Dishonored 2

By Shamus
on Oct 3, 2017
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I had a strange relationship with the original Dishonored. The game left me feeling empty and indifferent. There weren’t any huge problems with it. Sure, I had a small list of nitpicks. (The intro was too perfunctory to set up the drama, the outsider was BORING, and powers were designed so that having fun was at odds with what the player wanted to be doing within the story.) But I don’t think any of those problems were great sins. It was basically fine. I was never able to articulate why the game left me feeling cold, which is annoying since that’s my job.

Technically, I should love this series. A 451 style game? That’s my jam. Victorian steampunk with a splash of magic? I love that so much I wrote a novel in that style. Colorful art style that doesn’t aim for phtorealism? I’d been harping about the need for more of that for almost a decade. Silent protagonist? I’m like, one of the last people on Earth that’s still into those.

The voice acting was stellarAside from the outsider, which I’ve always blamed on the director more than the performer., the environments looked great, and the gameplay was varied. It’s like an entire development studio got together and spent a couple of years specifically tailoring a game to my particular tastes, and when it came out I said, “Meh. It’s alright I guess.” And then I went back to playing Borderlands 2 or Saints Row 3 or whatever. I felt like an asshole for not loving this game, and I couldn’t even explain why I was so apathetic.

But here we are. The sequel is out. I love the gameplay, but I’m still not into the world or the story. I still don’t love it the way my personal tastes might suggest I ought to. I’m going to take a crack at figuring out why that is, but first let’s talk about…

Gameplay

I really miss the light-based visibility mechanics of Thief. Stealth in Dishonored is based entirely on posture and line-of-sight.

I really miss the light-based visibility mechanics of Thief. Stealth in Dishonored is based entirely on posture and line-of-sight.

For the record: I’ve played through this game six times. The first as Emily, making whatever choices felt convenient and sensible. (This seems to be the intended experience.) The second as Corvo, killing everyone for no reason like a maniac. (Kind of hilariously stupid.) The third as Corvo again, but this time not killing anyone at all. (More frustrating than fun.) Then I tried New Game+. (Kind of toothless. A lot of stuff doesn’t carry over to the new game.) Then I tried a no powers run. (Felt like a really strange shooter.) And finally, I did a collect-everything-while-reading-the-wiki run. (Ugh. This wasn’t as fun as it should have been, for reasons I’ll gripe about below.)

The original Dishonored suffered from the problem where using the fun powers was the path to the bad ending, and getting the good ending required playing in a very boring way. Playing loud and deadly was more interesting and varied than painstakingly sneaking around and only using one or two abilities. People defended this along thematic lines saying the game was trying to “tempt you” into playing loud. That works as a justification, but I think stuff like that works much better in the context of a short contained experience and less so when you’re talking about a 12 hour game. Somewhere around hour three you’ve gotten the point and you’re still not having a good time. Moreover, “doing the right thing is hard” isn’t exactly a profound revelation.

While we can’t know the author’s intent, I don’t think the dichotomy between “immediate fun” and “satisfying payoff” was at all intentional. I favor the more mundane explanation that the team spent their development resources making sure the empowering and lethal mechanics worked well, and the slow-paced stealth systems wound up a little short-changed as a result. That’s not a horrible sin or anything. In fact, that’s the smart way to allocate things. You know the publisher wants an action game and you know marketing is going to focus on the most showy elements of the experience when selling the game. Willing or not, every player will find themselves in a fight at some point, but not every player will have the patience to sneak around and use the quickload when things go wrong.

Dishonored 2 balances this out, to the point where I think lethal vs. nonlethal is now an aesthetic choice rather than a practical one. Players trying to deal with guards in a merciful way have lots of powers to work with and lots of options to choose from. If you find yourself “tempted” to shank someone it’s probably because they’re an evil character and you want to hurt them, not because you’re bored and frustrated with this particular room.

You’ve got varied powers, varied enemies, varied kinds of obstacles, varied AI behaviors, and lots of emergent behaviors between all of them. If you’re just slinking around in the medium-light handing out free naps then you might not realize how complex this game can get. Even on my fifth trip through the game, I was still finding new behaviors and interactions.

Levels are larger and offer more variety than last time around. It might not reach the lofty heights of the original Deus Ex, but it’s an impressive step in the right direction. If it wasn’t for Prey 2017, this would be the most open and non-linear FPSPlease, let’s not haggle over the definition of First-Person Shooter. I know the genre boundaries are a mess, but that’s not my fault. in years. The new Deus Ex games have a habit of using chokepoints to make sure you trigger their pre-rendered cutscenes, but Dishonored 2 is happy to give you lots of freedom to move around, even if it means you might miss out on content.

Art Style

I love this end-of-game image because it shows how you dealt with each possible assassination target.

I love this end-of-game image because it shows how you dealt with each possible assassination target.

The art style is even stronger this time around. Last time I felt like a few of the characters looked a bit too similar, but here every major character is distinct and striking.

The designers have put an amazing amount of work into establishing and maintaining visual continuity and verisimilitude. Sure, these are videogame levels with deliberately crafted pathways for the player to traverse, but the game is designed to feel like a living place. Level transitions aren’t magic teleporters that shift you to a new skybox. The skyline maintains distinct landmarks so you can always tell where you’ve been and how far you’ve come. From the deck of the Dreadful Wale you can look out over the coastline and see the locations you’ll be visiting during the course of the game.

Gripes

This screen is so helpful. It would be even better if it was available DURING a mission.

This screen is so helpful. It would be even better if it was available DURING a mission.

The game keeps track of stuff like “people killed” and “times you were noticed”, and it recognizes these at the end of a level. Sometimes your foes will change behavior based on these, with perfect stealth leading to your foes letting their guard down. There’s even a few achievements keyed to these things.

Which makes it baffling that you can’t check your stats during the level. You’ll play a level for two hours, painstakingly sneaking past every guard. Then you get to the end and the game claims you were spotted. Where did I mess up? Does it count when a non-combatant sees you? Was it that time someone “saw” me at the same moment I ran them through? Oh well. I guess I’ll replay the entire two hours, no knowing what I did wrong or how to prevent it happening again.

Did I get all the collectible paintings? Get to the end of the mission to find out. Did I miss any blueprints? Get to the end of the mission to find out. A guard blundered into a bloodfly nest and died while looking for me – is that death going to count against me? Get to the end of the mission to find out. I destroyed a robot, does that count as a “kill”? Get to the end of the mission to find out. I saw the “you’ve been spotted” icon but did not hear the audio cue (or vice versa) and I’d like to know if I was actually spotted. Get to the end of the mission to find out.

And so on.

Again, this is stuff I need to know BEFORE I get to the end of a two-hour mission.

Again, this is stuff I need to know BEFORE I get to the end of a two-hour mission.

There are countless ambiguities, edge-cases, emergent situations, and cascading effects, so it’s inexcusable that such important information is withheld until the mission is complete. The only way to avoid the disappointment of needing to re-do a mission is to quickload the game whenever you’re in doubtAnd even then I’ve had problems where the game blamed me for deaths I never saw.. The problem is that quickload takes about 10 seconds. Earlier this year, Prey had instant quickload. Lots of other games do too.

I really enjoyed hunting for paintings. And I mean actually hunting for them, not just reading the wiki. The problem is, I’d like to know when I’ve got them all so I know when to stop looking. But the way it’s designed, Dishonored 2 has the three-hit-combo of:

OCD goals + ambiguous / delayed feedback + flow-breaking load times

This is a source of much annoyance and frustration. Giving the player feedback during the mission would alleviate this mess, and make it more fun to chase after some of the collect-a-thon goals.

Also – and I realize this comes off as incredibly petty – I have no idea why all the menus are designed with every single option in a different font, but it drives me crazy. If this is some reference to the in-game chaos system then I guess I’m just too dense to appreciate this melding of narrative themes and interface typography. It just looks goofy to me. (And it sort of stands out, since everything else looks so good.)

Why Don’t I Feel Anything?

As with the first game, a curmudgeon takes you to each mission via boat.

As with the first game, a curmudgeon takes you to each mission via boat.

As with the first game, we’ve got a story with plotting, betrayals, and strange alliances. You can kill or spare your enemies. You can dig for the truth or you can just do what’s expedient. Characters are reactive to both choices and behavior. Old characters return, new characters are introduced, and the world of Dishonored feels larger and more complicated than ever.

And like the first game, I didn’t really connect with any of it on a narrative level. I don’t really feel strongly towards the bad guy, I don’t feel invested in the good guys, and very few of the characters interested me.

