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Versus Mode – Debating Dishonored

In 2012, Arkane Studios released a stealth friendly action-adventure game inspired by the classic Thief series. As soon as I saw Arkane Studios' gothic steampunk-inspired world and the first-person action that allowed players to teleport across a level and possess rats, I knew I was going to like the game. However, not everyone felt the same way…

Versus Mode is a special feature that we're doing today, and it focuses on two editors debating the merits of a particular game or series. This entry features senior editor Ben Reeves debating Arkane Studios' stealth-action title Dishonored with senior associate editor Jeff Marchiafava.

Jeff M: So Ben, tell me why I should like Dishonored. Because up until now I haven’t been able to get into it.

Ben: Well, Jeff, is "It’s fun" a good enough answer? Honestly, it’s one of the best stealth games I’ve played in a long time, in addition to being a great action game. The game starts off a little slow, but as you start unlocking powers you’ll have the ability to freeze time, pick bullets out of the air, and then zap into a rat and scamper off before more guards show up. It’s basically a game that makes you feel like Neo from The Matrix. Why didn’t you like it?

Jeff M: I tried playing Dishonored at the same time that I was playing Far Cry 3. Granted, I only got a few hours into Dishonored, but I actually felt that Far Cry 3’s stealth mechanics were tighter. In Dishonored, you had to constantly have an item equipped in order to see enemies through walls, which made it more cumbersome. It was also hard to sometimes make out which direction enemies were facing, and I didn’t like the melee. Ultimately, when I had the choice between playing a big open-world action game with awesome stealth mechanics and guns and explosions versus a more linear game with clunkier stealth mechanics, I went with the former.

Ben: I can see that. Dishonored is a lot different than Far Cry 3, for sure. But I still think the stealth in Dishonored is pretty tight. It’s a much slower game at times. It took me awhile to get used to the blink power, which lets you teleport to different areas – if you wait a bit after using it you’ll recharge some of your mana. This will help you get out of pretty much any jam; if you get caught by guards, just blink a couple times and teleport over to a different part of the level. However, you can choose to forgo stealth entirely and that’s when the balls-to-the-walls action that I described earlier really pulls you in. Did you experiment with the different powers or try doing a non-stealth playthrough?

Jeff M: First of all, leave my balls out of this debate. Secondly, if a game gives me the option for stealth, I’m going to choose that route. And it seems like Dishonored is really built for stealth. Besides, didn’t the game have some kind of morality system that affects your ending if you go around killing people? I remember that being a real buzzkill, and making me feel like I had to avoid offing enemies. I also didn’t find the swordplay all that fun, so taking everyone head-on doesn’t sound that appealing anyway.

I never got used to using the Blink power – I always ran into problems targeting with it, or I’d blink somewhere and then couldn’t make the next jump because it was too far away. Having your mana run out if you used it again too quickly was also annoying, and just forces you to wait around. In fact, that’s my main memory from the game – peeking around some corner, waiting for an unsuspecting guard to turn around so I could choke him out.

Ben: I see your points and raise you this rebuttal: The game gets better the longer you play. In all honesty, I didn’t love it when I first played it; I was having trouble with the stealth and trying to play it during a 24-hour Extra Life live stream, and the chaos of that event didn’t help me focus on a slower stealth title. Actually, it’s starting to sound like I’m on your side, huh?

Jeff M: I’m going to continue our dumb, extended poker metaphor by calling your bluff – why should I have to suffer through a slow start and mechanics that take time to get used to when I can play other games that are fun from the get-go? That’s like continuing to call a bunch of poker hands with crappy cards in hopes I get a lucky break on the flop or the river – actually, lets just stop with analogies. I loved Dishonored’s art style, but the story didn’t really grab me either, and I’m getting too old and cranky to keep plugging away at games out of a sense of duty. Are you sure you don't just have Stockholm Syndrome for the game?

Ben: Didn’t you just play Dark Souls II? I think Dishonored is much easier to get into than that title. I don’t want to unfairly represent the game. I don’t think Dishonored is unapproachable, I’m just saying that it took a few hours for me to get into its groove. You already said that you put in a few hours, so you were probably right at the tipping point when you quit. Later in the game you get abilities that let you muffle your footsteps and help mask your approach, the blink ability gets more useful, and you can bend time or sneak up behind guys and turn them to dust as you stab them, which means you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the body. Even though Dishonored had a rough start, by the end of the game I felt like it was one of the best stealth titles I’d ever played. To me, that was worth plugging away at the game for a few hours until I understood the systems...I don’t think you’ll have that kind of fun putting your balls on a wall.

Jeff M: Again with my balls...you need help. But to your point, Dark Souls II was fun from the get-go; I got murdered by a giant ogre – it was awesome! A lot of your argument still sounds like, “The longer you play, the less it sucks.” That’s like saying, “Sure you keep getting bad poker hands and losing money, but eventually you’ll get a straight, or a flush, or a straight flush, or maybe even a full house.” Hey, do you want to play poker?

Ben: No, you’re not listening. I’m trying to say that the more you play the more awesome it gets! I hope you’ll go and give Dishonored another shot, but we might just have to agree to disagree...about the fact the you’re wrong! I’ve got a deck of cards; why don’t you come over to my desk and we’ll discuss why blackjack is better than poker.

Jeff M: Son of a...

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