Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ghost's Arcade: Dishonored

Way, hey and up she rises
Way, hey and up she rises
Way, hey and up she rises
Early in the morning          
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This is your standard spoiler warning.  If you don't want Dishonored spoiled then you should probably move along.

I knew it was only a matter of time before you showed up again to take your revenge on me.  Revenge is what you do best, after all, just like Corvo.  I just hope I have the stomach for you this time around.
This is Ghost, thanks for joining!

In 2012 I made a blog post about Why the Modern FPS is Killing Gaming.  In that discussion I called out Dishonored an an example of publishers wanting something done quickly and cheaply and how I was utterly disappointed in Dishonored as a whole; my hype for it being killed completely once I found out that it was just a bunch of episodic missions.  I wasn't altogether fair with that criticism... at least not in that particular aspect as I was judging something based on purely what others were saying and not my own findings.  That and I shouldn't fault a game for being different than the other Bethesda products I had played since I was comparing it to Skyrim... a problem that wasn't helped by the fact that the same character appears in both games.

So in 2013 I got the game... and my disappointment stayed with me.  There were a lot of things about the game that just didn't make me want to continue with it so I boxed it up and put it on my gaming shelf to sit there beside Phantom Hourglass in the line of games that I don't want to play ever again but don't want to sell back to Gamestop out of the chance I might get a brain aneurism and decide I want to play something painful for some reason.  Jump to 2015 and I was watching a Games Done Quick episode of Banjo-Kazooie for my review of that game and ran across Decidedsloth's Non-Lethal Ghost Speedrun of Dishonored.  It honestly made me want to play the game once more since I had only gotten to the second mission in my one and only playthrough.  I was determined to get to the end of the game this time no matter how irritating it might end up being.

So... is there hidden greatness in this game or will I remain completely disappointed like I had for those other two years?  Let's take a look!

The Story
Corvo Attano has just returned from a mission by the Empress of a land that resembles Revolutionary Era France if they had started to develop steampunk technology.  He was sent to find out what has caused this plague spreading through the land turning people into zombie-like creatures called Weepers.  As her personal bodyguard he completed the mission quickly and returned back to her sooner than expected.  Within minutes of returning, Corvo is subdued by assassins who kill the Empress and kidnap her daughter Emily.  The assassins vanish just as quickly as they appeared and Corvo is blamed for killing the Empress.  While in the interrogation room, one of the political leaders explains to Corvo that they knew he didn't do it but are letting him take the blame so that they can change how the country is run.  Corvo is sentenced to death.

Later that evening Corvo is released from prison by a group of Loyalists who still believe in what the Empress stood for.  They need Corvo's skills to find Emily and get revenge on the corrupt leaders in power.  As Corvo prepares for the next day, he gets a visit from a man known as The Other who brands Corvo with his mark and grants him the ability to use arcane magic.  Using his natural skills and his new found power, Corvo sets out on several missions for the Loyalists.  Along his adventure he must eliminate two of the highest ranking political figures in the city, eliminate two brothers who hold power in the "senate" of their world, eliminate the corrupt figure head's mistress, and kidnap a brilliant scientist.  Thankfully during this ordeal of backstabbing, sneaking, and deal-making, Corvo finds Emily being held hostage and rescues her taking her back to the Loyalists.

