I have to give it to those behind the Dishonored series as it really doesn’t take much from them to bring me back. I played the Knife of Dunwall expansion based on a single screenshot, the sequel simply because it’d been too long between drinks and, most recently, because of the name of the next instalment. For those familiar with the series the title “Death of the Outsider’ is an incredibly provocative one, almost begging to be played just so you can see if that title is justified. Whilst the game doesn’t bring anything particularly revolutionary or unique to the series or stealth games in general it is, for this writer at least, the best experience to be had in the Dishonored series.
Taking place shortly after the events of Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider puts you in control of Bille “Lurk”, the right hand of The Knife of Dunwall: Daud. You awake aboard the Dreadful Wale, moored just outside of Karnaca, armed with the information that your former master is being held captive by a cult called the Eyeless. After you free him you learn that he is not long for this world and he has one last task for you: put an end to the outsider and the chaotic influence he has on the world. The plan is simple: find the knife that created him all those years ago and use it to end him. Of course things like this aren’t always as simple as they sound.
As you’d expect from a game released not a year after Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider doesn’t bring with it massive improvements in the graphics department. The game’s big vistas and open environments are definitely its strongest point but the sheen wears off when you start to get up close and personal. This is also when the asset reuse starts to become painfully apparent with everyone have the same kind of cabinet, the same bathroom layout and a myriad of other things that are repeated ad-nauseam everywhere. Typically this wouldn’t be much of an issue as you’d be switching up scenes every mission but the majority of Death of the Outsider takes place in the same location. This issue isn’t unique to this instalment however so there won’t be much to be disappointed here for long time Dishonored fans.
Whilst Death of the Outsider retains most of the core game play aspects of the Dishonored franchise pretty much all of them have been streamlined considerably. No longer do you have the choice of what powers you get or upgrade; you get 3 and that’s it for the game. You no longer need to manage your mana closely as it regenerates back to full over time. Bone charms are still around but you can’t craft them until late in the game and the various “mechanical” upgrades are still available through the black market. Side missions are now contracts which you’ll gather off a sign outside the black market as well. There’s a grand total of 5 missions, each of which will probably take you around 2 hours (give or take) which puts it as the shortest of the stand alone Dishonored titles by a small margin.
As you’d expect everything about Death of the Outsider will familiar to those who’ve played any of the previous Dishonored titles although it is closest to Dishonored 2. Whilst you don’t have an extreme amount of flexibility in how you build your character your bone charms will dictate whether you’re a fighter or a stealth based player. I, of course, chose the stealth route for the most part although there was one contract which required me to literally kill every hostile in the level which put my stealth-first build to the test. Since there’s no levelling or chaos system to speak of the stealth/guns blazing kill/no-kill choice is largely symbolic however (save for a few achievements). The new powers aren’t different enough to set the game apart from its predecessors but, for me at least, that wasn’t really an issue.
Stealth and exploration is as good as ever, if a bit more involved than I would have liked. Instead of having a heart to squeeze and follow around (you still have one, it just lets you listen to rats instead) one of your powers is dedicated to marking things whilst your in a stopped time ghost form. No matter the mission there’s several ways to approach it, both from a physical and logistical perspective. A lot of these choices are lot more involved than I first expected too, sometimes finding what was the shortest route to finish a section only to backtrack “just to check” only to find what was essentially an entire other level. Interestingly I never found a route that required violence, instead all of them allowing a full stealth approach. Sure some of them would’ve been easier had I started killing right off the bat but I would’ve thought at least a few options would’ve forced my hand.
Some of the side missions are a bit buggy, two of which come to mind immediately. The first was one where you’re supposed to kidnap a bar tender then put him in a box somewhere. After spending far too long knocking out everyone in the bar I took my leave of it, bartender slung over my shoulder. However when I got to the area to drop him off a cutscene began playing and, I’m guessing here, in the interim I dropped him off the roof to his doom. No problem I can just load up my last save, except the game saved immediately after, obliterating my chances at a retry (without investing another hour at least). The second was the mime suicide one where, for some reason, it’d fail the mission randomly. I still had his unconscious body but it was simply not registered as the NPC I needed and the contract was failed. These are both minor glitches which can be circumvented with good old save scumming but it can be a rather frustrating thing to have to deal with multiple times over.
