Dishonored: The Missteps

30 Oct 2012

Following his review here on GameBanshee, our own Eric Schwarz paid a visit to Gamaustra to pen a new blog entry that covers what he feels are the "missteps" that Arkane Studios took with their action/stealth/RPG-lite Dishonored. His thoughts on where character progression could have used some improvement:
I think that Deus Ex's tri-tier character progression system of weapons and equipment, skill points, and augmentations was a work of genius. Each one of these systems grew and developed over the course of the game, each had unique qualities which were rarely redundant with the others, they were all rewarded through different kinds of gameplay and exploration, and most importantly, they offered opportunities each for all kinds of play-styles, not just one or two. Sniper? There are augmentations, weapons, mods and skills for that, just as there are for a demolitions expert, a melee assassin, and more.

Dishonored tries to do similar, but is far less successful due to poor pacing and a lack of options. Bone charms are effectively equippable passive perks found by exploring the environment, and give small bonuses such as extra health or quieter movement. However, they are distributed randomly around the game world, so their capabilities had to be fairly generic and limited, since a player could get any of them at any time. It also makes planning character "builds" for replays difficult.

Runes, meanwhile, are currency used to unlock new occult powers and more substantial passive upgrades, similar to augmentations in the original Deus Ex. However, the lack of significant upgrade tiers for individual powers, and the relatively low number of them, means that players will have purchased almost all the powers they need only one or two missions into the game. Additionally, the ability to buy any power at any time means that it was impossible for the level designers to create really interesting, exclusive challenges and solutions - sure, you can sneak in through a drain by possessing a fish, or summon a rat swarm to devour your enemies, but why bother when you can just use an equally-effective grenade, or the deviously powerful "walk through front door" ability? There's always a fool-proof solution, and it's usually easier than the one requiring you use a power anyway.

Last, weapons can be upgraded and modified. There is a distinct lack of weaponry throughout the game, especially for stealthy players, and while I appreciate the attempts to make limited equipment feel more valuable, the fact is that there is very little "heavy artillery" for more action-oriented players. Additionally, blueprints can be found and bought throughout the game, but all these do is upgrade the ammo capacity and effectiveness of your weapons in a completely linear way - there are no trade-offs to make. And, like the powers, weapons really don't get more interesting or varied as the game goes on, leading to a feeling of stagnation around halfway through. Again, it's nice to see an action game that doesn't thrust a minigun and bazooka in your hands, but played as a shooter, Dishonored doesn't get very far because, like the stealth aspect, it has significantly less to offer players than its inspirations.