After all of his missions are complete and everything seems to be going the right way, Corvo is poisoned by the Loyalists who plan to arrive at the capitol triumphant that they found Emily and killed the man who killed her mother.  Thankfully the boat man, Samuel, who had been assisting with your missions only gave Corvo half of the poison so that he would live and sends your unconscious body down the river in a boat.  Corvo is then taken captive by the group of assassins who murdered the Empress.  After breaking free from the assassins and returning to the Loyalists' camp, Corvo finds that they have taken Emily away with them.  Breaking into their stronghold Corvo must eliminate the Loyalists who betrayed him and rescue Emily so that she can become the new Empress with Corvo guarding her till the day he dies.
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As far as the main storyline is concerned it's not bad... it's just nothing new and I along with many other people saw the "plot twist" about the Loyalists turning on you from across the continent.  Now it's not a bad thing to fall back on tested and true storytelling devices but I was just expecting a little bit more from my French Revolution steampunk zombie apocalypse stealth revenge game but I'm probably just being nitpicky here.  I also have to find a bit of amusement that this is the second video game in a row that's reminded me of The Last of Us.  If you want to have zombies in your game then just have zombies.  I realize that including zombies in your game in this day and age is on the same level of the Creativity Scale as including healing potions in the game, but if you're going to go the zombie route then stop dancing around the topic with silly names like Infected and Weepers.

While the main storyline is mostly the same old formulaic plot we've seen over and over, there are a fair amount of side missions and subplots that DO bring some interesting creativity to the mix.  There's a sort of weird turf war between the leader of a street gang named Slackjaw and a blind semi-immortal witch named Granny Rags.  In one segment you catch your weapons creator being a creepy pervert and scold him for it which was fairly amusing.  There's humorous conversations between guards and other NPCs that can catch you off guard like this one conversation I heard between two guards where one was asked how old his sister was, and he responded with "blow off, choffer!"  There's an old fashioned pistol duel at a masquerade... the list goes on.  It's all the side content in the story that really makes this an interesting experience.  The strangest of all is the Art Dealer who is tied up to and electrocution machine at a brothel because that's just his fetish apparently.
I'm not actually joking...this is a thing

Most of the characters you meet through the game aren't anything outstanding.  The villains are fairly generic corrupt politicians while the loyalists are mostly generic noblemen and military men with an agenda.  Even some of the more amusing characters like Emily and Slackjaw are still nothing extremely unique, just a semi-standard girl and mob boss.  The only two who really stood out to me are Granny Rags and Samuel.  Granny Rags comes off at first as just a rambling crazy old bat who's just a little weird, however she later turns out to be a threatening presence once the turf war between her and Slackjaw comes to a close.  You just have to trust me on that one it's bizarre and creepy.  Samuel is your boat driver who carts you to and from each mission.  He's a wonderful character who is that kind older man who knows his place in the world and hopes for the best with a little bit of humor along the way.  He's really great and he's probably my favorite character in the entire game!  The rest are nice just not all that memorable to the point that half of them I don't even remember their names.

The gameplay for the most part is pretty solid.  Character movement was not delayed or clunky; climbing around on walls and barriers was also easy to master and simple enough to use.  This game is in the first person so the camera was never an issue.  Everything seemed pretty fluent.  The only issue I had with generalized movement was once you unlocked the Agility perk and got the double jump ability.  Sometimes for no reason whatsoever the double jump just refused to work.  Actually it just flat refused to work in any aspect more often than not.  I've never seen anyone really complain about this so maybe I'm just doing it wrong but it became quite annoying especially in some of the harder segments of the last mission.

Combat is pretty decent as well.  You have various avenues of taking people down be they magical or weapon-based attacks.  You always have your sword with you but you can also have a crossbow, pistol, grenades, and these sort of land mine things.  You also have some pretty awesome magic to help you eliminate enemies such as summoning a hoard of rats to devour your targets or sending out a blast of wind which blows away targets slamming them into walls etc.  There's even a skill that turns anyone you've killed stealthily to ash.  The only issue I ever had was depth perception with using the sword.  Your sword is deceptively short and I ended up flailing around with my sword hitting nothing for quite a while before I got used to the distance needed to actually strike an opponent.  I'd suggest saving your game and running head first into a small group of guards to practice your swordplay in the first mission so that you're prepared for later levels when there are more of them.  I don't have a lot to say about the combat because one of the core mechanics of the game is that of stealth.

