Tag Archives: Dishonored

What’s Dishonored 2 Really About?

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I finally just finished up Dishonored 2, and while I’m not going to “review” it, I have a couple fairly broad things to write about my experience with the game overall. Its later parts certainly live up to what I’d played at the time I put it in my 2016 game of the year list. What stands out to me coming off it though is that while Bethesda and Arkane billed it a stealth game about eliminating targets, I spent a whole lot of time doing nothing related to eliminating targets.

There was a point in the final level where I was about to enter the area where the final boss resided and I remembered I’d forgotten to figure out some extra objective way back at the beginning of the level, so I spent a few hours backtracking. This was supposed to be the climax of the game and I just put it on hold because I wanted to find more generally useless crap. Continue reading

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Deus Ex Mankind Divided vs Dishonored 2 (Part One?)

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I wanted to finish both Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Dishonored 2 before I wrote this post, but I didn’t have nearly enough time before I had to start thinking about 2016 end-of-year recaps. I managed to get through a healthy chunk of Mankind Divided but only part of the first real mission of Dishonored 2 as of this writing. Still, even from that much I can sense some subtle but important differences between the games.

Dishonored 2 and Mankind Divided are worth comparing because they come from the same roots. The level designer for the first Dishonored was the level designer for the original Deus Ex (I don’t know if he also did the sequel). All these games are about letting players solve problems in tightly designed but open-ended levels by choosing from a variety of methods and playing around with a multitude of tools and systems. In Deux Ex it’s cybernetic augmentations, in Dishonored it’s supernatural powers. Continue reading

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What Does Dishonored 2 Really Bring To The Table?

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Dishonored 2 is out and even though I’ve already bough it I probably won’t be able to touch it for a while. It’s one of my most anticipated games for 2016 but I actually haven’t been paying much attention to it. It’s probably because of how the game has been advertised which mostly runs counter to why I’m buying it. How do you advertise parts of a blockbuster game other than combat and deep stories? Continue reading

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I Want MGSV To Be The Next AAA Game Everyone Copies

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Maybe I’ve said it in previous posts before, but I think it’s about time we saw an increase in sandbox shooters. When I say “sandbox,” I don’t mean games that give you a huge open world with a bunch of junk to collect. I mean games that put you in the middle of map, give you some objectives, and say “go.”

The reason I bring this up is because Metal Gear Solid V just might be the initiator of trend that could resurrect this type of design in tactical games. Release date lists for the next 12 months or so contain a handful of games that could get the ball rolling. Continue reading

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What I Really Want Out Of Fallout 4

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So I’ve been reading the reviews of Fallout 4, watching a few videos (but not enough to spoil the whole game), and checking out the tech teardowns. They all talk about how much there is to explore in the game, how average the graphics look, how the character building system works, and a lot of other qualities you’d expect to hear about a new release. I kind of just glazed over it all because they spend almost no time talking about the real reason I’m anticipating Fallout 4 — it is basically going to be the first immersive simulator game released on this generation of hardware.

I have made several other posts over the last year or so trying to explain what that term means. In the last one I laid out what I think Bethesda’s games are best at, and it’s this which actually has me anticipating Fallout 4. If you don’t want to read those links, in short, Bethesda’s games, for all their bugs and technical ugliness, provide a kind of gameplay sandbox almost no one else does these days. Continue reading

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Solarix And Other Indie Immersive Sim Games

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If you didn’t see it in the notes previously, I reviewed a little game called Solarix last week for Paste Magazine. As I wrote in the review, I see it as kind of the beginning of a possible wave of immersive simulators from indie developers. I imagine that’s a relatively difficult and expensive type of game to make, but it seems like we’re finally getting there. Continue reading

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The Difference Between Old And New Stealth Games

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The release of the THIEF reboot has sparked up conversations again about what makes a good or bad stealth game. Over the last few weeks it’s prompted me to take a look back at games from THIEF’s family tree and contrast how they approach things.

Last month I played through Dishonored again — the first time doing so since having beaten the old Thief Gold and Thief II: The Metal Age — and played its DLC. That by itself put Dishonored into perspective in relation to its ancestors and I think gave me a good frame of reference to see where the new THIEF is coming from.

The big shift in many of the stealth games we’ve seen recently, or games that use stealth, is that like shooters, they’ve gone for a more linear approach based on waypoints and sometimes small dynamic environments. The missions in the old Thief games were built to feel like dynamic, working environments, and you’d be thrown into them with a map and multiple objectives, expected to figure out the plan for yourself. The first Crysis game was more or less like this too. Crysis 2 instead just had you head from waypoint to waypoint, taking you through small sneaking arenas filled with clever alternate paths. The missions in the new THIEF do pretty much the same thing. This works for simply providing a stealth experience, but I feel like it forgets the freedom and emergent gameplay of the older games.

