One of the triple-A titles I was looking forward to this year was Dishonored. It’s strange, because I had two people that have little to nothing to do with video games (my father and my friend) say some interesting things about it to me. My friend plays Mario games and sports games almost exclusively, though right now he is playing through Grand Theft Auto III, so he isn’t super limited. He knows a decent bit about gaming because I force it on him. I was expressing a bit of disappointment in Dishonored, and he said “Yeah I don’t know why you were excited for that game, it didn’t look like it was going to be that good at all. It says you have all this freedom and you can do all these cool things, but it just doesn’t work.” Then my dad, who knows almost nothing about video games after the Sega Genesis (the last time we played games together) said “It reminds me of that Assassin’s Creed series.”
That’s pretty much what I think of this game. I got sucked in by the hype because it was Arkane Studios, and bought into the same kind of hype from 2009 for Assassin’s Creed 2. It was silly of me, but I did any way.
Dishonored is not a bad game at all, certainly better than Assassin’s Creed 2. It was even a lot of fun for the first mission or two. The first hour or so I played felt great, but I quickly succumbed to the repetitive nature of the game that it shares with the Assassin’s Creed series. The missions were largely boring. The side missions were alright, I liked that they helped to open up non-lethal paths and added some variety to the game. Most distracting was the cliched and boring nature of the story, however.
The story is very divided. The ambient stories, written in the notes and nursery rhymes and folk lore, are excellent. They add a great deal of atmosphere and depth to the world, but the actual characters and story of the game take a huge back seat. The story itself was awful. I would have to say that, far from being the worst story I’ve experienced in the past few years, it is still exceptionally cliched and boring with possibly the most obvious plot twists known to man. As soon as I got to the Hound Pits I knew exactly what was going to happen.
An issue that contributed to me not caring about the characters at all was the abysmal voice acting. It’s funny that I was so put off by it when, looking through the cast right now, they had some big names. Susan Sarandon did an ok job as Granny Rags, but other than that I can’t really think of any characters that I enjoyed listening to, aside from the heart and Piero to a certain extent. The heart was the only voice I really enjoyed, which was voiced by April Stewart. Ironic that she would be my favorite voice actor in the game, and also voice female voice of South Park. Maybe it’s just my undying love for that show bleeding through.
The heart was a great part of the game. It helped to expand on the already lush world and give you a better sense of the temperament of the people of Dunwall, as well as adding some real-ness to your reaction for killing people that might not necessarily want to be doing what you are killing them for. It was an interesting way to include the ambient world with out forcing you to read all the notes and books. It also helped to add some history that seemed to have been forgotten in Dunwall, and wouldn’t necessarily have been in the books or notes.
Corvo’s character is a huge issue for me. He is completely not there and undeveloped. He has no voice, but isn’t truly a silent protagonist like Gordon Freeman because he has bits of text dialogue that you choose, so he loses the benefits of silence and just looks like a lazy, boring character. You can’t project yourself onto his silence because he isn’t silent, but you can’t sympathize with him because he has no personality. There is literally no purpose to him besides being a vessel for your gameplay, which would be fine if the game didn’t try to force him on you every now and then.
The Outsider, the one who gives you the heart and your powers, was rather bland as well. The scrawling on the walls of “The Outsider walks among us” gave him a mysterious feel; something akin to the Ratman from the Portal series. Then they went and ruined it by actually putting him in the game. The introduction of The Outsider in the game marked my slow decent towards not caring about the game’s story or characters at all. His voice acting isn’t bad, so his dialogue isn’t painful to listen to, but his existence killed the mystery for me, and negated the interest I had for him. His monologue at the end was nice, however. He drove home the consequences of the “good” run through for me, and left me feeling fuzzy and satisfied with my insistence on being “moral” in video games.
That was more the purpose that a clairvoyant being serves in this story’s context, as a narrator. Initially he is a mysterious figure that is talked about in shadows and mystery. Then you are introduced to him, and he fills a psuedo-narrative role by giving you information that others could not, though the information is given entirely outside (heh) the story thus lacks any meaning because it loses the context necessary for an impact. The Outsider reminded me of the new Dante a little, as well. He looked a bit like him, and sounded quite a bit like him, without the obnoxious slurs.
The most grating character for me was Samuel the Boatman, not because his character was necessarily worse than the others, but because you were forced to listen to him between every level. I disliked his “world wise” thoughts on just about everything, because they were largely redundant, and made that boat ride at the beginning of every mission obnoxious instead of simply boring. He saves you, and that’s fine, it was certainly in his established character, but I felt no connection to him because he just talked on and on and I didn’t particularly want to hear a word he said, and while you could skip the dialogue of other characters, you couldn’t skip his ever. In a recent interview with our site Josh Sawyer talked about how when a companion is forced on you, a lot of gamers react negatively to it, and that is the case here, at least for me.
