Let’s Discuss Dishonored (Spoilers)
As opposed to the traditional review format for Dishonored, a game which has received a fair bit of press since its October 9th release, we here at Giant Fire Breathing Robot decided to take a slightly different route: an open discussion. Craig, Billy, and I all spent time with the game and all had slightly different opinions, so we decided to allow you, gentle readers, the ability to read the full transcript of our conversation, in hopes that you will have opinions of your own and contribute to the conversation.
Over the course of our discussion, we managed to cover the plot, art direction, level design, voice acting, gameplay, and even hopes for the sequel. Between this conversation and the time of posting this article, Bethesda has announced three downloadable content packs for Dishonored. The first pack will focus on the mechanical side of things, granting players ten challenge maps and will be available in December for $4.99. The future two packs will be released some time in 2013 and will be story-centric, although nothing else is known for the moment.
To be fair, as we had such an open discussion, there are potential spoilers for those who want to take care to avoid them. As such, now is your official warning:
Full transcript – *SPOILERS INBOUND*
CallmeMerry: So how far did you get in Dishonored?
Craig: Well, first spoiler alert, I guess, but I only managed to get just past the ‘twist’, if you can call it that. I mean, it seemed fairly obvious that something shady was going to happen.
CallmeMerry: Haha yeah, it wasn’t exactly hard to miss. I managed to beat the game with a low chaos rating and saw the ‘good’ ending, but had to YouTube the other “evil” ends. Apparently there are two different high chaos endings.
Billy: I just made it to Dunwall Tower, so I’m still a bit away from the end I think. Or rather, I just killed the Regent.
Craig: No farther than that?
Billy: Nope. I actually thought I was at the end until last night. It feels like Havelock is going to turn out to be the big bad.
Craig: One of the main things for me was how quickly you seemed to be murdering your way through these high-priority targets.
CallmeMerry: Yeah, that was a pretty significant tipoff that something wasn’t quite right. In just the first couple missions you are able to assassinate some major characters.
Billy: Yeah, I figured that something was going to (or in my case is going to happen) since you just walk through all the major leaders of Dunwall in like three missions, not to mention saving Emily very early.
Craig: Yes, and add in one of your ringleaders is Pendleton, who calmly sends you off to murder his brothers, they don’t seem too trustworthy.
CallmeMerry: While we are on this topic, how do you two feel about the story?
Craig: Would I seem like a douche if I answered “What story?”
CallmeMerry: Haha just a bit, although I am in the same camp.
Billy: In terms of the storytelling, the game doesn’t do a great job of presenting itself well…unless you obsess over the notes.
CallmeMerry: The story felt like a backdrop to the mechanics. Those notes were going to be the death of me.
Craig: I mean, it’s a classic set-up or scenario, but it doesn’t really do much with it, or it doesn’t really go anywhere. That’s a good point about the mechanics, Andrew. I’d also suggest it’s a backdrop to the setting.
Billy: I completely ignore the notes because I just want to play in those big sandbox levels.
Craig: Except they’re not really sandbox, are they? I kept hitting invisible walls.
CallmeMerry: If nothing else, Dishonored absolutely nailed the level design and the setting.
Billy: That’s true, and I would have loved some more interactivity in the levels. Like the bridge level, it would have been awesome to push parts of the crumbling buildings onto guards.
Craig: Yes, I should clarify; I thought the levels were all very well designed.
CallmeMerry: I wouldn’t necessarily call them sandbox levels, but having the freedom to figure out how you wanted to approach your goal is more than most games do. Closest one I can think of off the top of my head was Crysis 2.
Craig: Deus Ex Human Revolution is an obvious comparison with it, and you can see particularly in the level design how they differ. Deus Ex, for example, would have two, maybe three ways of tackling a level, and they were all easily spotted; the air duct, or the front door, basically.
Billy: I loved Deus Ex: HR to a certain point. But, you’re absolutely right. The level design felt very binary in places. Go here, or go there. Dishonored feels more fluid, if I get caught I’ve got options.