Dishonored I feel is somewhere between the two, but closer to the old style. The objective is usually not to simply reach a waypoint, but to do an actual thing which is established as soon as you reach the area. Dishonored’s areas are smaller than those of classic Thief and it’s gated by loading screens, but that basic structure is still there. Some people are down on Dishonored’s validity as a stealth game because of how easily its super powers let players combat enemies. I decided to play through the game without using them, particularly the “blink” teleportation, and it instantly felt very much like a Thief-lite. Blink was basically incorporated for the sake of impatient people. Discarding it instantly forces players to methodically examine enemy patterns and the rest of their environment like a traditional stealth game. If you wanna get real technical, Dishonored’s overall structure is actually much closer to that of the original Deus Ex, which makes sense as both games share a level designer.

If you wanna ask between all these which is the best actual stealth game, I guess that’s all on preference due to a bit of irony. Dishonored has more of that dynamic emergent structure, if even only a tiny bit of it, but let’s you tear apart squads of enemies like Deus Ex does. New THIEF would be called dumbed-down by many, but is actually more of a “pure” stealth game where you have to sneak because you can’t fight off five alert enemies.

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Late To The Party: Thief The Dark Project

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When Dishonored came out last year a lot of people said it pretty much ripped off Thief wholesale (I think one of the level designers worked on both games), which was the last straw in convincing me to finally try out the supposedly classic stealth game. After finishing Thief Gold, they were pretty much right. This game from 1998 easily holds up next to stealth rivals that came out in the years after it.

When people drew comparisons between Dishonored and Thief, they mostly went over how similar the settings and stories between the two games are, but what really matters in both is the basic concept — you’re dropped into open-ended levels and told to freely explore your way to each objective. In the tradition of today’s Fallout or yesteryear’s Ultima Underworld (which I covered previously), Thief creates environments based on working systems and not based on linear scripting.

The best thing about this is that I always felt like I had options for how to deal with each situation in the game, whether that was waiting to stab an enemy in the back, use a rope to swing over him, or sneak away in the shadows. This is made possible by both a unique array of tools and incredibly dynamic levels.

If they’d figured out how to do console versions of Thief in the late 90’s or in 2000 I feel it would’ve been a big hit with my buddies and I who played GoldenEye and Perfect Dark on N64. Similar to those games, it drops you into levels simply telling you “Here are your objectives, find a way to do them.” I really miss that style of game design.

They probably wouldn’t have been able to fit the FMVs and voice acting on an N64 cartridge, but the main technical issue for consoles back then was probably Theif’s absolutely massive levels.

Despite being separated from it by 14 years of hardware, Thief’s missions are at least as large and complex as those in Dishonored, and I don’t think there’s anything in the latter that matches up to the Mage Towers or the Opera House. These would’ve probably required many loading screens on consoles back then (like the PS2 version of Deus Ex). That’s another thing that astounds me about the levels in this game — there’s no loading at all. They’re some of the biggest continuous levels I’ve ever seen outside of sandbox games, though I don’t know if that’s because of a mod I had to install. One of the only real issues I have with Thief is that I actually got lost in almost every level.

What I think set’s Thief apart the most though is the variety in what it has you do. Most of the levels do have you break into populated areas to steal things, but the next thing you know you’re avoiding zombies in a tomb doing straight-up Indiana Jones stuff. Another level might have you investigating a haunted town trying to sneak around monsters out of a survival horror game.

The mod I referred to above is pretty much a requirement to get Thief running on modern systems. Some guides might seem pretty complex but I found a version of the mod that’s extremely simple to install if you don’t install the game on the C drive (I think it was actually built for Thief II). Other than that, you might have to remap the controls to get them to resemble modern games. The game supports controllers but you have to map all the functions yourself.

Thief Gold is probably one of the most complete classic games I’ve gone back to play. It gives you a ton of options in large areas, and always kept me guessing as to where I was gonna go next. And people say Thief II is even better.

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LTTP: Ultima Underworld the Stygian Abyss

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As I continue through an absolutely massive backlog of unplayed games, this fall I finally decided to arrive at the very beginning of one of today’s most popular genres in video games. For a game I only found out existed maybe two years ago, Ultima Underworld comes off as a forgotten nexus of 3D game design fundamentals from a lost era of innovation.