Being stealthy is key to this game as being spotted instantly results in several burly men rushing towards you to fight to the death with very few opportunities to really lose them and hide for awhile.  There are some added bonuses to doing things stealthily such as gear enhancements that make you silent, and sleep darts which knock people out instantly.  You can sneak up on people and choke them into a state of unconsciousness as well.  Once you have knocked someone out (or killed them) it's best to find a place to hide them because if another guard spots an unconscious or dead body they'll start looking around for you for quite some time.  It's better to never have that happen.  Thankfully you have some magic that helps with moving around stealthily such as Dark Vision which allows you to see through walls and see the scope of view enemies have.  You also get an incredibly useful skill called Blink which teleports you to the place of your choosing instantly.  Finally, you get Bend Time which,  when fully upgraded, completely stops time so that you can get around tricky situations without being seen whatsoever.

The stealth is quite good, however there are a couple problems with that.  The first of which is the choking mechanics.  Choking while crouched utilizes the same button as blocking with your sword.  Sometimes for no reason whatsoever you'll sneak up behind a guy and attempt to choke them only to wave your sword around performing the blocking action like you're doing a street performance novelty act and ultimately making such a noise doing so that you get caught.  The second problem is with the AI of the guards and other enemies.   With many stealth portions of games, wherever the body is pointed is where the cone of vision lies making it easy to walk around enemies... NOT IN THIS GAME.  Many of the guards have random head movements meaning they can be walking in one direction but for NO reason whatsoever just look over to the left or right meaning you will get caught out of sheer dumb luck.  Why is getting caught a problem in this game?  WELL... that leads into my next section and the biggest problem with this game hands down.

The Moral Choice Problem
That's right ladies and gentlemen, go ahead and wail in torment because this game has a morality path. Now I've played games with a morality path in the past and most of them have ranged from fairly good to absolutely awful; this game is on the lower end of the scale for morality paths.  You see, in this game there are two different ending scenarios... well three technically but you have to actively choose the worst one of the three.  The morality choices you make not only affect the ending but it also affects little things in the game like the number of enemies, the presence of terrible storms, the number of plague rats, and the personality of Emily which is a really nice touch that you don't see very often.
In order to get the good ending you have to have low chaos throughout the game. If you have high chaos through the game then you end up with the bad ending.   Being the person I am, as soon as I learned that there were two different endings, I wanted to get the good ending.  That shouldn't be too hard should it?  Little did I know the tedious horror that awaited me.

In order to get the good ending where the plague is stopped, Emily is on the throne, and the land enters a golden age of peace you must have low chaos in most of the missions in the game.  How do you achieve low chaos? Well first off you have to not kill the civilians.  That's not a problem whatsoever as civilians don't actually attack you once they spot you; they either run away screaming or just ignore you for the most part.  Easy enough.  You also have to deal with all of your assassination missions in a non-lethal manner.  That's fine as well because there are ready-made ways of doing that for each and every one of them hidden in the mission somewhere that don't require a ton of extra time in all reality.  I do have to question the "good morality" in not killing the targets however because some fates are far worse than death.  Personally I think death would be a more kind and better option than being exiled to eventually become a zombie, having your tongue cut out and placed into a slave labor mine, or being held against your will for the rest of your life by a man who has the hots for you... I'll let your mind wander on that one for a moment.  If those were the only calculations in the morality choice then I wouldn't have a problem but NOPE there's more!

You also have to avoid killing as many of the city guards and zombies as possible in this game... less than 20% of them can die at any given time through the game period.  WHAT?!  That's right, both the city guards and zombies who instantly attack you in gross the second they spot you have to be spared as well.  Now let's take a look at this little problem.  The only way to take out someone non-lethally is to use a sleep dart or choke them.  Choking takes time and you can be spotted by random head movements while doing so making this occasionally fail.  Sleep darts only work while you remain unnoticed and make the person drop where they are.  If the person falls and makes noise they'll start looking for you.  If someone turns their head and sees their unconscious coworker they will start to look for you and if they find you you can't use sleep darts or choke them to knock them unconscious the only way out is killing them which you want to actively avoid in order to get the good ending.  Now it's true that you can purchase an upgrade that make your sleep darts effective during battle so if you're spotted you can still knock people unconscious but in many sections there are a large number of guards who come running to attack you so you'll have to use the majority of your sleep darts as you can only carry 10 of them with no way of increasing your sleep dart capacity.