It’s not like this story suffers from the problems I’m usually whining about. I didn’t notice any glaring plot holes. None of the contrivances yanked me out of the story. Everyone had coherent motivation and all of the important characters had their motivations revealed in dialog rather than dumped into audiologs and lore books. The pacing of the story is solid and none of the missions felt like filler. On paper, this looks like something I should love.

The only serious flaw is the hurried opening. The game has barely established a status quo before everything gets upended, which means the villain’s big act of treachery doesn’t feel particularly revenge-worthy. She takes away a kingdom I know nothing about, kills servants and friends I’ve never met, imprisons allies I’ve barely spoken to, and destroys a reputation I have no reason to care about. This is fine in your typical broad-strokes revenge story, but Dishonored 2 is trying to do something a little more nuanced and a little more sophisticated. In a story with this much intrigue, you probably shouldn’t cut corners on the setup.

Nice to meet you, Mrs. Woman-who-will-be-dead-before-gameplay-begins.

Nice to meet you, Mrs. Woman-who-will-be-dead-before-gameplay-begins.

My advice for this game is the same as my advice for the first game:

Give the player an immediate problem to worry about. Give them a goal, and let them spend the first mission trying to achieve that goal. Have friends help them out. Show how valued and respected the player character is. Show the stakes of their struggle. Then just before they achieve their goal, THAT’S when the villain strikes. Snatch their victory away, kill or imprison those allies, and take away their status and power. Let us take control of the character before they’re wronged, so we in the audience feel the wrong rather than simply observe it.

The way the game is designed now, it’s like having the inciting incident happen during the opening credits of a movie. It feels too hurried. Empress Emily loses the throne, and then the story leaves notes and clues around the environment hinting at her life as an empress and what she cared about.

(An example of this done better is Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where you play through an entire mission and meet your allies before the inciting incident happens that sends you down the road to world-saving super-soldierdom. I’m not saying the story of Human Revolution is better than Dishonored 2, I’m just saying it does better at establishing the world before the action begins.)

Given how both Dishonored games begin with a rushed and perfunctory opening, and given how obviously important the world and the story is to the designer, I have to wonder if this isn’t an example of publisher meddling. Maybe the writer wanted a slower opening, but was forced to bow to AAA blockbuster conventions. I don’t know.

Wrapping up

Stop that Emily. You`re going to ruin the upholstery on your throne.

Stop that Emily. You`re going to ruin the upholstery on your throne.

Despite my grumbling, an over-rushed opening isn’t a great sin and I can think of other games that recovered from it. It’s not a serious enough flaw to fully explain why I have so little investment in this story and this world. It’s the biggest flaw I can point to, but it doesn’t really explain why Dishonored 1 isn’t in my list of beloved classics and it doesn’t explain why I didn’t start to care about the story of Dishonored 2 until it was nearly over.

Regardless, the gameplay here is really strong. Stealth feels good. Combat feels good. The puzzles are interesting. The powers are wonderfully varied and inventive. Assuming you’re not inexplicably numb to the story the way I am, then I highly recommend it. And even if you are, I cautiously recommend it.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Aside from the outsider, which I’ve always blamed on the director more than the performer.

[2] Please, let’s not haggle over the definition of First-Person Shooter. I know the genre boundaries are a mess, but that’s not my fault.

[3] And even then I’ve had problems where the game blamed me for deaths I never saw.


A Hundred!A hundred comments! Everybody wins!

From the Archives:

  1. Ranneko says:

    Shamus, you can check your stats, or at least the most important ones noticed, kills, etc mid level

    Stats is an option in the menu. I missed it for ages, actually it was only because Josh checked the stats mid-level in Spoiler Warning that I ever realised.

  2. Daimbert says:

    …but I think stuff like that works much better in the context of a short contained experience and less so when you’re talking about a 12 hour game.

    Wait … that ISN’T a short contained experience [grin]?

    In general, I do consider games that are in the 10 -12 hour range to be short and contained rather than full games, but then RPGs and JRPGs are what I play the most and they tend to be in the 20 – 40 hour range at least, with Persona 5 topping out at 80ish. I looked up what the play times for Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame 2 were and they were about 8 – 10 hours, and they strike me as short and contained, which would mean that if the bad ending is bad enough you’d need SOME kind of strong motivation to take the more chaotic actions because the difference between 10 and 12 hours isn’t all that dramatic most of the time. They may have gone overboard with that for Dishonoured, though (I haven’t played it).

    • Tizzy says:

      The style of the gameplay appears to make a difference. I was glad to see the end of Dishonored 2, a game that I enjoyed enough to replay immediately, and was delighted to discover that Death of the Outsider was shorter (and cheaper). But Witcher 3 with both expansions felt almost too short.

    • Echo Tango says:

      If the activity is long enough that you need to put it down and come back to it, I wouldn’t call it “contained”. Compare books (usually long, and multiple sessions), or movies (short, one sitting). There’s no right length for a game, but something that can be finished in one sitting or evening is a “contained” game; Longer is not.

      • Daimbert says:

        But given that definition I can’t imagine how you could have a short contained game that could possibly do anything like what Dishonoured was trying to do.

        Perhaps it makes more sense to split it into “short” and “contained”. A 12 hour game is probably on the short end for a game, but isn’t necessarily contained. A game like Fatal Frame which is clearly divided up into distinct “nights” is both short and contained, since you can stop after that short, couple hour burst of one night and pick up where you left off without too much difficulty and without having to remember too much of what you did in the previous night.

        It still seems to me like a 12 hour game tops is a short game.

        • Echo Tango says:

          Descriptions like “short”, “medium”, and “long” are very subjective. (“Contained” is a bit more concrete.) It’s probably better if a game is marketed/sold/listed with something like “expected completion time” or “average time spent with the game”. Nothing’s perfect, but it’d be better for the customer I think. :)

          • Ani-kun says:

            It really wouldn’t be. Bethesda already LOVE this tactic (Here are some STAGGERING numbers! — Toddy Boy), and the biggest selling point of Skyrim was its 400 hour play-time statistic. Yeah, 400 hours of boring, repetitive gameplay with very little in the way of coherent narrative to get me invested.

            Basically, if companies were forced to put expected play-times for their games, you can bet your ass they’d all go the Skyrim route and make it as long as possible, meaning padding, filler, and bloat.

            • Ani-kun says:

              Missed the edit window (dear Shamus, pls increase to 30mins, it can take 10+ minutes of further comment reading before an edit to a previous post suggests itself to my brain ;p ), oh well.

              Anyway, might’ve been Fallout 4 that had the ridiculous 400 hour play-time stat in the marketing, now I think about it, but whichever game it was, the point stands.

            • Echo Tango says:

              That’s why I also said “listed” in addition to “marketed”. Steam can list the average play time for a game, right beside all the thumbs. If the game is boring and sloggy, then you can see that before purchasing the game. Even without the play time stat, I can already look at reviews on Steam to get a good feel for a game – either by aggregate number of thumbs ups or thumbs downs, or by looking at a sample of positive or negative reviews, to see what they liked or didn’t like about the game. :)

              • Ani-kun says:

                Mm, fair point, it would be a useful metric on a Steam store page or similar. But I still maintain it would also be instantly used as a marketing tool ;p

  3. Tizzy says:

    Starting the story slowly, with a whole level before unveiling the villain (or more generally, the situation) is a solution that’s been around since at least the first Half-Life’s lab experiment. It’s baffling that they wouldn’t use it.

    Overall, playing the story felt better, in part because the writers wisely gave up on letting us do all of the heavy lifting on the protagonist motivation side by giving us voiced protagonist. (I get what they were going for in 1 letting you pick the exact reasons for Corvo to ally with the conspirators and act mercifully/like a bloodthirsty maniac, but frankly there never was never enough real choice, or anything to latch onto that made a satisfactory rationale in my mind. It was too obvious that having an illegitimate ruler in charge was the least of this world’s problem, for a start.)

    The story still didn’t work for me, though. The bad guys had a lot more depth, I think, but like in 1, I still had to make a point to consider the story as a pretext for the game rather than something to feel comfortable immersing in.

