Dishonored: why you shouldn’t buy Arkane’s sandbox

Friday, 12 October 2012 09:17 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Dishonored finally arrives in Europe today, and a lot of people are going to buy it. Will you be among them? Or do you just hate fun?

Since Mr Internet is a notoriously contrary and cynical bastard I can’t guarantee that you’re going to like Dishonored, but I can say this: everyone here at VG247 likes it, despite our disparate tastes. Pat hasn’t liked anything that wasn’t a chilli, a filthy club remix or someone hurting themselves in an amusing fashion for over seven months now and even he likes it.

We like it for a lot of different reasons. The gameplay is so flexible that your first run should be little more than long series of mind-blowing revelations at the opportunities afforded by each power before you head back in to use them properly.

Dunwall feels Frankensteinian in construction but somehow goes straight to Bonerville with its mish-mash of influences. Some of the characters are almost alarmingly interesting and it’s very easy to care about Corvo’s highly-personal quest.

Arkane’s execution isn’t flawless by any means, but it is more than adequate to communicate a daring vision, and Dishonored is going to influence a whole upcoming generation of games in terms of storytelling, aesthetic and design. What I’m saying is that this is a title you shouldn’t hesitate to check out, regardless of how far outside your normal preferences it falls.

It’s a little hard to put myself in your ratty old Chucks; given access to the cash for it, I would buy Dishonored quicker than you can say “right up my alley”. But let’s imagine you live in another, nicer neighbourhood; why wouldn’t you want to play Dishonored?

It’s too short.

Here’s a speedrun of the second mission…

No it’s not, you prat, and I spent quite a long time saying so. I know what you want from games, friend: you want a wee popup saying “mission successful” and a breakdown of how amazing you are at pressing buttons on your plastic input device of choice.

For years you have been trained to believe that this is how things are done – games give you a task; you complete them in as direct a fashion as possible; an achievement unlocks; this repeats for 12 or so hours and it feels like $60 well spent. If it lasts for less than 12 hours you write an angry forum post.

That’s fine, dude, and I wish you well in your mole-like ingestion of breast-fed entertainment. But if you can give up the speed run mentality for a couple of minutes, you’re going to be more than compensated for your precious, precious time (which has been assigned a dollar value of game cover price divided by minimum hours spent on one aspect of the game).

Even once you’ve tried out both extremes of the chaos metre, there’s loads to find in terms of side quests, branching storylines, and lore – let alone the potential for mechanical exploration; Arkane’s beautiful semi-sandbox has only been out a few days and already people are doing marvellous things with it, suggesting a YouTube phenomenon in the making.

…and here’s what can happen if you experiment.

It’s too hard.
Oh deary, deary me, I thought we were gamers, not coma patients; I certainly prefer to chew my food rather than have it fed to me via suppository drip. But I’m being mean; you’re in good company here, with Jerry “Tycho” Holkins of Penny Arcade also confessing to a fear that the game was judging his performance and punishing his failed attempts at stealth. In fact, he called the mounting difficulty that occurs with the Chaos system as being “punished for being punished”.

I think this misses a point, to everybody’s loss. (For one thing, if you fail at stealth you can always Blink away and hide in a bin; nobody’s making you respond to attacks with swords swinging, are they? If so, maybe call the police.)

You don’t have to be perfect at the game to keep your chaos level low – goodness knows I was all flailing panic on my first run and emerged with the “best” ending regardless.

For those who enjoy the combat and are good at it, increasing Chaos is a reward: more enemies to blow up. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of believing there’s a right and wrong way to play, and that you’re doing it wrong.

It’s too different.
I understand you have a comfort zone and it extends barely a metre from the path in the carpet you’ve tracked on countless trips between couch, fridge, and bathroom. Dishonored is full of weirdness, not just in its not-quite-steampunk aesthetic (which is indeed pretty weird, in the most delightful way), but in its differentiation from current triple-A design.

A lot of big budget triple-A games are so afraid of you not playing them that they play themselves, or maybe play with themselves; certainly some of the single-player shooter campaigns seem to be pointlessly masturbating while you quietly follow the camera through corridors.

Dishonored doesn’t do that. Dishonored invites you to play along with it; it rewards and encourages experimentation. The learning curve – unassisted by an awkward opening sequence – is arguably high but broaching it is like payday: suddenly you remember that games are fun, not chores to be completed – and this revelation is dangerously detracting of other major releases this year.

Ticking off a list of activities to get an achievement and mindlessly following a series of cookie-cutter orders for 30 hours isn’t fun. Why are we sitting around with control pads in our hands if we’re not having fun?

Why indeed; swap the Dishonored disc in, would you?

Dishonored is out now in all territories, for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.