Emily actually represents a lot more in the game than I initially gave her credit for. She represents the purity that you are attempting to restore to Dunwall. Much like Daud’s home, which I talk about later, she represents the idealization of childhood and the necessity for those weathered by the world to return to that purity. You are continually seeking her through out the game, and she is what drives you to kill or stays your hand. She is also what drives the Loyalist to assassination and betrayal in pursuit of her, and is the focus of those attempting to corrupt the city. I might be reading to much into this, perhaps my Reading Between The Lines articles are bleeding through, but I don’t think it is impossible that Arkane could conceive of and implement this mature a metaphor.
Now let’s talk about the awful “betrayal,” and the Admiral. The second I stepped out of that boat at the Hound Pitts I knew that eventually the Admiral would betray me. It wasn’t even foreshadowing, it was just a horrendous cliche plain and simple. Even worse, there isn’t even a reason to be upset by the betrayal. There was no trust built up between you and him. Sure, he broke you out of prison, but he was never anything more than the guy that gave you your missions. When you are betrayed there is no sense of surprise or betrayal, just another person that you didn’t really know very well that tried to kill you. The end was even worse, though. I wanted to spare his life, but I listened to what he had to say, and took the key to Emily’s room, and he attacked me, so I killed him. In retrospect I should have realized to sleep dart him, but he offered to go to prison.
Some of the side characters were interesting. I wish that Piero and Sokolov were more developed, because they were interesting to an extent. Piero’s voice acting was quite natural, but when you caught him spying on one of the maids he literally went into full on panic mode and sounded hilarious. It was interesting to see these two men of science portrayed, not as “nerds” that wear thick rimmed glasses and Power Ranger t-shirts, but as actual scientists, a bit removed from society, uncomfortable with social interaction. Piero was the outcast scientist who was chastised for his unconventional thinking. He was expelled from the Academy of Science, and carries on his research in private, much like the more famous scientists of history.
Sokolov was the image of the accepted scientist. He leads the research in the attempt to find the cure for the plague. This involves conducting experiments on humans, though not out of any sick pleasure he gained from it, but simply for the name of science. He actually helps you out later on if you chose to bribe him. He and Piero get all chummy towards the end, which is funny because of how much Piero hates Sokolov at the beginning. The relationship is formed through trial and strife, and shows how little their differences really mattered.
Granny Rags and Slackjaw were the only two characters that actually made you choose sides with any sense of moral ambiguity. Everything else in the game was a basic kill or don’t kill choice, which is very black and white, while Granny Rags and Slackjaw had diametrically opposed goals, though were both likable characters that presented no reason to favor one way or another. It was possible to work for both throughout the game, but eventually you had to choose to either kill Granny Rags and save Slackjaw, or leave him to die with her and take his key. I chose to kill her, and it was revealed that she was actually a force of evil, unsurprisingly. Why would she just have all of those runes. Another twist that was to be expected, but it wasn’t that bad.
Daud was the first character that made me feel any kind of anything in the game. He’s an example of a well established archetype being done well in this game. When he is recording his thoughts on the assassination of the Empress I sneaked up above him and read his journals. Daud is a typical remorseful enemy. His dialogue was full of emotion, dictating his questioning of his own morality, as well as remembering his childhood home wistfully. Daud managed to have a bit of metaphor, though crude and heavy handed. Dunwall was a city poisoned and on the brink of death, and it parallels his own character. He draws this line, and wonders if he can ever return home to the childhood innocence and purity that he had. It isn’t the best character ever, but it is better than the rest of them.
It might have been that his story resonated with me, though. In his journal he talks about how he wonders about his home, whether it is rotten and destroyed like Dunwall, and himself, or if it is still how he remembers it. After you defeat him he asks you to let him live, so that he can return. This is one of the few parts of the game that poses a real question for the player to ponder. “If I lose my morality, can I get it back?” Everything else is “is it just the nature of man to kill or seek power?” which is honestly tired and old at this point.
The whole damned story is cliched to hell and back. A corrupt religious zealot conspires to overthrow the crown, leading to your imprisonment, escape, and eventual revenge? Tell me more, please! I haven’t heard this exact story 100 times already. Oh you get betrayed by those you thought you could trust? What a twist! It’s fine to use well established plot elements and characters, actually it’s more than fine it’s almost inescapable, there are even examples of it in Dishonored, but at least do something interesting with it. Make me care about the story.
The writing in this video games is pretty bland. Except for a few outstanding things the characters were either useless or boring. I had to put some effort into finding worth while characters. The writing in video games these days is mostly bland and boring, so it’s nice to see Arkane at least have some good areas. Arkane developed a great ambient world that helped hold my attention for longer than the game’s story warranted. The only problem with that was they wanted me to care about the story. Overall, if you are going to play this game for the story, don’t. If you want an interesting world with lots to read, then this is an excellent game.
I’m not even going to bother with the abysmal ambient dialogue that the various NPCs had. “The city has gotten worse, do you think it will get better? Indeed I believe so.”