    The main problem is of course the Crown Killer, that feels extremely contrived. Echoing Shamus’s complaints about not giving enough time for the story to set itself up, the CK is given to us from the start, and we’re supposed to buy it without having any of the context that would make the people’s reaction make sense. Why is Emily unpopular? With whom exactly (people or aristocracy)? Why are Emily and Corvo suspected (we know that they could easily do it, but how public is that info)? The biggest issue in all of this is that the CK is an outlandish, counter-productive solution to Emily being unpopular, so it’s very difficult for the player to fit into the just nascent story framework, let alone to think that anyone in Dunwall buys it. And then, after the CK has been painting Dunwall red for months, we flee to Karnaca, and who is the first person we run into? That really challenged my ability to suspend disbelief.

    The other big issue with the story for me was that Delilah’s opening gambit feels so totally disconnected from her/the endgame. The player spends their time in Karnaca dealing with over-ambitious pricks abetting an usurper to further their own interest. Fine. Then we move to Dunwall, and find that the city is completely chaotic and that the chaos is due to Delilah’s complete lack of interest in reigning. On the one hand, it’s pretty cool. You’re coming back where your started, you think you know what’s coming next, and the game yanks your certainly from underneath and forces you to adapt and try to understand what’s really going on. Good. But then fridge logic hits and you ask: was any of this necessary? Or even explainable? What is the connection between the coup and Delilah’s current plan?

    For both points, it feels like the situation is fixable, but that no-one was that interested in doing so. The story is just a pretext, live with it.

  4. Tizzy says:

    Shamus left out the “Bodies found” in the list of baffling, frustrating statistics that I had to give up on tracking early on. I would like to care about it, but there is too little feedback on what I do wrong to improve.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      On the one hand it could be argued that the stats somewhat break the immersion. On the other, I’ve played through Deus Ex: HR three times total, every time going for a no-kill run. I did not get the achievement despite being perfectly sure I did not murder anyone (yes, including the tutorial) and thinking I avoided accidental kills.

      • Ofermod says:

        Did you run into the bug in Tong’s parking garage where a guy sinks into the floor and dies? That was one of my difficulties in getting that.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          I have no idea. if he did I missed it. Anyway, I’m not too bothered really though at the time I did feel a pang of frustration along the lines of “I wish the game communicated this to me at around the point it happened!”

  5. Galad says:

    I started playing the demo, trying to go pure stealth, and it was .. not unfair, I think, but it was still more of a frustration than I would have tolerated. So YMMV, I guess

    • Hector says:

      Having experienced the “joys” of a pure pacifist ghost run, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. And I definitely wouldn’t recommend a no-powers run, as it’s just tedious, plus much of the game is simply blocked without Blink or Far Reach.

      One issue, too, is that if you are doing pacifist/ghost, then exploring anything is agonizing. You’re so often left guessing what’s around a corner, or having to reset after somebody randomly walks in. You can get Dark Vision to solve that problem or sit there watching the patterns forever, but it’s not really fun doing either. Pacifist/Ghost is best done once you’ve gone through the game having fun.

      • DeathbyDysentery says:

        Ghost playthroughs are indeed tedious, but pacifist ones are no worse than regular ones. As Shamus said, the set of mechanics and tools is a lot more well-rounded than in the first game and the number of lethal options is roughly equal to the number of nonlethal options. You can do the slow sneak ‘n’ choke, of course, but you also have the darts, the nonlethal mines, drop attacks, etc… In fact, you can play the whole game as something of a deranged professional wrestler by abusing the slide-tackle/choke slam combo which can knock out any human for instantly and for free if you have good timing and a running start.

        As for powers, while the game is definitely blander without them, I don’t think much of anything is blocked off. On my no powers run, there was a very generous allowance of climbable objects which let me get onto most every scaffold, rooftop, wind generator and windowsill in the game as long as I made good use of the mantling system and made running leaps. Only the highest rafters of the largest buildings were truly inaccessible. It was, of course, much more complicated and dangerous to get everywhere that way.

  6. Olivier FAURE says:

    Regarding the introduction being rushed, I think the devs initially had a longer, more developed introduction where you could talk to the aristocrats, and get a feel of Dunwall, Half-life style, but they scrapped it after getting bad returns from playtesters (I don’t remember what exactly was the problem; probably something about it taking too long before the interesting stuff).

    Although I guess a prologue mission might have worked better than what they tried.

  7. PPX14 says:

    Dishonored always looks to me like Thief (not the reboot) with a ridiculous excess of powers and a less interesting world. Interesting, I suppose Deus Ex is a better comparison – stealth is an option, rather than the theme.

    There’s just something about the look of the world and story that doesn’t seem to interest me much.

    But the variety of short-term outcomes that result from different approaches looks rather amazing.

    • Tinkerton says:

      I think this might be chalked up to too much of the story and worldbuilding being offloaded onto the text items scattered around the world, and too little of it being actually exposited by characters and their dialogue and tone. It’s like there’s two worlds of Dishonored, lore and narrative, and they never seem to meet in the middle in an effective or captivating way.

      The first example that comes to mind is the whole whaling shindig. It’s mentioned in books, it’s mentioned by the heart you carry, it’s being used as a gameplay mechanic (the oil tanks), but I haven’t seen them mentioned by characters or seen characters express their views on it. There’s the whole whale slaughterhouse mission in one of the DLC’s, but it seems to me like more of a backdrop for the same guards with the same dialog and an assassination target that isn’t really that well connected with the whole ordeal – but I might be misremembering.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    I had almost exactly the same problems with the first Dishonoured. Three words: Lack Of Immersion.
    Put me off going near the second.

    Almost all the story beats fell flat:
    -“Oh no, whats-her-name is dead! And someone kidnapped who’s-her-face!” I…guess I care?
    -“Oh, you seem to be the player character. You’ve never met or heard of me before, only been playing 15 minutes, but I’m the Outsider, and I’ve decided to give you magic powers because of reasons. By the way, my voice acting is so bad that you’ll be avoiding all contact with me throughout the game.”
    -Oh, a (PLOT TWIST SPOILER) cliched, inevitable betrayal. That happens during a cutscene, where your character does something they’ve never done in the rest of the game. Wow, I don’t feel railroaded at all.

    Second, the voice acting – I never believed in what any of those people were saying. The Outisder was a particuarly bad, but almost everybody else just sounded bored. That inventor guy comes to mind as another example.
    And the guards talking to each other had all the realism that [insert random comment from pool one here] followed by [insert random response from pool two here] could impart.

    But what really killed the game for me was the sword. Left-click to use the sword in your right hand.
    No, you can’t unequip the sword. What do you mean, a non-lethal run? You never want to use it, and would like to equip some other thing to left-mouse? NEVER! It’s more fun to be one mis-click away from unintentional murder!
    Also, the ‘chokehold’ control is the same as the ‘overly dramatic parry’ button. Have fun getting spotted by guards whilst waving a sword you don’t want to use at all in their face so you can’t do anything for that crucial half-second!

  9. MichaelG says:

    “Lots of other games do to. ” should be “too.”
    “I realize this comes off as incredibly pretty” should be “petty”.

  10. Christopher says:

    Speaking as a person who only knows these games from the Spoiler Warning seasons, I feel pretty much the same about them. Aside from personal taste and pet peeves(I don’t like first person very much for instance), the games look stellar, but they aren’t engaging. I think part of it is playstyle. Sneaking around and not killing anybody gives you a smug sense of moral superiority, but considering the videos I’ve seen of people who are great at the game, jumping around and shanking everyone while time is frozen is endlessly more fun. Part of it for me is that almost every character is either a privileged upper class kind of dick, a victim who has hardened into a dick, or dead. Some are better than others, but overall it’s hard to find characters I can love. On the other hand, the main villains are plain bad. I don’t remember the Dishonored 1 guy at all, and Delilah is completely nontreathening. Mostly because of character design, I think. Maybe don’t make the evil witch look like a weird aunt.

    I also think there’s something about these first person sneaky/shooty games that limit how much you can care about a character. I mean, let’s take Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored 1, Dishonored 2. Let’s put Skyrim in there too, since it’s mostly first person and I played that as a sneaky sniper. I’m an artist, and I don’t think there’s a single character in any of those games besides BI’s Elizabeth who’s face I could draw from memory. Maybe Comstock since they plastered his beard all over the city. You spend a lot of time sneaking around not looking at people or conversing with them, and cutscenes are kept to a minimum. Mostly you either hear them talk at you or pick up audio logs. That’s all well and good for a stabby game that doesn’t wanna waste money on mocap or whatever, but I’m not gonna care about or remember any of these characters minutes after I’m done with them. I spent something like 20 hours of Skyrim with Delphine following me around, and all I remember is that she’s a woman and her name sounds like “dolphin”. That’s why it’s hard for me to care about the next jerk harassing you over the loudspeaker or telling you who they want killed next. You can’t have an engaging story when hardly any of the characters are sympathetic, or even present. Doesn’t help that there isn’t an ounce of levity.

