Tag Archives: Dishonored

Stealth Games Shouldn’t Judge Non-Stealth Tactics

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From what I can tell, most people writing about Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (which I just finished) center on how its no longer judging players for killing was very liberating. I certainly agree, but playing it and other recent stealth games further confirmed something else for me: I tend to not enjoy stealth games as much when they judge you for not being stealthy.

I think I’ve always generally held the opinion that stealth in video games is at its best when presented merely as one option in an sandbox of tools and options for players. The two main reasons for this are that stealth feels cooler when players choose to be stealthy and succeed at it, and it feels better when you have other options after failing stealth. I have the most dislike for games that automatically fail you upon detection. Continue reading

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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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