So basically if you want to get the good ending you're going to have to save often.  This game ends up being a saving and loading simulator if you aren't perfect at it.  Very often I ended up getting caught by someone resulting in him calling seven other burly men there to shoot at me.  At this junction in most other games you would either do what comes naturally and take the men down to continue your mission or find a way out of it organically and naturally as one would need to do if they found themselves in this situation, however because so much work and effort were being put into getting low chaos and having the good ending I just ended up sighing, shouting an insult at the game and loading my previous save point since I didn't want to waste all that effort simply because Captain Meathead decided to turn his head slightly to the left and caught a glimpse of my elbow hiding behind a trashcan.  It was absolutely tedious and frustrating.  90% of the game consisted of me taking out a guy stealthily, dragging his body to a hiding spot, saving the game, taking out another person dragging his body to a hiding spot and saving the game etc etc.

Now obviously if you don't care about which ending you get and are willing to accept the bad ending where the plague continues to happen and Emily is only remembered as a failed Empress with a twisted sense of reality then you have no issues.  Just slit throats wherever you wish and be gone about your business as usual.  However if you want the good ending it's a real chore and it didn't need to be.  There was one easy way to fix the whole issue of the morality choice and that was to simply eliminate the City Guard and Zombies from adding to the chaos calculation.  That's it!   I appreciate a game trying to think of the whole of humanity here but few if any games ever do this sort of thing.

Take Fallout 3, another Bethesda Game for example.
If I walk up and kill someone who's just standing around you get bad karma for making a bad morality choice.  If I decide to poison the water supply to kill all Super Mutants in the game I get bad karma for making a bad morality choice, but if I run across a pack of Super Mutants intending to turn my insides into a kebab for simply breathing the same air as them I'm at full liberty to redecorate the walls with their blood at no risk of making a bad morality choice because they were hostile first.  That's what this should have been.  Don't kill civilians who aren't attacking and find nicer ways to take out your assassination targets... anyone who attacks you on sight is considered a hostile and doesn't count toward your morality.  BAM!  Just made the game 10 times more enjoyable and satisfying.

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw said it best.  "I left Dishonored disappointed, not angry, disappointed.  Like if someone I respected forgot which part of the body piss comes out of.... It's like someone took a box of Ferrero Rocher and randomly distributed them throughout a spherical mass of damp toilet paper. Not a painful experience, but it just makes sense to get Ferrero Rocher at a different sweets shop." 

That's pretty much how I feel about Dishonored.  There's a lot of creativity and ideas in this game between the setting, some of the characters, the powers and the designs.  It's honestly something that under normal circumstances I would return to time and time again like Fallout 3 and Skyrim but how they implemented the morality choice just killed it for me and killed my enjoyment of the game.  It's sad when there can be so much right with a game but then colossally mess up one aspect so bad that it destroys any enjoyment you might have had.

If you don't care about having the bad ending and are perfectly fine with having a bleak outlook of the human experience and future then you probably won't have as big of a problem with this game as I did.  If you are like me and are striving for a good ending then I doubt I can recommend this as it  becomes quite a tedious frustration.... not bad just a real disappointment of what could have been something absolutely wonderful.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!

1 comment:

  1. I sort of like seeing how people handle reviews like this, reviewing a game they didn't adamantly hate but they didn't like.. fall in love with either. Being able to do it well is one of the most important things for a reviewer in my opinion. I think you did pretty good at that, considering! Your skills as a reviewer in general are getting better too. Thanks for the read!