A year of Dishonored

A year of Dishonored

It's exactly one year today since I played Dishonored for the first time. I want to reminisce, but will avoid plot spoilers. The game is old now, but I'd rather convince you to try it than spoil it.

When it came out in 2012, it immediately got my attention. Everyone praised it for the great world it presented: a fictitious one, but based on Victorian-era England with a twist. Society is undergoing its own industrial revolution, with machines running on refined whale oil. It seemed to have exactly the kind of deep-world building I love, so I decided to play it one day.

The reviews must have mentioned other things, but I remembered none of them: that was back in 2012, and it took me until 2021 to actually play it.

So when I first started the game a year ago today, I remembered nothing else about it - not even the genre. I expected a shooter.
Instead, I got the best immersive sim I've played so far.

It took me some 22 hours to beat it for the first time on normal difficulty. I spent hours snooping around, exploring, reading memos and books and notes; eavesdropping on conversations.
All of that is entirely optional. You can fly through the game like a whirlwind, just cutting down anyone who opposes you and ignoring everything else. Or you can go about it more sneakily - you don't have to hurt anyone in the entire game. Or any number of things in between - there are plenty of ways to your goal in every mission.

Your allies in the game react to you based on how you behave, and it influences the ending you see. But more than that - it also changes how much you understand about the world. If you just rush everywhere, guns blazing, you will defeat your opponents. But only if you pay attention will you find out the "minor details," such as what events put the game's plot into motion, who is behind them, and how to make the best of the situation.

The game does want you to maybe think about your actions. The usual logic of "if a game gives you the option to do something, you probably should do it" doesn't always apply. And there might be consequences.

In the first mission, I got a good reward for a small favor. Then was asked for a bigger favor, then maybe an even bigger one... up to the point where I thought - hey, why am I doing something that will help spread the plague? That's weird, why would I do that?
But then just shrugged and wrote it off as one of those things that videogames do.

It was only in one of the later playthroughs that I realized I could simply not have done any of those things, and the impact of that (in)action would be visible and significant. And entirely for the better.

If a game does that, even once, you tend to look at it differently - because you now know that you're expected to immerse yourself in its world and think, not just Perform Videogame Actions.

Ah, yes. The plague. There's an ongoing epidemic in the city of Dunwall. Its impact on the atmosphere of the game surely was multiplied far beyond the wildest expectations of the authors, because I started playing in the middle of a Covid-19 lockdown.

I walk through a mostly deserted street. One of the few people starts coughing as I'm passing. I sense my unease increase.
A guard coming off duty has a coughing fit, his friends start asking him if he's absolutely sure he isn't infecting them. I sneak away quietly, then run. I hear a fight break out behind me.
A few times I had to remind myself that the game is nigh a decade old and can't just be trying to capitalize on the current crisis.

When I beat the game, I started again. The second time I tried playing violently. This time it took 13 hours. I've also discovered the most depressing ending the game has.

It was quite unusual for me: I have a lot of games to play, and not much time to play them. So I tend to beat a game at most once, then move on.

But then I played it again. This time completely non-violently. I've managed to beat it without anyone even seeing I was there. 11 hours this time.

Then I played the two DLCs. The protagonist of these is someone else from the original game, with the narrative pleasantly woven into the background of the main game. There also were ludonarrative issues. Both were interesting, but I didn't feel like replaying them. (Shoutout to the "Statuesque" bone charm that's extremely fun, extremely game-breaking, and I'm both glad and dismayed that it's only available in a single mission.)

After I started the base game for the fourth time, I thought - wait, I guess this means Dishonored now is my favorite game? I think I like it a lot? I'm pretty sure I have never replayed anything so much in such a short time.

Then I played it ten more times. I have developed a favorite way of playing - I call it the "being nice to people" run. I don't care if I'm spotted or get into a scrape - but I don't kill anybody, and I go out of my way to help every friendly character.

I play on the Very Hard difficulty, and beating the game takes about 1.5 hours.

I also like using a specific shortcut in one of the levels, which I haven't ever seen anyone else use. I will probably look for videos of that, and if there isn't one, maybe I'll make it.

I upgraded my GPU this summer - after 10 years it was about time. So I thought I might try to improve the game's visuals a bit. So in true gamer fashion, I've installed a shader mod, made sure it works, then haven't played it since.

But what I have played is:

Dishonored 2

I started it the day after my last run of the previous game. You get to pick one of two characters in this one - Corvo, the protagonist of the first game, or princess Emily. Seems most people start with Emily - but since I've just spent months with Corvo, I wanted to see how his story plays out first.

There's a lot to like here as well. The world is just as vibrant and immersive as the first one. We even get to visit some of the same locations, years later; but most of the missions are set in new, visually interesting places. The emotions of the protagonist(s) themselves were explored a bit more in this installment.

I've beaten the game three times in two months, which is a lot; but it hasn't grown on me quite as much as the first one had.

However, there were also disappointments. I have encountered some unpleasant bugs. And since the game went out of its way to point out that your actions have consequences, I found the ending scenes describing them terse and abrupt.

So that's it for this rambling retelling of the things rattling around in my head these past few days.

It all makes me want to play the game again. I think I will.