Dishonored: too short? You’re doing it wrong

Tuesday, 9 October 2012 08:17 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Dishonored has achieved a remarkable critical consensus, but nobody seems able to agree on how long it is. Is nine missions too few to justify a triple-A price tag? Not at all, says Brenna Hillier.

Dishonored is a playground and everyone is invited to do whatever they bloody well like, and this is so far removed from what we’ve been taught to expect of triple-A first person titles that a contingent of players simply aren’t going to understand that on their first try.

Dishonored only has nine missions: this is a fact which may cause you concern. There are plenty of people who say this is enough, provided you take your time rather than rush, and you are right, based on historical incidents, to be mistrustful of them. Whenever a game with a distinctive aesthetic turns up people get starry-eyed and start throwing around terms like “embedded narrative” and “player-authored experiences,” and you’re well within your rights to do a little sick as a result; we can’t all get excited about the high-concept stuff.

If Dishonored were in this category I would even now be crafting a paragraph exhorting you to stop and reconstruct a story from the carefully scattered teacups in an abandoned room, and you’d be yawning and closing the tab. Happily, it’s not. You don’t need to spend an hour looking at broken crockery in order to pad out your gameplay time. Enjoying Dishonored isn’t about stopping to smell the roses and write sickening fanfics; it’s about playing the game.

Really playing it, I mean – playing with it. Dishonored is a playground and everyone is invited to do whatever they bloody well like, and this is so far removed from what we’ve been taught to expect of triple-A first person titles that a contingent of players simply aren’t going to understand that on their first try.

If you finish Dishonored in six hours, son, you played it wrong; and you played it as you’ve been taught to by the successive waves of tightly linear games which have dominated the triple-A scene for years. Following the mission markers and completing objectives is, of course, the “point” of the game but unlike Lure of Glory: Combat Zone XVII if you stop moving forward the game does not obligingly halt and wait for you. It doesn’t constrain you to an A-to-B path where looking behind you shows only empty rooms. There is no advantage to taking the quickest route beyond the fact that it is the quickest route, and by following it you will quite literally miss most of the game and do yourself a right disservice.

Let me level with you, friends. I don’t count hours when I play but I’m pretty sure my first run through of Dishonored was less than ten hours. That’s not a lot, although metrics suggest it may well be too much for many of you (think about your pile of unfinished games when we hit 2047 and all single-player campaigns can be completed on your tea break). I consider this first play through to have been wrong. I needed to learn the rules and see the story quickly so I could do a second play ahead of review deadline, and while I had a smashing time and would highly recommend that ten hour experience to anyone, I didn’t get anywhere near as much joy as when I began my third, unhurried, post-deadline pass.

Doing it right.

This time, I peeked into corners; talked to NPCs; listened to the fever-dream whisperings of the Heart; tracked down side quests; experimented with different strategies and abilities; sought out all the runes and bone charms to expand my repertoire; purchased upgrades; communed with the Outsider.

And that’s not even half of what I could do, if I chose. I’m not reading the books or standing patiently around while NPCs blather; I’m not being pedantic about collecting every item or getting perfect stats; I’m not quicksaving and reloading for any reason other than fun. And yet: I’m not finished this new playthrough after 20 hours. I’m having the time of my life, despite having nominally (but not actually) seen it all twice already. I strongly resent not being back at it right now.

Dishonored is like your career, your love life and your education – you get out what you put in. If you want to speed run it in six hours you are welcome to do so. If you want to spend upwards of 40 on a save-and-reload completionist run you are at liberty to pursue this. Neither of these extremes appeal to me in the slightest but until the revolution comes I am not in charge of you: nobody can stop you from deliberately not enjoying yourself and then complaining about it on the Internet if that’s what fires your loins.

Don’t be that guy. Give Dishonored a bit of respect, do yourself a favour and remember how to have some fun.

Dishonored releases in the US today and in the EU on Friday.

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