    The games have gotten more fun, though! At least to watch. Dishonored 2 is far above the dlc for 1, which was more fun than 1. Amazing levels, too.

    For the record: I’ve played through this game six times.

    Now that’s some Joseph Anderson-ass levels of dedication.

    • PoignardAzur says:

      I feel like Dishonored did have some fairly strong stories. I don’t think Spoiler Warning gives a fair “look” at Dishonored. They skip books, audiologs, dialogs, etc, that might otherwise pull you into the story.

      Dishonored’s storytelling and characters are heavily based on environmental cues, audiologs, notes, and listening to random peasants, which the Spoiler Warning crew mostly ignores. Kind of like if you did a speed-run of Mass Effect, going directly to the game’s objectives, without taking any side quests or talking to any non-essential character.

      For instance, the second level of D2 is about unraveling the mystery of Doctor Hypatia. At first you hear about what a great Doctor she is; people praising her selflessness and stuff; then you see peasants worrying about her, saying that no-one has been able to contact her, and people are starting to die without her. You get to the hospital, and you see more and more clues of what’s happening: the hospital is controlled by the Duke’s men, they’re not sure what’s going on either, but they’re turning patients away. You start to see creepy details, corpses, bloodflies nests, etc, until you realize that Doctor Hypatia is the Crown Killer, and the Duke has been keeping her isolated to better control her. Which in turns tells you what kind of guy the Duke is (condemns dozens of poor people to die for a minor personal advantage), and what kind of state Serkonos is in.

      It’s a blurry picture that becomes progressively more clear. That kind of storytelling doesn’t work for Spoiler Warning, since they’re only describing the key moments in lumps, when the game is trying to dispense them progressively.

      • Christopher says:

        That’s a resonable criticism of Spoiler Warning as representative for the games, but I did have the same experience/feeling about the characters and story when I was playing Bioshock 1, Bioshock Infinite and Skyrim myself. All the environmental stuff is fine to create context and unravel the mysteries of the world, but it doesn’t build attachment to the characters, at least for me.

        That’s why Bioshock Infinite has my favorite story of the bunch, just because you spend most of it with Elizabeth to hang around with. There’s just such a big difference between going through someone’s stuff and having a conversation with them. And fair’s fair, you do also have conversations with people in Dishonored. But it’s not good enough that I care about them. I need stuff like that little scene where Elizabeth sings while you play the guitar. And if they can’t give that to me, I’d rather they give me less writing than more and just let me infer from the hints, Dark Souls-style.

      • Echo Tango says:

        If the story telling relies on the player finding all (or most) side-characters, NPCs, and audio logs, I don’t think that counts as good story telling. Those things should be enhancing the story that’s already presented in the main scenes, not doing those scenes’ jobs. Same for characterization – if the characters aren’t fleshed out unless you listened to the optional audio logs, that’s poor characterization.

        • Olivier FAURE says:

          I disagree. Different games present different stories, which are intended to be consumed in different manners. It would be unreasonable if, say, the story was incomprehensible unless you’d play the D1 DLCs or read the interquel book (looking at you, TFA), or read the wiki or something, because most people are unlikely to know that.

          But the audiologs and documents are very visible, and some of them have information needed to progress throughout levels, so I think it’s reasonable for the devs to assume that players have found at least some of them; unlike, say, the Codex in Mass Effect, which is kept so out of the way I almost forgot it existed by the end of the game.

          But even aside from that, Dishonored doesn’t just rely on optional logs. The story beats I described for Dr Hypatia’s levels are dispensed through NPCs in the level’s chokepoints; it’s pretty hard to miss them unless you try to. There’s not much more they could have done except lock you in mandatory cutscenes telling you everything you need to know, which is the opposite of what I’m looking for when I play Dishonored.

          Which, I guess, is the main trade-off. The more liberty the player has to explore the environment at their own pace, the fewer scripted sequences you can have.

  11. Ivan says:

    Sooo, is this playable on PC yet? I know it was very broken at launch.

  12. Matt Downie says:

    It’s hard to define a problem when the problem is a lack of a hook.

    To care about the events I’d first need something to make it feel like it mattered. For example, the hope that I could save a person / city / world that I liked and cared about. I don’t think the original Dishonored gave this to me. Or if it did, it didn’t make me feel like my activities were contributing much towards this goal.

    There are probably lots of potential fixes to a problem like that, but no specific obvious one.

  13. Darren says:

    I have a couple of concrete complaints about the Dishonored games:

    1) Bad voice acting. Most of the characters have very flat delivery coupled with very flat American accents. It’s a bad combination, and kind of reminds me of the weirdly hurried dialogue of Far Cry 2. Dishonored 2 is an improvement, but I still think voice direction is a problem (and I have no idea what Vincent D’Nofrio was aiming for in his performance).

    2) Rushed opening. Common complaint, and I think it’s a by-product of the open-ended, mission-based design. They want you to be playing as soon as possible, and the game’s design all but requires a clear-cut, objective-based approach.

    3) Greater interest in world building than character development. The characters and plot are mostly archetypal (both games are basically just spins on The Count of Monte Cristo). The interesting elements of the setting are all tied to the world. The Knife of Dunwall/Brigmore Witches and Death of the Outsider, by virtue of not starring members of the aristocracy, are a bit better at integrating the characters into the setting.

    • Rymdsmurfen says:

      The voice acting is really bad. And it’s really good too.

      The Outsider is painful to listen to; I can only assume they picked Robin Lord Taylor because he looks like The Outsider. And the main antagonist, Delilah, sounds like a Disney villain through all the game’s cutscenes (which completely ruins the writers’ attempts at giving her a redeeming backstory in the middle).

      But then there are some great performances, like Kirin Jindosh and his mechanical soldiers. Sokolov is spot on too. And perhaps best of all is Sam Rockwell’s officer (can’t remember his name), which we — for reasons I don’t understand — only get like six lines from in the beginning of the game. What a waste.

  14. Abnaxis says:

    From my limited involvement with the first game, and the complaints about the second, I feel like most of the beats are rushed in addition to the intro. I don’t really remember any of the assassination targets or other antagonists, and I fee like that’s because there was very little establishing them as anything more than broad strokes before you unceremoniously deal with them.

    It’s like someone is desperately trying to be as narratively efficient as possible, doing their best to absolutely minimize time spent exposition so as to keep the action rolling–which is all well and good, but there’s such a thing as cutting too much in the name of efficiency. The intro is just the most egregious example.

    • Syal says:

      I was thinking the same thing; how many villains have established goals or influence outside of the mission they get killed in? The only DH1 target I remember was Lady ThreeLadies, and have no memory of her motivation.

    • Olivier FAURE says:

      D2 makes some effort to establish the Duke through his rants on the propaganda system (which, honestly, are kind of fun and do paint his character), and Delilah through the whole “uncover how Delilah stole my throne” arc. Hypatia gets some introduction through peasants and environmental storytelling. You meet Pablo and his Howlers a few times before their main mission; same thing for the Overseers. You get to know Billie Lurk and Sokolov a little.

      The museum lady, the Crown Killer and Jindosh are lame and generic, and get very little exposition. Museum lady is “Delilah’s main henchgirl”, Jindosh is “evil scientist who captured Sokolov”. The Crow Killer is “crazy serial killer” plus a cool backstory.

      The Duke’s body double gets almost no exposition, which doesn’t matter because he’s awesome and the little exposition you do get tells you everything you need to know.

      • Entarka says:

        On the other hand, if you get spotted by Jindosh at the beginning (which you will, unless you’re trying to ghost the level) he will talk to you all the time, taunting you and giving little bits of information. Also, his house is amazing. So, for me, Jindosh is one of the most memorable mini-villains of Dishonored 2.

        But.. I agree with what the others said. Exposition relies on books, audiologs, and scripted conversations to spy on. If you play as an impulsive psychopath with you will miss a lot of characterization. So, despite its changes, Dishonored 2 still has an intended way to play: cautious and stealthy.

  15. Hal says:

    I never played either Dishonored game, so I don’t know any more than what I’ve seen here. That said, is it possible the disconnect comes because the game and the story are at odds?

