Dishonored DLC – Knife of Dunwall EP2: “Low” Chaos

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 2, 2017

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 31 comments

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In this episode we were talking about the end of the Brown Age of videogames, when game developers finally stopped acting like mud and concrete dust were the magic ingredients to photorealism. Chris mentioned that Mass Effect 3 and Max Payne 3 both came out the same year. This created the strangest sensation of temporal confusion for me. It was like the time-based version of looking at an optical illusion. I can’t believe those games were contemporary.

If you’d asked me to guess, I’d have said Max Payne 3 came out at least two or three years before Mass Effect 3. I’d also have said that Borderlands 2 was much closer to the present – perhaps 2014 or so. But nope, it was also a 2012 title.

I think the reason for this is that when I can’t remember a specific release date I tend to judge the age of a game by how long it’s been since it was relevant. Certain crazy people were still banging on about Mass Effect 3 as recently as last year. Meanwhile, Max Payne sort of vanished from the conversation right after it came out. It wasn’t a bad game, but it was the equivalent of one of those movies you forget the day after you see it. The lack of serious flaws made it less memorable than the frustrating and divisive Mass Effect 3.

Regardless of my inability to put games on the timeline, I do think that 2012 makes for a pretty good endpoint of the Brown Age. (To be fair, the problem wasn’t really “brown” so much as a lack of saturation and contrast. But “Low Saturation and Contrast Age” isn’t nearly as catchy.) It does seem to be when things began to really brighten up. 2012 was better than 2011, which was better than 2010.

It’s not that I want every game to be some Willy Wonka funhouse of of colors. A low contrast game is fine if that’s what the tone calls for. The problem was that it was used thoughtlessly, to the point where it made games visually indistinguishable, frequently boring, and sometimes even confusing to play. I think we’re in a pretty good place right now, art-wise. So that’s nice.


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31 thoughts on “Dishonored DLC – Knife of Dunwall EP2: “Low” Chaos

  1. Daniel England says:

    Hey Josh, next time you’re choking someone out, try pressing the “move backward” key at the same time.

  2. Benjamin Hilton says:

    Wow, Props that the game just lets you kill Billy whenever you want. Even in the original game I appreciated that you didn’t have to fight Daud, you could avoid him, choke him out or even just sneak assassinate him and skip the whole boss fight.
    But now I really want to know how the game handles you killing Billy in the long term.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      I think that was the long term, wasn’t it? Instant game over. So, as long as it’s going to get. Don’t quote me on this, though – I don’t know the games well, but I seem to recall the main game doing similar if you did something really egregious like brutally slaughtering an ally or jumping on a policeman’s head.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        Aw, It wasn’t clear in the video, I thought Josh manually quit to the loading screen. I was kinda hoping some rando would take her place, and that he would be really afraid of you going all Darth Vader on him for failing like his predecessor.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Biff the Understudy…

  3. Christopher says:

    Speaking of Mass Effect 3, I wonder if it was a design choice to go low contrast as much as it was something people weren’t able too. Their engine change to Frostbite 3 seems to have done wonders for them. Contrast Andromeda and Inquisition with the previous games and the difference in the environments is just night and day. Check out Redcliffe comparisons between Dragon Age 1 and 3 specifically, it’s amazing what some greenery can do to a place. Their deserts even have blue skies now.

    Either way, it’s difficult to go back to that age of games in a way. Metal Gear Solid 4 still looks really good, and Bioware still haven’t made one face that’s better than any face in MGS4. But it came out during that period, so it’s brown and sepia and bloom all the way. Metal Gear Solid V knocks it out of the park, and not just because of the pure graphical improvements, but because of strong color choices.

    1. Lachlan the Mad says:

      I recently played ME3, and while the contrast wasn’t too bad, the colour selection was absolutely awful. Teal and orange, teal and orange everywhere.

      1. Christopher says:

        The lighting is awful. I don’t remember noticing it in 1 and 2, but in 3 there are several environments with really harsh, ugly lighting. Earth, for one. Meanwhile, Tuchanka is brown skies on brown earth with a dash of brown ruins and a few brown plants, too.