CallmeMerry: I’m afraid that Deus Ex slipped by me. I own the game, but it has found a full-time position in my backlog, but I have heard enough about it to understand what you guys mean What about the art design? The level design is one thing, but I have heard some people are not too fond of this style.
Craig: I guess I couldn’t help but keep contrasting the two games as I played, because I can’t really think of anything else quite like Dishonored. I found it occasionally off-putting, especially some of the faces, up close, and everyone’s massive hands.
CallmeMerry: Haha yeah, everyone is pretty ugly.
Craig: It occurred to me while playing that it might be a nod to Phrenology; the mad Victorian pseudo-science, not some bizarre random game, where people’s personalities and natures are dictated or reflected by the shape of their head and features. It struck me, given that the faces are quite…distinctive. I got thinking after my girlfriend watched me play it for a while and asked why they all looked weird.
Billy: That’s an interesting theory. I never spent enough time thinking about the shapes of skulls in the game, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled as I finish it. Now that I think about it, Sokolov and Piero have the same long, skinny face structure. You may be on to something.
CallmeMerry: I think it makes perfect sense. I always through Pendleton looked like a weasel and the whole “go murder my brothers” thing solidified my opinion of him.
Billy: I keep reading people comparing the design to Half-Life 2, but I keep getting Bioshock vibes.
Craig: I definitely got a Half-Life 2 vibe, I’m glad you mentioned that.
CallmeMerry: For me, I get the Bioshock vibe more from the care put into the setting than anything else, although the floating-hand syndrome seems to be a big point people mention.
Craig: The architecture, particularly, frequently had that brutalism, Soviet look to it that recalled City 17 for me.
Billy: Obviously, Dunwall and the Tallboys are reminiscent of City 17, but more than once I’ve just had to remind myself that Irrational didn’t make this game.
Craig: The stylized character design is quite obvious I think.
CallmeMerry: I actually loved the art style. It managed to look dirty while retaining plenty of color, which is not something a lot of games can manage.
Billy: I think one of the problems I had with this, much like Batman: Arkham Asylum, is I spend too much time in the dark vision mode and everything is yellow.
CallmeMerry: Haha yeah, good ol’ detective mode
Craig: That’s the one thing that continually annoyed me, Billy. I found myself doing exactly the same thing, constantly aware that I was missing out on so much detail.
CallmeMerry: So I assume you two were also playing as the stealthy assassin character, not the brutish fighter
Billy: Oh, yeah! If I get caught I reload my save. I’m a bit anal about that.
CallmeMerry: I reloaded so many times…
Craig: I actually made a point of not reloading any saves, and not actually making any unless I was experimenting. I aimed to be as stealthily as possible, but when I was detected and things went South, I just started hacking away.
CallmeMerry: I think that was the best way to play it to be honest. I was playing on very hard and it got quite tricky, particularly early on, but after mission 4 or so, I found myself to be absurdly powerful and had little difficulty after that. With time stop, agility, and blink, there were some levels I could literally sprint through and use two spirit potions and still not be detected.
Craig: One thing that annoyed me, trying to be stealthy, was the relative lack of non-lethal options versus lethal ones and, coming back to Deus Ex, the lack of payoff for taking the harder non-lethal route, discounting the eventual ending.
CallmeMerry: I wished there was more focus on nonlethal combat as well. Sleep darts and choking were about all that were available.
Billy: What do you guys think of the rune mechanic?
CallmeMerry: The runes or the bone charms?
Billy: The runes. The charms haven’t really impacted the way I play.
Craig: I was on the fence with the runes actually, but I liked the bone charms.
Billy: I have like 10 runes in reserve and I’m terrified to use them in case I come up against something and need to re-spec.
CallmeMerry: I am somewhat ambivalent towards them. My main reservation is that I wish there were less of them. By the end of the game, I had level 2 Agility, Bend Time, Dark Vision, Blink and Possession with some miscellaneous others placed into vitality or something.
Billy: I like that they force me to explore the maps, but I sort of wish the power progression wasn’t tied to them.
CallmeMerry: I understand that idea Billy, but I think it was a necessary evil in the game design. Having them spread through the level and tying them to character progression helped force the players to take advantage of the level design and the exploration Dishonored touted.