    For example, when I play Skyrim, all of my playthroughs eventually reach a point where I’m not adventuring. I’ve got an hour to play, I turn it on, and I spend the entire time managing my inventory, distributing items to containers, crafting, selling, etc. etc. etc. It’s all in support of the fun part, but I’m doing so much inventory management I can’t get to the actual game of delving dungeons and hitting stuff with swords.

    It doesn’t sound like that specific example applies here, but probably more in the sense you described for the first game, where the fun mechanics were discouraged by the story to get the “good” ending. In this case, it might be more of an issue where the stuff you end up spending most of your time on in the game doesn’t seem related enough to your actual goals, to the story itself, that you feel the connection between them. You’re hunting down paintings and blue prints and grabbing coins and watching emergent behavior do interesting things . . . why am I on this mission again?

    • DeathbyDysentery says:

      I think that is a large part of the problem, but only for some people. Dishonored combines the 0451 urge to maximize resource gains with the collectithon urge to leave no collectible behind, and the result of this is that you can spend the majority of your time looting and scrounging and barely any at all actually doing your objectives.

      The kicker is that this is entirely psychological. There’s no need or reason to collect even a majority of the runes or money in the game. You can easily get by on just the resources you happen to come across as you move through the level, which means it is feasible to always focus on the objectives and only the objectives. Of course, most gamers want to maximize their power, which means they’ll have the urge to stick around until they have every rune and most of the money. This isn’t helped by the post-level summaries which tell you everything you’ve missed. For some people, those aren’t fun statistics so much as nagging reminders that they haven’t done as well as they could have.

      I’ve said it before on this site (even in this very thread), but Dishonored can become an unnecessarily boring and samey game if you focus too much on collecting. There is so much collecting to be done in the game that it can drown out the rest of the experience. This is especially true on repeat playthroughs, where, since you already know where everything is, you don’t even really get the joy of discovering cleverly hidden caches.

  16. Naota says:

    I’m not sure if this is the root cause of the story falling flat for you, but… Dishonored games have zero emotional range. Literally everything is drab, ugly, and faintly disaffecting, and the lack of contrast hurts my investment severely. Even last-minute betrayals feel like just a matter of course, and nothing makes me want to learn more about the characters or setting.

    You need to gain something to lose something, and you need to have something to want to hold on to it. Dishonored doesn’t give that to you. It’s actively difficult to imagine what everyday life is like in Dunwall, or what anyone does when they aren’t engaged in mission-relevant work/suffering; it feels more like a ruin than a city.

    If I might indulge in the customary Dark Souls comparison, Dark Souls also takes place in a dying and hopeless-seeming world, but a colourful one as well. Not everybody you encounter wails and laments how bad things are, and not every area is the same picture of opulent ruin. There are hopeful characters, obsessive characters, weird characters and oddly straightforward characters. There are tragic heroes, cunning tricksters, and entertaining madmen. In the game’s seeming darkness you can find a lot of levity and strangeness – and a bit of hope as well.

    The same thing is true of the original Thief games, which are basically a love letter to gothic fiction… and the same issues that plague Dishonored hit the Thief reboot twice as hard.

    My point is, when games push a single mood too hard like this, they end up with no range. There are no highs or lows to feel, because rather than building an emotional rollercoaster from ground level, the game starts in the bottom of a ditch and tries to mine through the bedrock – and expectedly, it doesn’t get very far.

  17. Jokerman says:

    “I’m not saying the story of Human Revolution is better than Dishonored 2”

    I think i would say that actually…

  18. kdansky says:

    Re: Quickload / Quicksave

    This is one thing I truly hate about many games, especially 0451 or RPGs. What’s the point of having magic and gadgets and special abilities, and all that crap, when you get the unlimited power to turn back time? In more than one way, Quickload breaks these games completely. It turns a difficult challenge into pure tedium: Just brute-force your way through the scene until you manage to complete it perfectly, or otherwise turn back time.

    I mean, we need some sort of save/load purely for convenience: I can’t be expected to arrange my life around a video game (be it emergency interruptions or just plain old dinner breaks). We also need it as a failsave against Bethesda, where you need to make sure to keep different save games just in case the game disintegrates due to a bug.

    And then there is the issue with fail-states. Skyrim without reloading after a death is quite the lunacy, having to start from scratch when you die to a random trap or fall damage after eighty hours. Permadeath does not even work all that well for Rogue-likes, where being forced to replay the first couple (boring) levels is not really good design either. Dark Souls at least tried to really think hard about what failure means (but having to repeat levels is also not all that fun, to be honest).

    But if I’m sure about one thing, then that Quickload makes “no kills” runs utterly meaningless. It turns them from a display of mastery into a boring chore. 0451 games should have a single save-slot, and not allow you to undo decisions. Maybe they should be shorter in exchange, so you can play more than one path. Alpha Protocol (*) did this really well by moving every result of a decision into the future. You only get to see the consequences of your choices two hours later, at which point quick-loading is out of the question.

    * If AP were not a badly implemented buggy third person shooter, it would be a total hit with the 0451 crowd (e.g. me). It got so many things right, and then brutally failed at the very basics.

    And as a side-note: I have the same feeling for Dishonored. I played it, bu tnever really warmed up to it. One thing that bothered me is how violence is glorified, more so than any other game I liked. Sticking a knife into a persons throat *just because* did not sit well with me, and made me dislike the protagonist way too much. Also the game’s mechanics are too shallow. Parry + Instakill + Teleport is so broken unfair, every other item and spell in the game has no use.

    • Christopher says:

      Do Bioshock and Infinite have quicksave on PC? because if they did I never noticed it, in Bioshock 1 because I never died and in Infinite because you just respawned in the same room you died in as far as I recall.

      I think being able to save anywhere is a necessity in Skyrim just because of how open and buggy those kinds of games are, but I absolutely don’t think it’s a necessity in multi-approach level-based games like Dishonored. Have a merciful checkpoint every now and again, by all means, but I don’t think you have to accomodate for Josh dying every room because he did something dumb with the teleport. It’s like playing with the cheats on by default.

      • Naota says:

        I see one issue with that: in a game with open-ended levels only tied together by a string of objectives used to draw the player around the gamespace, what’s a checkpoint? Does it go off only once, or every time the player goes by? What happens if it’s in an area with enemies, and the player’s ghost run ends up auto-saving in a state of inevitable detection?

        You could put a checkpoint in front of a certainty like a plot-important door, but in Looking Glass-style environments you’re almost inevitably going to end up passing back through that door again multiple times on different tasks. System Shock gets a little more slack because of its floor-based structure (just save when you change areas of the ship), but I could not even imagine beating a 2-hour Thief level without a quicksave/load system.

        Sometimes there are bugs, sometimes the systems are a little dodgy and you get caught for a complete nonsense reason (like inexplicably failing to mantle a 12-inch step on a metal grating), sometimes you want to try a really dicey manuever a few times until you get it right. How abusive you get with it is one thing, and it definitely affects the play experience, but it serves a pretty irreplaceable function in a game like Dishonored.

        Edit: That is to say, so long as the intention is for no-detection runs to be anything close to a viable goal. If we didn’t push players towards never being spotted and treated a ghost run like a no-hits playthrough of a shooter (nigh-impossible), I could see a no-saves version of Dishonored working. Just don’t ding me for getting caught once in a multi-hour mission!

        • Christopher says:

          My serious answer is that you could put different checkpoints you can activate at will in a given level, or have a save in the background every 10 minutes or something similar. There are ways to ensure you don’t lose two hours while not allowing you to reverse time every single time you mess up, and reset the enemies on death so they aren’t all flocked around you. The stages are also totally levels that are fit to be replayed, even if you have no interest in self-improvement of score/time etc, just because of the different routes and characters you can use. Rather than having it be a goal to do the perfect run the first time through with enough quicksaves, I think it’s better to have a checkpoint at safe spots in the level and not giving anyone the savescumming option, and instead encouraging repeated playthroughs of the level.

          I don’t personally see how it’s a bad thing that something can go wrong and you can’t instantly rectify it and be back at the exact same place, even if what occasionally goes wrong is a bug. That’s not a thing I see a lot of people complain about in most games, but I get the impression it’s sort of a PC tradition at this point.

          • Olivier FAURE says:

            It depends on the game; you don’t see the complaint in most games, because most games are a direct progression toward a success state, with no permanent failure state.

            In a Call of Duty campaign, you try to go from point A to point B, and there’s no way to mess up so bad that getting to point B becomes significantly harder for the next 10 minutes (same thing for Mass Effect, Super Mario Galaxy, Tekken, and I think Final Fantasy and Zelda?). At worst you die and you have to do the thing again, but the thing never gets *harder* because you failed.