        1. Lachlan the Mad says:

          The Omega DLC was by far the worst for both colour and lighting. Nothing but dark teal with occasional smatterings of dark orange.

          1. Christopher says:

            On the other hand, I remember the Citadel DLC looking really good. It’s a lot of dark buildings with neon signs and lights, granted. But it was cool, a future city at night.

            On another note, I think this phenomenon goes for games that weren’t just brown, but which wallowed in one color entirely while a later sequel went full color. I remember Bioshock 1 as mostly green-blue, or dark. Bioshock Infinite, on the other hand, is a beautiful, well-lit rainbow of every color under the sun.

            1. Lachlan the Mad says:

              Yeah, but is there anything that the Citadel DLC doesn’t do better than the rest of ME3?

              1. Christopher says:

                Good point.

  4. guy says:

    I don’t think Daud was planning to frame Corvo; he wasn’t expecting Corvo to show and sent the Lord Regent an angry letter asking for more money because dealing with her elite bodyguard was not in the agreement.

    Okay, stashing those guys next to the Weeper corpse should totally count as two murders.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I was going to mention this as well; doesn’t the Spymaster, when you first reach the empress, say something like “Full of surprises as usual, Corvo. You’re back a few days earlier than we expected.” (I’ve never played the game myself.) It seems like Corvo showing up was entirely unexpected and a happy accident for them (by giving them someone to frame).

      1. Adrian Burt says:

        You are 100% correct. Corvo showed up before they expected. Originally they were going to murder the Empresses while her bodyguard was away and then publically blame it on Druad and his assassins while in practice they leave him alone. Corvo showing up was a happy accident.

  5. I call it the “dust” age because everything in those games looks it was lit through a dust cloud.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    By the way,Chris,have you played through the second game properly yet,or just as corvo?

  7. Thomas says:

    I wonder if that brown time period will be remembered as a bad time for game quality in general?

    1. Matt Downie says:

      It’ll probably be a byword for quaint old-fashioned games, the same way we view sepia-tone photography.

  8. Andy_Panthro says:

    The “I did a bad thing, and now I’m sad” motivation isn’t a great start for me, and there’s a definite lack of a driving motivation until a bit later on when you get more information.

    The art style is absolutely wonderful though, and coupled with the generally good and open level design, it really makes for a great game. Very similar to good Hitman levels, I suppose.

    Also, talking of brown level design, I’ve been watching Mumbles LP of Dragon Age 2 recently (still catching up, on about ep.17), and wow is that game a great example of what you guys are talking about. What makes things worse is, there are occasional parts where there’s more contrast, or more colour, or interesting things, and then it slides back into monotony. It seems like the characters (and some of the quests) are the only reason to play it (or watch someone else, in my case).

  9. Joe Informatico says:

    2012 sounds about right for the end of the Brown Age. had a great image about the state of gaming in 2011 (“We hope you like looking down gun sights!”) that probably marked the peak of that trend.

    1. Christopher says:

      Prey 2, huh? Far Cry 3 is on that beautiful green tropical island, too. I’m not sure that image is very representative of the brown stuff specifically.

  10. Mike says:

    Does this game give any exciting extra content or acknowledgement for low-chaos play beyond just different end-screen like first one did?

    If not, I’m a bit puzzled about why you fixated so much on going through it in the most boring way:

    – It’s probably not roleplay – iirc Daud was depicted as ruthless assassin in the first game, and this one starts with him murdering the emperess as well. He’s also voiced, so it’s probably not self-insert thing.

    – It can’t be for gameplay’s sake, as you all ack that it’s way more fun to use all the emergent murder-systems.

    – It can’t be for some end-screen, because who cares, it’s probably just a screen with 10s of narration (only played first one, going by what was there). It doesn’t affect anything in the other games (can’t import saves).

    – It can’t be for any kind of “playing game realistically” reason, as a) it’s a very surreal setting anyway b) you’re still killing all these people (for proper anesthesia you’d need a lot more effort, and you ack that as well).

