I Have to Accept That I Don’t Like Dishonored
Sometimes a game comes along that is almost universally loved. People sing its praises, the critics all give it good scores, you’re called a “troll” if you don’t like it, and the gaming world refuses to accept any other opinion. As with all games, there will be an inevitable minority that don’t like the game, for whatever reason, and it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in this predicament. In my case, it’s with Dishonored. Arkane Studios gorgeous 2012 first person stealth title about a man named Corvo rescuing a girl named Emily was beloved across the board. Garnering a 90 percent Metacritic and just about the same score across most of the major US and European publications gave little reason to not think this was a masterpiece. It would go on to win several Game of the Year awards as well as industry awards and had the sales to back up the hype. There’s no reason not to play Dishonored, no matter what game you’re into. Except for me. I am consistently infuriated by this game and it sucks that I don’t like it. I want to like this game, I should like this game, but I just don’t. Here’s my story as to just how hard I tried to convince myself that I should like this title. It is not a review.
Aesthetically I can’t say enough good things about Dishonored. The graphics are a period piece oil painting brought to life and it feels like every area, environment, and character was handcrafted for authenticity. Top voice actors like Chloe Grace Moretz (Emily) – whom I’ve loved since Kick-Ass – and Michael Madsen (Daud) add more to the idea that you are playing within a world that is alive. Dishonored was easily the best looking game on consoles in 2012 and even now when I boot it up on PC it shines bright and beautiful like 4 years of visual improvements have never happened. The “blink” special move allows Corvo to be the superhuman all of us stealth genre fans hopes for. All of your moves are sharp and responsive completed by a save mechanic that allows you to spam your way to perfection or rely on the in-game checkpoints to decide your fate. Each scenario has about a thousand ways (that’s hyperbole friends) to tackle a situation, tons of tools, and even non-lethal ways to handle assassinations. It appears to be the perfect package.
I’m not going to belabor the point, but I want to prove that I see the value in not only what this game is but what it offers to the time it was created. I feel like I play this game differently than many others. I always like to try to play stealth games without killing – some of my favorite runs in Metal Gear Solid 3 have been pacifist runs – and frankly Dishonored isn’t the best game for it. Granted, it’s totally doable, but you have to make a “pacifist” run, which points out one of my core issues with the title: you have to know in advance and/or plan for each tactic. There’s a side mission (or achievement, I forget) called “Street Conspiracy” that involves you working with an NPC called “Granny Rags” and you’ll be in a situation where you have to keep her at bay near a furnace. If you hit her with a sleep dart, the universal catch all for pacifists, she is counted as a death. Granted, this was when the game first came out on 360 and it was a known bug with the solution being either to not play that optional mission for a pacifist run or to play it and not do a pacifist run. I hear it’s since been patched to work correctly, but that’s only if you hit her with the dart during a specific window of time that is after certain events and before others. This is far too much work and requires me to spoil the game and use a guide, both things that I don’t want to do the first time through. Many don’t understand why I take issue with this. I take issue because it’s a mission the game provides me, and thus it is content I wish to experience since I purchased the game, but it also negates a challenge that the game has also put in front of me. It’s like Dishonored is cheating at its own rules and I don’t like that this is acceptable design. Furthermore, the idea that using a guide is the solution drives me nuts. If you want to use a guide, go ahead, but it should not be required to achieve a certain goal.
Moving on is the concept of how the game goes about informing you of important, sometimes necessary requirements. Sometimes it’s totally upfront with your needs and requirements, while other times it flat out leaves you with no information whatsoever. Your first target is Overseer Campbell and upon entering his area you get a clear cut indication of exactly what you need to do to get a pacifist execution (you execute his “character” rather than him). When you go to take out the Pendleton Twins in the second area the pacifist option is not present. Earlier I had gone and done a mission that was offered to me with Slackjaw, but upon getting what he needed Slackjaw attacked me. If you do an Internet search there are certain specific ways you need to get the information from the art dealer (part of the mission) whereas others say he’s glitched and still others claim it’s for doing things like knocking out a guard near him. Whatever the reason, even when I follow a guide step by step I can’t get the damn non-lethal version character assassination because Slackjaw is attacking me no matter what I do. This infuriated me further within the mission for Sokolov where I dropped a guy on a ledge but he glitched to fall off and it counted as a death caused by me. I get the logic behind it but I didn’t think it would result in a death since it didn’t tell me that was the case. Get to the end of the mission, see one death, lose my mind. This entire game as a pacifist appears, to me, to not be about playing it but rather preparing for the many ways in which the game will try to get you to kill someone. Even more baffling is the fact that the game seems to be completely about you trying not to kill anyone, so the odds are clearly stacked against you. By this point you may be asking why I simply didn’t play a non-pacifist run. Well that’s because the game seems to be rather compatible with a non-lethal run in design so it’s not too hard to accomplish and I find it more fun and tense this way. What I don’t like is when the immersion breaks because I have to reload the same area a thousand times to get past one little part or when the game’s interpretation of my actions seems counter to my actual intentions.
I even reached out to those I know and trust, asking them why they enjoyed it so much. Almost universally the response was that you could be an accomplished killer with vile vindictive actions flying left and right to terrorize Dunwall and the people you don’t like within it. Killing is not just a factor of your fun but a necessity for really seeing what Dishonored has to offer, it would seem. Even many of your learned powers involve death and killing and thus are immediately useless to a pacifist (or even mostly pacifist) player. This is a serious disconnect. Don’t believe me? Run a search on Dishonored pacifist runs, bugs, or just plain scour the Steam discussions, you’ll see I’m far from alone with having tons of issues trying to accomplish the simple task of completing the game without a guide or killing. I even decided to try allowing for killing and only using checkpoints on my third and final run at this game. The result was by the third target (Lady Boyle), I had amassed a body count of about 20 people and wasn’t having a lick of fun. After 3 full attempts at the campaign, a combined total of nearly 40 hours of play and my average attempt clocking in around 12 hours, I am giving up on Dishonored. I had high hopes for this title, and I’m sure I could beat it if I wanted to, but I refuse to play games that I do not enjoy. I don’t know about that guy who beat it in 4 hours, but this game is far from short unless you’re playing it like a sociopath. I’m even more aggravated because I think Dishonored 2 looks amazing, but there’s no question that this title is using the same concepts and building upon the activities of the first, so it’ll be a waste of time for me. To add insult to injury I recently got back into and completed the 2014 game Thief, which everyone seemed to universally hate. I absolutely loved it. What’s wrong with me?
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and are not necessarily the views of Gaming History 101 and its other contributors.