            Games like Dishonored or Skyrim are way more reliant on save features because there are way more occasions to lose something irreversibly, which is unacceptable to some players (the same kind of players who wants to collect every single item in every single level).

            • Naota says:

              This is also why players haaate sudden, unmarked progress gates that prevent them from going back the way they just came. A downright scary number of games do this, usually with cutscenes, robbing you of access to parts of a level you may have wanted to visit. The most notorious example is the one-way drops built into levels of Thief 4 of all things, but there have been a few others since.

    • Khizan says:

      A lot of the enjoyment people get out of the gameplay in games like this comes from things like Stupid Teleport Tricks, starting a 5v1 brawl and settling it all with nonlethal moves, or ‘kill somebody, throw the body off a building, windblast the body across the street, possess the body as it flies, step out of body across the street’ type of shenanigans.

      The problem with checkpoints is that checkpoints penalize this style of gameplay because every time you fail at something like that you have to redo the previous 5-10 minutes to take another shot at it. They reward safe, slow, and steady gameplay that reduces the amount of time you’ll spend replaying chunks of the game, and they encourage people go to “Okay, forget it, I’m not going to do that cool thing, I’m just going to move on”.

      And that’s a shame in a game like Dishonored. When I can do such crazy cool things with my powers, I don’t want to feel restricted to blink+sneak attack spam just because it’s been 10 minutes since my last checkpoint.

    • Olivier FAURE says:

      I think the problem with savepoints is permanent loss.

      In basically all games ever, there’s a sort of understanding between the game designer and the player that, if the player fails something, the game will let her try again until she gets the result she wants. Games where failure has lasting consequences tend to be in a genre of their own (management games, rogue-likes, etc).

      That becomes a problem if you want your story to have stakes (the bad guy has hostages and might kill them) or special challenges (ghost run), or more generally if you want your actions to have consequences.

      Since Dishonored (and Skyrim, and other games) wants you to be able to do anything, it means the game must continue even after you make irreversible choices (shoot a civilian, fail to save the hostages, etc). Of course, the player might not *want* to be locked in a playthrough where she accidentally shot a civilian or let the hostages die, so you also have to make these choices reversible somehow, which… kind of undercuts the whole thing.

      Most games deal with that by having an intended narrative, and giving you a Game Over if you don’t follow it; if Batman fails to save the hostages or your CoD marine shoots a civilian, the game tells you “No, that’s not allowed”. Games like Mass Effect only have irreversible consequences for obvious, telegraphed choices. You choose to shoot the bad guy or send him to prison. You choose to kill the Rachni or free them. But you can’t accidentally press the button and kill the Rachni Queen, and your bullets will magically never hurt allied NPCs unless they’s Rex and you’re on Virmire.

      Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a good solution. I think Dishonored would be better off if there weren’t so many ways to lock yourself in an irreversible state. You can interrupt NPC conversations by being too loud, get spotted and lose your ghost run, have a stunned guard fall of a cliff and lose your clean hands run, etc. I think the game would feel less artificial if getting locked was more of a deliberate decision from the player.

    • Syal says:

      0451 games should have a single save-slot

      Nothing should ever have a single save slot. Especially not a game with multiple builds; I want to see all the options early, without throwing away all my progress on my first build.

      Multiple save files, with identifiable names so I can tell which save has which character/build. No exceptions.

    • Rymdsmurfen says:

      Dishonored 2 does offer ironman mode, so if you really want to temper that quicksave urge that is always a choice. And unlike many other games it is completely reasonable to play through the game without dying once, as long as you avoid the one-hit-kills (like the arc pylons) and don’t fall into an abyss.

      Regarding violence, on the plus-side there are many more ways to do non-lethal takedowns in D2. You can choke after a successful parry, and a slide kick will quickly knock out an opponent. (On the other hand you could argue that the game also glorifies the effect of having your head slammed into the pavement.)

      • KarmaTheAlligator says:

        It always makes me laugh when I jump down from a 4 story building, land on a guard and slam his head on the ground, and the game says it’s totally non-lethal.

    • Eric says:

      I wonder how things would play out if Quicksaves could only be manually loaded and Quickload only worked on the most recent Autosave or manual save. Assuming diligent manual saving and/or consistent autosaves, I can see this appealing to the best of both worlds*. If someone is trying to set up something something ridiculous, they could Quicksave and then spend the extra five seconds loading up the save manually. But by not tying Quicksave to Quickload, it would discourage obvious save-scumming by putting a barrier in the way of that behavior, either by taking the player back farther than they want or by making them go into the menu.

      *However, I’m sure I’m overlooking something.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      In more than one way, Quickload breaks these games completely.

      Except it doesnt.First,you assume that its an instantaneous thing,yet even if you have an ssd,quickload will still take a few seconds,depending on how the game was made.Then there is the time it takes for you to get back to the place where you screwed up.And then,theres sometimes the random element,because good ai wont repeat everything the same way between saves,but will have some degree of randomness in its pathing,in its choice of where to linger and how long,etc.Save scumming takes a lot of time.It can increase the length of a section twofold,threefold,sometimes even tenfold.

      Second,theres the flow.Quickloading breaks the flow of the game,and most people who play these games do care for the flow of it,and actually avoid quickloading on their first go.But,on the flip side,on their subsequent playthroughs when they actually dont care so much about the flow,having the option to execute something perfectly is an extremely nice option.So having the ability to save everywhere,easily,improves replayability of the game.

      But if I’m sure about one thing, then that Quickload makes “no kills” runs utterly meaningless. It turns them from a display of mastery into a boring chore.

      You forget the third option:It turns them into a practice run for the ironman mode.

      • Olivier FAURE says:

        Second,theres the flow.Quickloading breaks the flow of the game,and most people who play these games do care for the flow of it,and actually avoid quickloading on their first go

        That might be true for you, but it certainly wasn’t true for me. I’ve noticed in the past, when playing this kind of games, that I had a tendency to save and load obsessively when I didn’t have the results I wanted. Maybe it’s my fault and I shouldn’t blame the game if I’m not playing it as intended, but the idea that “People rarely quickload because it breaks the flow of the game” is wishful thinking.

        Since I’ve seen other people complain along the same lines, I’m assuming this is not unique to me. Honestly, I think that quickload-heavy games are a symptom of flawed design (bad checkpoints, difficulty that feels unfair, etc), precisely because they incentivize the player to break immersion.

  19. Adeon says:

    I completely agree with you on the disconnect between mechanics and story in the original game and it’s part of the reason I didn’t finish it. I’ve noticed this problem in a lot of games that have stealth as a part of their gameplay, there are cool toys and mechanics which require you to play in a sub-optimal manner.

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a good example, the “optimal” way to play is to sneak through the area knocking all the guards out in melee in order to maximize experience.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Except that experience is only really useful if you’re going the stealth route in DE:HR. If you play it more as a shooter you’re rewarded with more ammo instead, so I think that game actually balances things perfectly. Honestly, there are only a couple of upgrades that are useful for a non-stealth approach, so getting lots of exp is not a priority if you’re more action-oriented.

  20. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Ah, I’ll have to skip these for now, this post was dealing mostly with mechanics and the very early game but I haven’t played the game yet and it’ll probably be a while before I can buy and I don’t want it extensively spoiled.

  21. Fade2Gray says:

    I spent the first few levels convinced that I was simply overlooking something in the pause menu somewhere that would give me the same stats as the end-of-level summary. I just couldn’t accept that a game developer would make a conscious decision to withhold that information until the end of each multiple hour long level. Especially in an era of Alt+Tab, Google search “Dishonored 2 collectibles.”

  22. Cubic says:

    The game has barely established a status quo before everything gets upended, which means the villain’s big act of treachery doesn’t feel particularly revenge-worthy

    Which reminds me of how GTA San Andreas got this right … Ahhh, what a great game that was. Rockstar was truly and divinely inspired when they put that together.

    I started Dishonored but never got into it for some reason. I should give it another shot.

  23. Oliver Edleston says:

    My major disconnect with D2 happened in the Clockwork Mansion level. At a point that still felt early in the game, my stealth approach to the game hits a sudden stone wall in the form of super robots with no apparent stealth takedown vulnerability and cameras in the backs of their heads. They immediately transformed what critics and players alike had said was an interesting and unique level into an absolute chore.

