point of it all.

Even though I was largely disappointed with the overall game, I found myself wanting to start over and play again with the knowledge of the progression of powers, as well as the way the world progresses depending on the approach to enemies, whether it be killing them all or just knocking them out.

With no segue whatsoever, I'll mention one of the bigger gripes I had with the game.

I honestly didn't know what to expect in terms of enemies. There are the standard guards, which come in various shapes, sizes and abilities, ranging from standing sword and gun guards, to better sword and gun guards, to guards with things that prevent use of abilities.

All of them were okay, but the big draw was the tallboy.

I was expecting the tallboy to be a sort of random encounter type of enemy that would come out when an alarm was raised as sort of a final solution to crimes and misdeeds. Instead, they became their roaming patrol of frustration.

Combat can get a bit frenetic, and the tall boy provides a frustratingly small target being perched on those cyber-stilts with shields on all sides. Avoiding their attacks while fighting back can sometimes be difficult, and not in the way that provides a sense of accomplishment when it's over.

The closest comparison I can think of is the Big Daddy from BioShock.

Big Daddies were a threat alluded to throughout the beginning of the game building up to the first encounter. There was no build to the tallboy. You just enter a level and it happens to be there.

Felling a Big Daddy is rewarding, both in overcoming the beast as well as reaping the benefits of Adam taken from the Little Sisters and whatever ammo and loot he drops himself.

Tallboys seem to be devoid of useful items, even though they wield explosive arrows. I think it would have been cool to have been able to knock the guard out of the tallboy and then be able to drive/use the stilty things yourself.

Now for the part where I don't sh*t on the game!

The shining feature of the game is the freedom the powers provide.

By the end of the game, rather than feeling overpowered, there is a sense of opportunity. Depending on your approach, you can either become a master of stealth or devise wickedly creative ways to dispose of guards and enemies.

It is a bit of a pain to track down the runes that allow for leveling up of abilities, but it is definitely worth it to create the perfect killing machine or shadow.

By far the best ability is Bend Time. It is precisely as it sounds.

At first, you can only slow time, but level up and you can stop time altogether, albeit for a shorter period of time.

There is something so satisfying about activating the ability just as an enemy fires their gun, giving you the unique opportunity to step out of the way of the bullet, then (assuming you've unlocked the ability) possess the firing enemy and move him into the path of the very bullet he just fired.

Or the ability, via purchased device, to rewire electrical fields to disintegrate enemies rather than have them disintegrate you, or rewiring the security towers to fire on enemies rather than you.

I've spent far too much time thinking about this, but I feel like I've said most of what needed to be said.

Big picture: I would absolutely recommend the game, particularly to anyone who didn't have it on their radar. I wish I had been one of those people, so my high expectations wouldn't have played such a big role in the overall feeling of the experience being incomplete.

I wouldn't mind a sequel, but I don't know that I'd be so keen on picking it up on release day.

The problem I have now is the weird compulsion to replay with a ghost approach to see how much different the world is when I'm not jamming a sword into everything.

I won't be doing that anytime soon though. Too many other games to play...

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