Dishonored: Good For (up to) Two Playthroughs of Fun!
By now, I assume most of the people who are following the gaming industry ‘big news’ have at the very least formed some kind of an opinion of Dishonored. Maybe that it sucks. Maybe that it rocks. Maybe that they hate all the world for spoiling the tutorial. Maybe that they got as far as X and they think that Y is a superb innovation, but P is not. Why P? WHO CARES. At any rate, this game is big, this game has been gushed over so hard that its code has drowned in an Olympic pool of gushjuice, and I’ve had the time to play it through three times, step back, let it settle a bit, and reflect. And all that reflection has sprouted the following thought: Dishonored is a game you don’t want to replay more than exactly twice.
How can this be, you ask. I thought Dishonored was the potential GOTY, you say. How can you read my every single thought, you despair. Well, put down that tactical assault banana and let me explain, kay? Aye, it is true that the Dish game is very immersive and very satisfying (and you should totally play it). It is also a game that is surprisingly linear – not so much in terms of level design as in a larger, overarching objective and progression sense. The driving force of this game is the storyline. And, well, it is a very straight storyline, offering only one proverbial carrot that matters: the mission objective. Achieve it, and the next mission automatically proceeds – again with its own carrot.
It is true that there are sub-objectives, collectibles and such. They really aren’t new carrots though – they are the vague promise of a carrot, or maybe a fancy carrot-grabbing-robot-arm that lets you get the real carrot easier. Did the analogy fly by your head like that banana you threw at me for being so obtuse? In simpler terms, the subobjectives are almost never stuff that you do for it’s own sakes – they either contribute to you getting more runes and bone charms, or they contribute to methods making it easier to reach the final mission objective. In this way, Dishonored is linear, because it always makes sure that you as a player are working towards one single goal. And that big goal is the same on successive playthroughs, and it follows and is followed by the same goals in the same order, no matter how you approach things.
Oh, hey, that’s right, Dishonored evaluates the player’s approach. Stabbing dudes in the neck with sword leads to them dying, which leads to an ‘overall darker, more chaotic world’, whereas stabbing them in the neck with a banana makes you feel ashamed and question your life’s meaning while everyone else is safe, alive and somewhat disturbed. And, yes, the game does change somewhat depending on whether you got ‘low chaos’ or ‘high chaos’. On a kinaesplegi../kinathlet../cinaes../ehsodit gameplay level, more chaos equals to more rats and weepers in missions, and on a story/narrative aspect, more chaos means…. more ‘chaotic’ characters would be a spoilersafe term, I believe. This diversity is fairly substantial and noticeable, all in all, so it probably is worth it to see both sides… And this means, we get two full playthrough-worths of the game. But why not three, four, five?
Well, one reason why the third playthrough will very probably feel like one of the two previous ones is because that there is just plain not all that much variance in the gameplay mechanics. dodges a nuclear bananaWhat I mean by that is that this is very much a stealth game. Yes, you have the choices to avoid/takedown/eliminate foes. The issue is that all those things are done mostly in the same vein: to avoid stuff, you probably will use sneaking, blinking (meaning, teleportation; if you think that physical blinking at enemies in a seductive way will convince them to leave you alone, you have a very reasonable outlook on life and I congratulate you on that) and time manipulation. To take out foes without murdersassinating their butts off, you will need to use your stealthy silent crossbow of sleepdartception, or you’ll need to creep up to them and choke them into the dreamland. Once again, completely stealthy approach (because loudness tends to get sleeping people either up on their feet or dead). And finally, if you go for a lethal play, you will probably approach things in a sneaky way to minimize the times you die due to overwhelming opposition. Because of this, it is not hard to feel like you are doing the same thing while playing the game.. yeah, we can swap the weapons and change abilities, but in a naturally flowing play, where players do not choose to artificially limit their approach, all tools appropriate to playstyle will be used frequently enough. And even if something is avoided… like, supposing you never used grenades as a weapon, doing another whole playthrough of the game just for the novelty of using a thrown ball of explosive combustiveness, well, it doesn’t exactly pay off. There’s too much repetition, on account of you working towards the same old linear goals, moving through them in a line just like a banana on a conveyor belt in a packing facility.
To cite another reason why things will very probably feel the same on 3rd+ play (and why wouldn’t I cite more reasons, after all), the whole upgrading system the game has going for it – upgrades to weaponry and gear, upgrades to abilities – are also somewhat lacking in variety… Specifically, the technology upgrades – stuff you add to make your crossbows crosser, pistols prissier and armour/boots beefier, well, that stuff is somewhat singular in nature. It is bought, it is cheap enough and a clear upgrade, so there’s no reason whatsoever to avoid any of it. A reasonably thorough player can afford it all in a single playthrough, well before the final mission. The deal with magical powers is not so bad, but still somewhat.. suboptimal. There is a total of, what, 5 active and four passive abilities? The economy of runes and bone charms is fairly beneficial to allow experimentation, spreading out and multiple max-rank abilities. It’s not so bad as the case with Deus Ex: HR’s augmentations, which one could literally max out through and through, but in general you get enough runes per a single run of Dishonored, even without too much exploring, to unlock all abilities and max a fair amount of them to boot. Over two playthroughs, chances are you’ll have eaten a bucketload of elongated tropical fruit and seen all that the magic system has to offer.
On the whole, bananas aren’t even that interesting. I mean, they are sort-of tasty, yellow, and that’s about it. No big deal. Sure, when you first see it, it’s a case of mind=blown. Second time, you appreciate the subtle curves and the tang of the flavour. Third time, you go and find a nectarine, because the banana holds no further mysteries. Maybe, if you dig routine and weak echoes of past experiences, you take up religious banana consumption – but then you are a very special kind of person and probably have a reality show about your surprisingly mundane life. The point is, THIS IS A METAPHOR. That’s exactly why Dishonored is a poster-example for ‘good up to two experiences’; it has enough content and just enough variety to support two very memorable, quite interesting playthroughs at a natural pace. And no more. Anything beyond that, it is a severe case of repetition, iteration, and you noticing all the niggling little things that shouldn’t really be there, like blackspots on an overripe banana. Much like a good movie (dangit, movie is a far better analogy for it than a bloody banana. Ffffffff), Dishonored is a piece of.. well, art, or gaming finesse, or executable code, whatever, a piece of something remarkable that you experience – once for the novelty, once for the details – and place it very deep on the shelf. Maybe dust it off after a year or two for refreshing your memory. But play it all the time, several times a week, many weeks in a row, as you would with an MMO or Skyrim or any rpg or online fps, or (whatever)? Yeah, no – it ain’t gonna happen.
~X2Eliah doesn’t even like bananas. It was simply that they are the most fun fruit things to write down over and over. Well. Maybe second right after Kumquats.