I just finished playing Dishonored today. While it was kind of interesting, overall I was pretty disappointed. My biggest problem with the game is that it’s got a moral choice element similar to the one seen in Infamous. This in itself wouldn’t be a big problem, as Infamous is one of the only games to pull it off without it ruining the gameplay, but Arkane Studios has fallen far from the mark with Dishonored.
Without spoiling anything for people who haven’t played the game, it boils down thusly: Corvo (Henceforth referred to as “you”) has to get to his objective, usually a person who needs to be neutralized. Along the way there are oodles and oodles of burly men who want to put you in a bodybag. You can get past them using a variety of powers and weapons, and here’s where things get dicey.
See, the game tells you that slipping by without leaving a trace (or at the very least a pile of bodies) will lead to a low “chaos” level and eventually a happy ending, whereas reenacting Kill Bill will cause the city to plummet into a dark hellhole with rats eating everyone and a not-so-happy ending. Same goes for your final targets. Rendering them unconscious or finding a nonviolent way to get rid of them keeps everything happy and cheerful, while giving them extra air holes makes everybody sad and grumpy about what you’re doing.
So the answer seems simple, right? Just go all Solid Snake on their butts and everyone’s happy, right?
Well I’m glad you asked! Because unfortunately, Arkane Studios seems to hate smiles and laughter. They REALLY don’t want you to get the good ending. Amongst your arsenal of pointy bits and superpowers there are dozens of choices for stabbing, shooting, burning, exploding, breaking, eating, shocking, blasting, and shredding your enemies. You are carrying half an armory’s worth of bullets and crossbow bolts, which can be recovered from dead enemies, as well as dozens of explosives. Compared to this, you have 1, exactly 1 weapon which allows you to take enemies down without killing them. It’s the sleep darts for your crossbow, of which you can only carry ten at a time, and which cannot be recovered. So hopefully you don’t ever need to put more then 10 guys to sleep during a mission, because the game almost never gives you more of the damn things.
Oh, there is one more way of knocking enemies out, but that involves creeping up behind them and choking them til they pass out. Now even with this massive imbalance between lethal and nonlethal methods for dealing with enemies, it still wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if it weren’t for the game’s insistence that this be a measure of your morality.
For example, lets say you’re sneaking about, trying to be all good and happy and not-stabby, but you get spotted by some ruffians! They don’t look pleased to see you.
Now, unless you want to run away every single time somebody notices you, or use up some of your precious sleep darts, you have to fight them and kill them.
Now you’ve done it. Everyone’s very disappointed in you. The game’s chaos level will rise and eventually the streets will be filled with rats and plague victims. Never mind the fact that those guys were trying they’re hardest to kill you, or that the AI will follow you halfway across the city once they’ve locked on to you. So unless you’re really good at not getting spotted, be prepared for everyone to think your an evil monster because you didn’t want to get killed.
It’s the worst implementation of a moral system in a video game that I’ve ever seen. There is no choice made here. The player doesn’t choose to be spotted by the enemy, it just happens (quite often) and then every enemy within the immediate area knows your exact location. In Infamous, you could use all your powers in a fight and it doesn’t affect how good or evil you are. It only matters what you do with the survivors. If you tie them up and hand them over to the police, you’re good. If you drain the life from their bodies, you’re evil. Infamous doesn’t punish you for getting into a scuffle. Even Metal Gear Solid, with its emphasis on non-violence and moralistic speechifying, doesn’t punish you for killing the guys who are trying to kill you.
The worst part about all of this is that it destroys the fun of the game. Since I was trying to get the good ending, I tried to kill as few enemies as possible. Because of this, I found that I didn’t want to explore the game’s (admittedly well designed) levels. When I looked down a dingy street, lined with buildings full of loot and clues about the game’s backstory, I found myself thinking, “Eh, if I go that way, I’ll probably run into bad guys, and then I’ll have to fight them. Then I’ll get the bad ending.” So instead I just went straight to the objective. As someone who obsessively check every nook and cranny in both Bioshock games, I can tell you it is not in my nature to pass up on the side quests and exploration. But the fact is, the more time you spend running around, the more likely you are to get into a fight. The game is basically punishing you for being curious and wanting to explore the city.
Basically, the knowledge that every single dead body adds up to determine the outcome of your game, rather then any actual choices you make, means I couldn’t enjoy my time skulking around the rooftops because it was always there in the back of my mind saying “Don’t do that sweet, jump assassination, even though it would be totally bitchin. It’ll make you evil!”
Just for the record, I managed to get the good ending… but it was so unsatisfying that I feel like I should have just gone all Captain Stabface and not cared how the game turned out. Maybe next time…