Craig: I wonder if that was part of the reason they went with them; to force or, at least, encourage players to explore?
CallmeMerry: Anything that is a collectible like that easily triggers their collector instinct and makes players explore while they look for them.
Craig: At the point I stopped playing, I had level two Blink, Dark Vision and Possession, with a few others at level one and all I ever seemed to use was Blink and Dark Vision.
Billy: Possession is very useful for stealth playing.
Craig: I think they definitely worked, as a means of character progression, but I feel like it could have been handled better.
CallmeMerry: I would have preferred if they were tired more with the gear and giving the gear power instead of Corvo having the supernatural power.
Craig: I liked the bone charms, I liked that they allowed you to tweak smaller things about your character
Billy: I could see the charms being more useful if you play as a brawler. There are a bunch that I have that refer to a mechanic I’ve not even opened up (adrenaline).
CallmeMerry: I haven’t had the time to invest in trying out the adrenaline. The charms I like because of their ability to be swapped in and out as necessary instead of locking them in place. Perhaps combining the two mechanics together would have worked in a way I liked better. Having the charms act like the plasmids from Bioshock that you could switch in and out, but using the runes to power them.
Billy: The charms were another element that very much reminded me of Bioshock.
Craig: There was no ability or function to respec your runes, was there?
CallmeMerry: Not that I am aware of. Dishonored got me really hyped up, and I do consider it to be a great game, but there are some areas that just fall flat.
Craig: I’ll admit I didn’t explore much of the combat mechanics, but what I did, I would suggest fell flat occasionally. It may come back to the eternal problem of first-person melee, but it seemed like it just ended up a sequence of parry/strike animations.
Billy: I agree, Craig. Combat seemed a bit lopsided towards the A.I. for me. But, man, that pistol feels great to shoot.
Craig: I think I need to rent it again, so I can go back and murder some fools, just to see how it goes (and in-game). Ahohoho.
Craig: DISCLAIMER: Giant Fire Breathing Robot does not encourage you to murder anyone, fools or not!
CallmeMerry: Haha! I think we should highlight that in the transcript. Honestly, I kept expecting a romantic element, which is weird.
Craig: Odd, I never thought about anything like that coming up, pardon the pun, maybe partly due to Corvo’s silence which annoyed me no end.
Billy: Ha ha! Even if it was just more dialog options, I wanted more of a character out of Corvo.
CallmeMerry: I know, right!? I am fine with most silent protagonists, but it kept feeling like he should react in some manner, especially since they didn’t shy away from getting some larger names for the voice acting.
Craig: Certainly having Corvo speak would have made the storytelling aspect a bit easier I think and I actually liked the idea or concept of the heart, the way you could use it to hear secrets about people, although it took me a while to figure it out. *Any* character out of him would have been good, he’s essentially a non-entity.
Craig: Not that they made much use of the celebrities doing the voice acting, Susan Sarandon in particular.
CallmeMerry: I now picture Corvo sounding like Liam Neeson.
Billy: Corvo: Release the Kraken!
CallmeMerry: They got her, Lena Headey (whom I love), Carrie Fisher, Chloe Moretz, and John Slattery.
Craig: I will now attempt to mangle Neeson’s “I will find you” bit from Taken to fit Dishonored. Wait, Carrie Fisher was in it?
Billy: Brad Dourif, playing Piero, was probably my favorite.
CallmeMerry: Yeah ‘alternate street speaker’ I believe is her accreditation.
Billy: What?! Wow.
Craig: Ye Gods!
Craig: I mean, Carrie Fisher isn’t exactly the world’s most talented actress, but you would have thought they’d make more of it, if only for the geek-love. Going back to Sarandon, she’s a fantastic actress, and I would have loved to see her in a ‘lead’ role instead of a crazy old woman muttering to herself, occasionally.
CallmeMerry: They got the names, but didn’t make any use of them.
Billy: It was almost like they were more interested in advertising the amazing cast instead of using them in any significant capacity.