    – It can’t be because “game mechanics push you to” – clearly most fun systems are high-chaos ones here.

    – Afaik, playing high-chaos makes game more challenging and fun later on, when more rats and stuff appear and start eating people!

    – You can blow up the whole whaleyard by playing chaos! Come effin’ on!

    So can someone maybe address this gaping plot-hole in the lets-play itself?
    Why deliberately crpple the experience for no apparent reason?
    Is it like one of these “let’s play Dark Souls on a Guitar Hero controller” things?

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      As Super-Assassin and leader of the Dunwall Assassins Club, from a story perspective it does feel like you should really be sneaking into the area, doing your murdering, and escaping without anyone knowing you were there.

      Of course with the game mechanics, you’re going to be exploring the whole area, picking up all the stuff that’s not nailed down, and having fun. Some people do find the sneaking, waiting and not leaving a trail of the dead all part of the fun though. While others prefer to use the full range of tools available.

      I was always half-and-half, preferring to be as silent and sneaky as possible, but having no issue with killing people as I went through.

      There are a few changes in the main game depending on your choice of low or high chaos, including lots of the final level. No idea about the DLC, because I only played through once on high chaos.

      1. Mike says:

        I’d say that “silent and sneaky” – while clearly resulting in low-chaos – is rather orthogonal to the chaos system for most playthroughs, including how Josh plays – there is still exactly same trail of bodies all the way through the level, except you only use 1-2 tools out of 20 to create it, which is why it reminds me of “with one hand tied behind my back” extra-challenge kind of thing.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats why I hated the morality system of this game.It was clashing so bad with both the story,and real life ethics.Somehow,killing a person quickly and painlessly was chaotic,but putting them in a situation far worse than death was bad,and increased the overall chaos of the city.So stupid.

  11. Phantos says:

    All this talk of the “brown age” reminded me of something:

    Spec Ops: The Line. That game is dark. A lot of games try to be edgy and gritty and important on a superficial level, but they don’t scar the soul. One of the most bleak video games I’ve ever played, AND it’s one of the more striking games to look at. It had more than one colour. It managed not to look flat or murky or uninteresting. It’s like people involved actually put some thought into how their game looks.

    I don’t know why so many people, in the industry and in message boards thought that games HAD to look bland, out of some misguided belief that that would make everyone take them seriously. That only stupid baby games had colour or looked good. Maybe they heard that snobs like black and white movies, and thought that would be a shortcut to legitimacy.

    It’s disappointing when that still pops up even today. The whole point(or so I thought) of making a game seemingly grimdark srs is to elicit an emotional response, but a totally desaturated, shallow, lifeless art-style is just… yawn-inducing.

    This is why I almost considered buying the Skyrim re-release. I hear they actually put some colour and lighting in there. It doesn’t change any of that game’s stupid problems, but at least there’s something to look at now. Immediately, I am willing to give it more of a chance now that I know some real effort was put into its’ presentation, years later.

    1. Mike says:

      If some color-filtered game shipped the filter with on/off toggle in the main menu above “Exit” option (i.e. where everyone bumps into it), had it default to “color filter = on”, would’ve been interesting (and maybe quite indicative, one way or the other) to see the stats on how many people bothered to flip it.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Depends on the filter.For example,while many disliked the yellow tint in human revolution,I liked it because it meshed well with how you were supposed to see stuff through jensens artificial eyes.The sickly green filter in fallout 3 on the other hand,that can get the fuck off.

        1. Mike says:

          Indeed, guess I kinda missed the point that it’s still a deliberate (if somewhat lazy) art choice after all, not just some kind of graphics option.

        2. Phantos says:

          I must begrudgingly admit that the yellow filter in Human Revolution did help that game stand out, at least compared to its’ sequel.

          But I still stand by the statement that it was overused(I like the SW crew’s suggestions during their season of HR, where they suggested a different colour filter depending on the “level” they were in).

          It feels like game devs are always asking us: “Would you like 1 colour all of the time, or 0 colours ever?”

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