Maybe I’m getting older or more lenient on the Dishonored franchise as a whole but I felt that both the story and its delivery were the strongest yet. Dishonored’s voice actors typically delivered their lines flat and the story’s predictable nature didn’t help. This time around however the voice acting feels a lot better and the story, whilst still being somewhat predictable, was a lot more engrossing than I remember its predecessor’s being. Seeing as this might be the last instalment in the franchise, at least in this timeline with these characters anyway, it does feel like a fitting send off.
Should Dishonored: Death of the Outsider be the last we see of this series in its current state it will be a grand farewell, being the series’ best instalment to date. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, still retaining some of the issues that have plagued the series from day 1. However the streamlined game play, better story telling and overall tighter implementation (bar a few issues with some of the side missions) means that it’s much more easier to gloss over those rough edges than it ever was. Even if you haven’t played a Dishonored game before Death of the Outsider could be a great introduction into the franchise. Although if you do that know that it’s only downhill from here.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10 hours playtime and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
There are few games where I feel confident in saying that the stealth aspect was done well. For recent titles it has often felt like something tacked on at the end after everything else had been done; a mini-game that serves to break up the monotony. It’s a real shame as many of the games that I played during my formative gaming years like Deus Ex, Thief and the like, had stealth sections that were superbly done. It seemed as if the game developers who were behind those titles just simply up and vanished, leaving behind those with only a modicum of understand of how to make stealth games enjoyable. Dishonored isn’t one of these titles and it makes me incredibly happy to put it in the same category as those seminal stealth titles.
Dishonored takes place in the Neo-Victorian steampunk world of Dunwall, a city that’s been ravaged by a plague of unknown origins turning many of the city’s districts into wastelands infest with rats and those on the brink of a gruesome death. You, as Korvo Attano, serve as the high empress’ body guard who was sent on a mission to get aid for the suffering town. However upon return the empress is murdered in front of you and her daughter taken away, leaving just you to take the fall for that horrendous deed. Dishonored then follows your story after your fall from grace as you fight to recover the empress’ daughter and clear your name.
To be completely honest I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed with the graphics of Dishonored. Whilst I had abstained from watching any gameplay videos so as to not taint my first impressions of it from the announcement videos I remember watching my expectations were built up around the idea that it would be a pretty modern looking title. This is not to say that they’re terrible graphics, far from it as you’ll see in many of the screenshots that follows, there were a few things that were so jarring that my immersion was broken completely. Talking to the NPCs comes to mind, although that could be from the camera locking to their face Oblivion style and having them death stare you down whilst you talk to them.
As I alluded to in the opening paragraph Dishonored is one of the games that does stealth right. Realistically there’s actually 2 completely different games to be played here (maybe 3, even): the first is your typical hide in the shadows and make your way to the objective and the second is a RPG/FPS hybrid where you can run and gun your way through it (the third type would be a varying mix between the two). Both of these play styles are completely viable too and in fact it would seem that you’d actually have a much easier time playing as the run and gun style rather than taking the stealthier route. That being said I found the stealth to be far more rewarding than hacking my way through everyone, but at no time did I feel forced into taking one option over the other.
Stealthing around is quite fun as whilst you’re not given a completely open world to explore like in Thief the sections you’re let loose in are quite detailed with multiple pathways to goals and endless places to explore for additional treasure. The magical abilities you can unlock as well (by searching out runes scattered across the levels) can enable you to do some really amazing things like taking possession of rats and then using them to get into places that would be otherwise inaccessible. It’s also quite thrilling to be hiding just inches away from enemies, watching their movements, moving in to strike and then later hear their allies remarking about where they might have gone.