I may have noted it before, but the 1992 Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss is the reason we have games like BioShock and Elder Scrolls. Even Demon’s Souls might owe its existence to this game. It’s credited with basically inventing the 3D first person RPG hybrid genre… except it was created around the same time first person shooters were really getting started.

When I first checked this game out I assumed it would use a whole lot of 2D trickery to approximate what you would see in Skyrim 19 years later. What I got was what looked like a full-fledged RPG running on the original DOOM’s graphics. I like playing old school DOOM partly because I have a thing for ultra-simplistic 3D graphics, and Underworld let’s me explore a whole world of secrets, characters, and open-ended tactics with that kind of visual style. What’s amazing about this is that it came out a few months before Wolfenstein 3D, and about a year before DOOM popularized first person games.

The game has players cast into a massive failed underground society filled with opposing factions, bartering with each faction in order to explore the levels and eventually track down a missing girl — BioShock 15 years before BioShock basically. The eight levels of the Stygian Abyss are the forerunners to the districts of Rapture and the decks of Dead Space’s USG Ishimura.

The deal with Underworld though is that it’s actually an incredibly dynamic game, even by modern standards. Most NPCs can be bargained with, doors can be broken down, and as soon as you start the game there are already multiple directions in which you can travel. Bits of information strewn about the environment inform you on how you can deal with certain characters to gain their favor in a dynamic conversation system (including learning a fictional language). Underworld feels every bit as systemic and complex as Fallout 3 and Skyrim do today, with most of the fundamental mechanics of those games in-place.

A crucial difference though is that Underworld gives you virtually none of the information that game designers today probably consider critical. No objective markers, no reminders, no hint popups, no damage indicators, no tutorial (except the manual), etc. All the game gives you is an auto map… with no icons. What you DO get though is the ability to type down notes on top of the map. The game expects YOU to manually record every single piece of information you get.

So what you have here is proof of how little 3D role-playing games have actually advanced in the last 21 years. I would say the main difference between then and now is interface, because I can’t ignore here how archaic Underworld’s controls feel. It’s a game from before the era of mouse-look and standard FPS controls, so it has its own weird system for moving around. Interacting with everything requires different “modes” to be clicked on and so forth. The whole thing was a learning experience I spent a day reading manuals just to figure out. It makes the pace of this game much slower than its descendants. This is the only reason I’d suggest caution before buying Underworld on GoodOldGames if you’re a purely modern gamer.

The thing is though, I end up liking a lot of old school games despite certain aged aspects because they tend to have other qualities modern games might lack. They might feel simpler, more intuitive, or just plain better-designed than today’s hand-holding experiences. This is certainly true if you compare Underworld to BioShock for instance, but I’m not sure if this game is better than Arx Fatalis in a 1:1 comparison.

I haven’t played Arx in about a year, but thinking back it feels like a legit polishing of Underworld’s design with more modern interface trappings. Arx was basically supposed to be Underworld 3 (even one of Underworld’s original designers worked on it), just without the license, and it definitely feels like Underworld but running on Halo Combat Evolved graphics instead of DOOM graphics. All I’m saying is, if you want the kind of experience Underworld offers but can’t get past how ancient the game looks and feels, Arx is the closest modern equivalent. If even that feels too old, then I don’t know man. Dark Souls maybe?

What get’s to me is how DOOM ended up becoming the game that got all the fame for popularizing first person games when Underworld was far more complex and beat DOOM to the market by a year. Maybe it’s in fact because of the complexity — maybe the mass audience just wanted a simple shooter to deal with the jump to 3D. It’s probably because DOOM was shareware for two years and the Underworld developers didn’t get a deal for a Windows version (the GOG version runs on DOSBOX).

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Why Today’s Gamer Should Play System Shock 2

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If you haven’t heard at least a little bit of commotion about it, GoodOldGames just got the first digital re-release of one of the most celebrated PC games of all time. System Shock 2 is more than just a popular thing for PC gamers though. It’s probably one of the most important games in relation to today’s console landscape as well.

If you ever enjoyed relatively recent games like BioShock, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Dishonored, Dead Space, or Fallout 3, you probably owe it to yourself to buy System Shock 2. The current console generation has seen the popularization of what some like to call the “first person simulation RPG” genre — games like the ones I just mentioned that combine elements of first person shooters with RPGs in extremely detailed worlds. SS2 definitely did not invent this style of game (that credit probably goes to Ultima Underworld), but it’s usually considered to be the best example of it, and I would agree.

If you still don’t really know what SS2 is, it is the direct predecessor to BioShock, having been made largely by the same team. The first Dead Space game also probably owes its existence to SS2 (rumors abound that it was originally going to be System Shock 3). Now some might take this to mean that SS2 is a less-advanced version of BioShock or interesting to play merely as a history lesson on where BioShock’s ideas came from. SS2 however is largely considered to be the better game, and I would also agree on that.