    I beat the mansion in a scrappy, messy way and then just couldn’t muster enough interest to get back to the boat and end the level, let alone continue and complete the game. The contrived maze in the basement patrolled by robots was a particular irritant until I discovered that repeated spamming of the “lift/lower walls” buttons resulted in the robots being jankily and unsatisfingly killed.

    • PeteTimesSix says:

      Funny thing is, that level was probably my favorite to play through thanks to the abundance of targets I could use all those lethal toys Ive been carrying around and not using on my self-imposed nonlethal run against. The difference I guess was I also had a rule that I would only load if I actually died when spotted, so its not like I was aiming for a ghost run in the first place.

    • DeathbyDysentery says:

      There are several interesting and satisfying ways to get past the robots and complete the level without breaking stealth.

      You can, for instance, break out of the ‘gauntlet’ that Jindosh creates for you before announcing your presence, and then you spend the whole level moving between the walls unnoticed. Since he doesn’t know you’re there, he doesn’t ever sic robots on you. Alternatively, you can retreat inside the walls of the compound after being discovered. There’ll be robots everywhere, but you can use the vents and walls to bypass them.

      You can also snipe the heads of the robots off with a crossbow bolt. You’d have to read the right notes or experiment a lot to figure it out, but the robots are blinded without their heads and have to rely on sound. This makes you invisible as long as you crouch-walk everywhere and don’t touch them.

      You can also just make sure you’re far enough away from the robots that they don’t notice you. They have a wide, 360 degree cone of vision, but they are some of the shortest-sighted enemies in the game. They are also slow and not agile, so you can simply run away if they find you if you don’t care about the ghost rating. Putting height, distance, or small spaces between you and them will end any chase immediately.

      Of course all of this requires exceptional attention to detail to discover on a first run. The thing is, some of Dishonored’s biggest gameplay focuses are experimentation and replayability. You’re not necessarily supposed to be able to painlessly ghost a level on the first try. Your first run is usually messy and janky, but it becomes cleaner and cleaner with repetition as you learn the mechanics of the enemies and the ins and outs of the level. In Dishonored 2, success is determined less by skill and more by knowledge of the maps and systems.

      All of those people praised this mission in that light, you see, because Jindosh’s mansion is one of the most impressively variable and complicated stealth levels in recent memory, and it only becomes really possible to realize and appreciate this after several playthroughs.

      • Rymdsmurfen says:

        Totally agree. Discovering on my second run that I could actually sneak behind the scenery really made me appreciate the game. Not only did this offer a completely new approach to the level, it also made the place real in that it showed how this seemingly magic house worked. It would have been so easy for the level designers to just shuffle the rooms around without caring about how it all fit together, but they really went the extra mile there.

  24. Khizan says:

    The story in Dishonored generally worked for me. It’s a simple revenge narrative, and I don’t really require a whole lot from that. I don’t need to know about Bruce Wayne’s home life as a child to go along with him turning into Batman. I don’t need to know that rat fink Benny to want to track him down and put a bullet into his head.

    Likewise, I can extrapolate from “That bastard killed the Empress and kidnapped the Princess” to “I’m going to kill that bastard” without a whole lot of backstory or personal knowledge of the Empress/Princess.

    • Tizzy says:

      Story does not necessarily equate backstory. For me, Corvo as the impenetrable protagonist of the first game was not enjoyable. I’d rather the devs tell me what he’s thinking, even if the character motivations end up not working very well for me, than to have the feeling Corvo’s head is full of static and he will just do what anyone tells him.

      I think it’s particularly insidious in the series: part of the tone appears to be that people should be wary of those with authority. So having Corvo being commanded around and never complaining in the first game felt very tone deaf. Voicing the protagonists was already an improvement.

  25. tmtvl says:

    I’ve heard Styx: Shards of Darkness is the best stealth game in recent memory, so for people who are not interested in ‘hilariously overpowered death ninja who does some stealth sometimes’, maybe that’s worth checking out.

  26. Dreadjaws says:

    “The original Dishonored suffered from the problem where using the fun powers was the path to the bad ending, and getting the good ending required playing in a very boring way. Playing loud and deadly was more interesting and varied than painstakingly sneaking around and only using one or two abilities.”

    Now see, I disagree with you on this. I actually think playing the stealthy route is far more fun. I tried going the lethal way and while there’s no question many of those abilities are visually appealing, I abandoned it because I really, really prefer being sneaky, particularly because a lot of the fun comes in the preparation game (i.e. the planning). Instead of simply throwing yourself at the enemies with your blades and rats and whatnot, you assess the scene in order to optimally plan your way through it without raising the alarm or killing anyone.

    Granted, it’s very easy to become too comfortable with one way of playing, which can result in someone feeling the game is more monotonous than it really is. I remember you mentioning a similar problem in Arkham City, whereas your first time playing against Freeze you were stumped because you were used to the same two or three abilities and never bothered to try the rest, so you had no idea what to do. Experimentation is the key. Try different things, even if they are outside of you comfort zone, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

    In-game, I mean, of course. I don’t suggest you go out to join a cult or try for a job as manager in McDonald’s.

    • DeathbyDysentery says:

      I absolutely agree. I think the primary problem is that most people play 0451 games in a manner where they ‘conquer’ each area of every zone piece by piece, picking apart every room for everything of value and not moving on until they’ve gotten everything they’ve noticed. Lethal playthroughs suit this tendency a lot better, since you get a burst of exciting action and then get to ransack the place at your leisure. Non-lethal stealth players either have to laboriously loot everything when the guards aren’t looking or else sloooowlly choke them all out, one by one.

      Really, the funnest way to play stealth in both games is to assess the level and find a way to get in and then get out in the cleanest and least dangerous way possible. Of course, if you do that, then you’re leaving behind all the runes and paintings and money and whatnot, so of course most people tend to go for the slower, systematic approach which is more boring even at the best of times but unbearably tedious if you’re skulking in the shadows the whole time.

      I can appreciate that many people like the ‘collectithon’, but I worry that the way the designs of the games push some players to do the thorough collectithon EVERY playthrough, and so they fail to ever engage with the deep infiltration and assassination mechanics. The mechanical heart of the game really lies in planning and experimentation with the levels, and I didn’t even realize this until I broke free of my collector’s urge on my second or third playthrough.

      • Syal says:

        …I think Binding of Isaac unlockables would solve this. Kill everybody to unlock a rune, non-lethal everybody to unlock a rune, ghost the place to unlock a rune, explore all the corners to unlock a rune, speed through everything to unlock a rune.

        [/shudder]

        • DeathbyDysentery says:

          Yeah, the problem would be solved by any change that exports progression to the metagame. When looking at Dishonored purely as a stealth/infiltration/assassination challenge, I find it plays similarly (in a certain sense) to games like HITMAN 2016 and Metal Gear Solid V. Those games, too, are mostly about learning the mechanics and levels over the course of many playthroughs of each mission, but in those games you can always stay focused on your objectives. This is because your resource pool isn’t dependent on how much scrounging you do; it’s based on persistent factors like accomplishing challenges and building your base which are never dependent on the outcome of any single mission. You can always show up to your next mission fully-equipped regardless of how much time you spent on the previous one.

  27. DeadlyDark says:

    Never understand that “I want to play aggressively, but I’ll get a bad ending” problem. May be I want to see world burn? Than so-called “bad ending” isn’t bad bad, but desirable. But I personally don’t see, how aggressive power-usage is fun in this types of games. I mean, Doom is very fun, but Thief (not 2014) is way more fun.

    I also feel, that main problem of Dishonored 2 for me, is that main strength of the game comes not from core gameplay per-se, but from level-design. Clockwork Mansion or Stilton’s Manor would be great levels in any action game, and other levels have distinct feel to them (depressive for the most part, but still distinct). But core gameplay is the same in both these levels, and… I don’t like it. Aggressive, power-usage, is kinda falls in the category “create your own fun” and I don’t liek most of the powers here, stealth is kinda strange there. Mostly because of weird AI, with strange player detection (most of the times I was sure I was hid, but somehow they see me; never got a full idea, how AI detects, and how to hide well; git gud I know) and sometimes after reloading they become cautious and start looking for me (yeah, that one is infuriating). Not a correct example, but latest Hitman game is way better in understanding how AI work and how can I exploit that, while still being quite menacing. Also there is little sounds of AI steps, unlike good Thief games. Which is deprive me of much needed information.