Going toe-to-toe with every enemy you meet is surprisingly viable, something I didn’t really expect from a game that marketed itself primarily as a stealth based action game. The primary means of dealing out damage is a good old fashioned sword that comes hand in hand with the awkwardness that always plagues FPS games that try to include them. However you’re also given a great selection of other weapons to use such as a gun, crossbow, grenades and things that are essentially proximity mines that fling shrapnel everywhere. Considering the ridiculously plentiful ammunition that’s available everywhere you could very well play this entire game without having to bother with stealth at all and one of the achievements, Mostly Flesh and Steel (complete the game without any additional supernatural powers), seems to encourage this. There is the fact though that the more people you kill the more devastated the city becomes (and the darker the ending will be) so playing run and gun will have some consequences, but it does give Dishonored a decent amount of replayability.
There’s a 2 sided upgrade system that functions as Dishonored’s levelling system and up until a point it works quite well. The primarily upgrade system are runes which allow you to unlock and upgrade supernatural powers. Most of them are incredibly useful and primarily geared towards the players who prefer stealth over brawn. The second upgrade system is the mechanical one enabling you to improve all your non-magical powers as well as doing things like reducing the amount of noise your steps make. In the early game these upgrades can be the difference between finishing a mission and struggling with it endlessly but past a point there’s not much return on investment in tracking more runes or gold down.
For instance since I was playing as a stealth character nearly all the mechanical upgrades were pointless to me and since they use gold instead of runes I ended up having a pretty big surplus for most of the game. This is not because I tracked down all the gold I could find, far from it, its just that once you know what play style you’re going you can min/max your upgrades to make you perfectly fit for such objectives. For me this happened about half way through but a determined player could craft the ideal character after the first 3 missions or so. Sure I still invested in upgrades after that but they didn’t make a huge difference in how the game played for me and I could have just as easily left the runes and gold unspent.
Which brings me to another point. When I was first doing research on Dishonored (mostly looking for average play times) I found an article that said a direct run through would clock in at about 12~14 hours but also that players looking to explore would probably double that as there’d be a lot to find. Whilst the play time is incredibly inaccurate there is some truth to the exploration aspect as you can find many unique encounters if you’re willing to run, blink and jump all over the place. However most of the time the reward isn’t particularly worth it, usually being potions or ammo, and after a while I just stopped seeking them out as I was always maxed out on nearly everything and the only thing I couldn’t find I could buy in unlimited supply anyway. I’m sure there are many people who will get heaps of enjoyment out of seeking all these things out but for me it just didn’t feel worth it after about halfway through Dishonored.
The story of Dishonored is better than most games of similar calibre even if it’s something of a rehash of the typical falsely accused man who’s out to clear his name and make everything right. You at least have some form of agency in that your choice of actions influences both the world around you and how certain characters react to you which is what puts it above other games in the same genre. That being said I didn’t really feel anything for the characters or have a deep emotional involvement in the plot and I think that’s because of one simple thing: the terrible voice acting.
Nearly all of the lines delivered are flat, read in an almost emotionless monotone. It’s rather confusing as the written passages and notes scattered everywhere are quite good, so the writing itself isn’t bad, just the delivery. This is made worse by the canned questions and responses that are obviously heuristically lined up (“Shall we meet for whiskey and cigars tonight?” “Indeed, I believe it is so.”) but never seem to work quite right. There are some stand outs like Lady Boyle’s playful banter and the final soliloquy by the captain but apart from that everyone else could just as easily be a text to speech generator given their delivery. I’m not asking for L.A. Noire levels of emotional craziness but a little more emotion in the lines might’ve made me a bit more involved in the story than I was.
I was asked my opinion of the game several times over the course of playing it and it was interesting to see how it changed over the course of my play through. Initially I was disappointed, I had gotten swept up in the hype again and the initial impressions didn’t match up to my expectations. However as the game went on I found myself enjoying it more and really got into the stealth aspect of Dishonored. It’s probably not game of the year material as many of the major review sites would have you believe but it is an incredibly strong title and in a world where new IP is the hardest thing to market it’s really refreshing to see something like this come to market. For those of us who yearned for the return of the Thief era stealth games Dishonored pays excellent homage to them and is well worth the price of admission.