CallmeMerry: Uhh…oh yeah, the heart, and romance. I loved how much it added to the back story of the characters and because of that stupid thing, I really liked Cecelia. Did either of you use it much?
Billy: Instead of the notes and books, I got really obsessive about using the heart on people. There’s quite a lot of writing for NPCs with the heart. That was very surprising to me.
Craig: I used it a few times, to amuse myself, but generally I kept forgetting about it, most of the NPCs seemed forgettable to me.
CallmeMerry: I found it to be one of the more powerful tools that helped build context for the game. The one that really caught me off guard was when it tells of Cecelia’s youngest was sick with the plague. It really helped to explain her demeanor in the game and made her character more tragic.
Craig: There were a couple of touching moments with the heart. I used it on a couple of the hookers in game (giggity) and you got some of their back story – coming to the city for work, ending up on the streets, etc. I thought that was a good touch.
CallmeMerry: I couldn’t tell if they were randomly assigned stories or if they were scripted, but it helped each NPC to stand out from each other if they used it.
Craig: Can I ask something about the overall setting? Do either of you feel that ‘steampunk’ is the wrong term for it?
CallmeMerry: Steampunk doesn’t sit right with me.
Billy: Me neither.
CallmeMerry: I heard the term ‘teslapunk’ being tossed around and I suppose that works. It was all electric stuff, not steam engines or clockwork. I wish I could remember where I heard that.
Billy: I like that!
Craig: Teslapunk is a good one actually, I was going to suggest Dieselpunk, but that’s better.
Billy: Well, fellas, I’ve got to get going. So, if you’d like to discuss spoilers, I’ll just excuse myself.
CallmeMerry: Cya Billy!
Craig: In truth, I think we’re almost done
Billy: It was a lot of fun though! Thanks for inviting me!
Craig: Thanks for joining in.
CallmeMerry: Yeah, we covered a lot, the only other idea I have is concerning a sequel. I imagine this is going to get one since it seems to be doing quite well, especially for a new IP.
Craig: I agree, especially given the amount of world building that seems to have gone on.
CallmeMerry: Yeah, there is already a menu for DLC, which is fine, but I would prefer a sequel. Like we mentioned, the story wasn’t that interesting and they glossed over the most interesting parts. I wanted more on the Outsider (not him just acting like a narrator asking you questions).
Craig: Yeah, I wasn’t sold on him, at least not without any back story. He just appeared out of nowhere, literally, and kind of takes over.
CallmeMerry: Very deus ex machina.
Craig: Strange character design, partway between Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows and Morpheus from Sandman.
CallmeMerry: Maybe they have DLC planned for him, but he didn’t add much beside the brand.
Craig: Very much a means to an end, as if the developers wondered how else to give Corvo his magic powers.
CallmeMerry: I think they mention 5-6 islands in that world, so if they make one, I would like to see them use similar mechanics, just polish it and place it in a new island. The Outsider could still be there and expand his story, maybe focus on the political backdraft of the plague.
Craig: You mentioned the difficulty – how did you find it?
CallmeMerry: Like I said earlier, I played on “very hard,” but once I got Blink 2 and Bend Time, it was pretty easy, well, sneaking anyway. Combat was tough at times and two pistol shots could drop me if I wasn’t careful. You?
Craig: Ouch. I didn’t play it on very hard, so I found it easy enough, really only failing when I blocked instead of knocked a guy out from behind or misjudged a jump due to first-person platforming, which is never fun.
CallmeMerry: Yeah, I think it would have worked just as well in 3rd person, plus they would have had more of a reason to add personality to Corvo. It would also be easier to judge when I was hidden and when I wasn’t because, with no stealth indicator, there were times where I was discovered and killed when I thought I was safe.
Craig: Yes, that annoyed me as well. Obviously FPS stealth can be done right, the Thief series showed that, but the stealth in Dishonored seemed solid, for the most part, and it really only let me down once or twice.
CallmeMerry: A nice layer of polish and it would be great; tightening up those mechanics, fleshing out the story (and characters), maybe a new location. Pretty much everything expected from a sequel. Anything else you would like to see in a Dishonored 2?
Craig: I think you nailed it.