PC elitists might tell you that BioShock is basically the same games as SS2 but dumbed-down for console gamers, that SS2 still has much deeper gameplay and is still scarier despite outdated graphics. That stuff might be true in a manner of speaking. BioShock is definitely a much more action-focused game. SS2 has almost the exact same gameplay mechanics, but is balanced much more heavily towards role-playing and survival horror.

At the beginning of the game you choose a general development path for your character: guns, hacking, or psionics (basically plasmids). You can dabble in all three throughout the game. Experience points are either discovered as items or doled out for completing objectives (this even has a strong connection with the story), so you can’t grind and you really have to watch where you spend them.

This goes into SS2’s heavier emphasis on resource management. Unlike BioShock and more like Human Revolution, you have an actual limited inventory in SS2, and it seems like resources are almost always scarce, especially later in the game. There were several points where I was about sure I’d wasted too much to have a chance at beating the game and nearly decided to start over. I think it was that feeling of constantly being on my last reserves, more than anything else, that made every enemy encounter scary in this game. That’s what a survival horror game is supposed to do.

It would not be a stretch to call SS2 a Resident Evil RPG on a space ship, and people who miss the original structure of that franchise might want to give this game a chance too.

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However, there is one reason above all others why I prefer SS2 over BioShock — how much better the former is at immersing players in its world.

People lauded BioShock for how it presented its world to players in ways console gamers had never seen, but I still think it fell a step short of its predecessor, mainly due to the way it handled its heads up display and conveyed information to the player. BioShock did it basically the same way every game does these days, but that’s exactly the problem with most games these days.

When a character calls me over the radio and tells me where to go, I don’t need the game to then give me an objective marker on the map or a waypoint arrow. If I need to be reminded of what to do, I can just refer back to audio recordings. I don’t need the proper object or switch to glow in front of me, not when the in-game environment is as well-realized as BioShock’s.

In SS2 you get some orders over your radio describing a place and a goal, you look on your map for that place, and simply go there. Signs and other descriptors that would guide any normal person in that environment are enough for you to find your way. Irrational managed to create a world in SS2 that feels so natural and lived-in that you can navigate it as you would if you were really there.

Every time I talk about SS2 I like to talk about the one moment that totally sold me on the game: There’s a section where you need to modify a computer by replacing a circuit board. After a voice recording tells me the registration number of the board I need, I go find the room where it’s supposed to be, expecting a small room where the correct board is the only movable object. What I get is a massive library — several stacks filled with circuit boards, each one able to be picked up and placed in my inventory. When I had to look at the registration number of each individual board until I found the right one, I said to myself “this isn’t a collection of levels anymore, this is a real place.”

SS2’s entire world is built like this. BioShock’s is too, but the difference is that the newer game covers that well-realized world in a bunch of assistance icons instead of trusting the gamer to immerse himself in it. Oh BioShock lets you turn most of that stuff off, but not enough of it in my opinion.

Ultimately, what these kinds of games are all about is immersion — building not a series of levels, but something that feels like an actual simulated environment, with a story that takes place entirely within that environment. That’s why people call them “simulation RPGs.” When it comes to that task, I don’t think any game has done it better than System Shock 2.

Actually Playing the Game

If you’re timid about loading up what may look like such a complex PC game, or maybe have heard some stories about the complexities of running it, you really shouldn’t worry.

For starters, no one should worry about getting this to run on their weak laptop or whatever. SS2 was built for 1999 computers — I’m confident that ANY Windows system built within the last decade will run it without issue. There were issues with getting it to run on modern versions of Windows, but the latest GOG release just cleared all that up. Basically anyone now should be able to buy the game and start playing without a hitch.

Don’t try to play it with a controller though. The inventory system alone ensures that ain’t gonna happen. The whole game is very reliant on having a mouse.

All those things you see now for things like “rebirth” or “SSTool,” are just mods to improve the game beyond the original release. You don’t REALLY need that stuff unless you want the graphics looking a little bit better.

Oh, and SS2 has four-player online co-op through the main storyline.

Lastly, if you actually do check out SS2 and like it, then you have little-to-no excuse to also check out the original Deus Ex (which also has a PS2 version available on PSN), Arx Fatalis (from the guys that made Dishonored), and the Thief games (which a lot of people say Dishonored ripped off).

And no, you don’t need to track down the original System Shock before playing SS2. The story mostly stands on its own, and the original SS game doesn’t hold up nearly as well from what I hear.

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