    I didn’t played Death of Outsider yet (still need to buy a replacement videocard), but I’m quite shy about it – core gameplay will be the same (and I don’t personally enjoy it), and all good things probably will be from unique level-design (which is 50/50 if it will be there). And I’ve already played game, this year, with way more superior core gameplay – Prey (2017). And I finally played both System Shock games.

    • Matt Downie says:

      I like sneaking up on enemies and taking them down silently, but using stealth to avoid an enemy? That feels the same to me as leaving behind loot: a failure.

      So when the narrative tells me that killing enemies is a failure, and it fails to give me much in the way of nonlethal takedowns, there’s no path through I find satisfying.

  28. Rymdsmurfen says:

    There is another problem with Dishonored that I haven’t seen mentioned here. Just like the fun empowerment through magic powers and gadget weapons are at odds with the story (especially in D1), the multiple available paths in its levels (another hallmark of Dishonored) is at odds with the magic system, where you need to collect runes to get new powers.

    Since runes are always spread around each level, whenever you find a hidden shortcut or complete the mission objective in a creative way, you are effectively punished by missing out on powers and bone-charms in future missions. And if you do make these rune-collection detours then you lose focus on the main mission, which impairs your immersion instead.

    • Olivier FAURE says:

      Uh. I never thought about that, but I guess there *is* a trade-off there.

      Though I think it’s secondary anyway; the real trade-off is, if you want to roleplay as a spy-assassin, it makes more sense to go directly for your objective instead of exploring every side-route; but you miss story content if you do that.

  29. IanTheM1 says:

    Honestly I was never big into either side of Dishonored’s proverbial coin. Sneaking turned into the same quick save/quick load-a-thon that almost every other stealth game ends up hinging on, even after you figure out that blinking to high up places is the name of the game. I don’t absolutely hate that kind of meticulous creeping around but it does get old after a while.

    Meanwhile the lethal gameplay, despite its numerous creative ways to murder people, wasn’t actually that well developed IMO. A lot of these games always seem to struggle with actual mechanical depth; sure if I wanted to make one of those (admittedly impressive) Youtube montages I could combine powers and all of my various weapons into one big elaborate kill sequence…or I could level my pistol at the target’s head and pull the trigger and instantly kill him. In fact, basically all of the lethal options boil down to “instantly kill a dude” so it just turns into a question of which semi-arbitrary resource you want to spend.

    DH1 does try to play with quiet vs. loud at least once, by making the Overseer flee to a safe room if you set off the alarm. But I don’t remember any other time where there’s a notable difference between murdering someone with the very loud pistol or thwipping them with the crossbow, and the fact that you need to upgrade them separately means you might as well pick one at the start of the game and stick with it.

    From what I understand of DH2, they at least finally broke out lethal/non-lethal from chaos which is a step in the right direction. And stuff like Emily’s chain reaction power is vastly more interesting because you can use it to set up either lethal or non-lethal eliminations. The games really need more of those kinds of powers and not “I do some magic stuff and instantly kill the dude”.

    Also w/r/t collectibles: Dishonored’s version of “Detective Mode” really, really detracts from the experience. But it’s effectively mandatory for finding all of the collectibles and certainly helps you not blunder into guards and force you to quick load every 30 seconds. My enjoyment of the game would instantly be improved if it only highlighted important things and didn’t turn the whole world into a day-for-night nightmare, and also didn’t have an obnoxious droning noise to boot. There’s also probably something to be said for how having it be a temporary buff that needs to be regularly refreshed does absolutely nothing interesting or useful, particularly when it costs the same “free” 25 mana that Blink does.

  30. Guildenstern says:

    I’m in the same boat in that I like everything about this game and should be invested (super abbreviated intro aside) but I’m just… not.

    I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think about why that is, and I’m wondering if it isn’t an animation problem. Outside of combat animations (first-person stabbing is actually crazy visceral in this game, I felt like) everyone just seems so lifeless. They stand there, rooted to one spot as you talk to them, they might wave a hand or awkwardly light up a cigar (while talking around it, their speech seemingly unimpeded) but they don’t really move much. Their faces remain pretty fixed as well, with not much in the way of emoting so everyone just stands around with the same scowl.

    This isn’t too different from the way a lot of games go about this, and it would be unreasonable to expect Uncharted levels of mocap acting for everything, but given the visual palette they’re going for (oil painting influenced) it seems like the characters should *flow* more. You might be able to get away with somewhat static characters in a pseudo-realistic art style like Mass Effect or something, but the more embellished art direction of the game world in Dishonored makes it feel like the characters should be a bit more embellished as well, and the inflexible character models just aren’t.

    The voice acting is mostly fine, but I think if Bethesda games have taught us anything, it’s that the most interesting voice cast, without the animation to back it, can still come across as boring.

    Maybe I’m the only one that felt this way, but I’ve spent a lot of time trying to nail down why the characters didn’t resonate with me, and this is what I keep coming back to.

    • Baron Tanks says:

      Perhaps. I feel the same way, been dabbing at DH2 and I just can’t get into it. I enjoyed the first, maybe adored it even back when it first released. I’ve been trying to get back into it at two points in the past two years, but somehow I can’t engage with it anymore. Perhaps it’s cause my interests changed. Now with DH2 (mainly due to the Spoiler Warning season), I thought I’d have another jump in. The level design is breathtaking in spots, I really do adore it (FYI I’ve completed up to and including the Clockwork Mansion). But it just does not engage me, to the point where the annoyances and frustrations I have with the game mechanically* are enough to keep me away from it. The game just feels like a chore and it’s mostly because I can’t reach the base level of immersion I need. I think it’s partly because the game tries and fails at it and partly because I don’t have the level of patience and available time I had back when Dishonored first released.

      *Specifically, Emily’s far reach. I love the idea of her inclusion and the rest of her power set is real interesting. But nothing about Far Reach offeres me anything that isn’t done better by Blink (at least DH1 Blink, not sure if they changed anything). I can’t build the natural intuition for its range and relying on the visual marker has proved spotty at best. Playing Dishonored and coming up repeatedly short, followed by a faceplant into the ground 20 feet below is not my definition of fun.

      • Redrock says:

        I kinda thought the same about Far Reach up until I got the upgrade that allows you to grab and hurl guards with it. Yanking a guard towards you with Far Reach so that he lands on your blade is pretty fun.

        • Baron Tanks says:

          That’s very true, especially when chained with Domino. But that makes half the power fun and it makes me miss Blink still. Honestly, if this was Dishonored’s first outing and I hadn’t played with Blink in part one, this would be much less of a problem. It’s the feeling of missing something, knowing a better option is possible that is doing me in.

  31. WWWebb says:

    My take on Dishonored is that its setting was too successful. The world it created was sooo oppressive, grimdark, and hopeless that getting immersed in it killed my ability to enjoy it. It doesn’t help that the potential source of levity, chaos, and excitement in the game (the Outsider) is the worst part of it.

  32. Andrew Blank says:

    So I haven’t played Dishonored 1 or 2 but have you considered that the story is just not good? Like it doesn’t suffer from the usual idiot pitfalls of video game storytelling but just isn’t a story worth telling, so you don’t care.

    You mention how it has all these things you like and doesn’t have the usual immersion ruining plotholes and contrivances but lots of movies don’t have those things and still are just mediocre and unoriginal.

    If a story isn’t good, and doesn’t have anything to hate you just feel numb about it.

  33. LCF says:

    Having recently watched The Order 1886, and both Dishonoured, I reckon they make for nice movies.
    Not having to pay 60 American Euros, listening to someone else commenting, not playing it myself and not having the controls yanked then reluctantly given back is great for appreciating the games. I should have done the same for Wolfenstein New Order.
    If only I knew…

  34. Zak McKracken says:

    Haven’t played the game, but one potential reason for not liking it (or any other game) might be player’s expectations compared to the game’s contents.

    I bet Shamus was quite nervous about the game because it’s doing exactly the thing he’d been hoping for. But that means there’s some expectation of greatness, mixed with fear of being dissappointed like so many times before. And that’s just not a good state of mind to let oneself be immersed in a story/game. Imagine playing Dishonoured 2 completely cold, without knowing what it’s about, or having played the predecessor, maybe even expecting a straight shooter.
    While gradually realizing that the game’s much more than that, you’d probably be in a much friendlier state towards it.

    That said: If it’s “just” the thief formula done very well, it’ll tick lots of boxes but won’t necessarily get you al excited unless it also adds something new. When Thief was released, it was something unusual and new. If they re-did the same thing now, with some more polish, it’d be a solid game, but would not rock the world. That chance is only for games which actually bring something new to the table.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>