Dishonored is available on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $79.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficulty with around 8 hours played and 40% of the achievements unlocked giving the Low Chaos ending.
Arkham Asylum was one of the sleeper hits of 2009. It definitely wasn’t your traditional AAA title combining elements of several different genres of games into one well thought out experience. I have to admit I was sceptical of it at first, games based off comic or movie IP are traditionally quite bad, but it pleasantly surprised me. I was then quite excited when I heard about the sequel Arkham City which apparently had been hinted at in Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately I was torn between getting the collector’s edition on console or playing it on the PC, a decision that took me far too long to make. In the end I decided to play it on PC again and I’m glad I did.
Arkham City starts out with you as Bruce Wayne who’s campaigning for Arkham City, in essence a prison camp, to be shut down. Things take a turn for the worse when Hugo Strange’s mercenaries show up and throw him into city where Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce is Batman and should he try to stop his “Protocol 10” solution he will reveal that to the world. After a short altercation with the Penguin and some of his goons Bruce calls in a drop for his bat suit and begins his journey to stop Strange’s plan.
Both the visuals and the art direction of Arkham City are vastly improved from its predecessor. To Rocksteady’s credit they’ve done a pretty good job with the optimization too as even at the highest settings I was still able to run the game at high frame rates. Still there were occasions where it would slow down inexplicably as it wasn’t consistent with being inside/outside nor with heavy action. Still the graphics are great, the interactions between characters are no longer stilted affairs and the overall ambition for Arkham City is much greater than it was for Arkham Asylum and they’ve managed to achieve it well.
The core mechanics of Arkham City haven’t changed that much from Arkham Asylum but there have been some notable additions. Due to the sheer scale of Arkham city the glide mechanic has been reworked considerably now enabling batman to, in essence, fly around the entire city almost unaided. This mechanic is made good use of as well by many of the quests and mini-games with things like flying to a certain point with limited time or giving you augmented reality challenges that unlock additional equipment and upgrades. Flying around like this was probably one of my favourite things to do in Arkham City considering you couldn’t do anything like this in its predecessor.
Combat has stayed relatively the same with most of the kinks that I complained about in Arkham Asylum being worked out. There are numerous additional gadgets available, different enemy types and new take down manoeuvres that serve to make the combat experience much more varied but at its heart its still very much the same as its predecessor. This isn’t a bad thing though as the combat in Arkham Asylum was done very well and the added variation in Arkham City keeps it faithful whilst making it stand on its own.
Whilst the combat is good it does tend to get a little samey as the game progresses but this is thankfully broken up well by the unique boss encounters. Each of them will make use of Batman’s array of gadgets in a particular way, forcing you of the regular hack ‘n’ slashy combat and into a real tactical challenge. Don’t get me wrong its’ a pretty awesome feeling when you pull of a 70+ hit combo on legions of foes but nothing got my adrenaline going as much as the boss fights did. None of them felt like a complete cock block either, something which can be hard if you’re trying to hit that fine line between satisfying challenge and impassable obstacle.
The Riddler puzzles were usually interesting but I didn’t really feel the compulsion to seek them out. Whilst its pretty easy to come across them as you’re flying around Arkham City I only ever really went after one if my health was low. Talking this over with my brother he said that the challenges felt somewhat dumbed down from the predecessor and this is probably why most people (outside those hunting for achievements) don’t really want to bother with them. I can’t for the life of me remember what the challenges were like back in Arkham Asylum but the vast majority of the puzzles in Arkham City did feel quite easy.
Just like Arkham Asylum Arkham City sets out an environment where almost the entire back catalogue of Batman super villains can make an appearance without having to having to have a back story to explain why they hell they’re there. It’s a kind of cheap way of getting them all together in the same area but it works well as it leads you to have many unique encounters based around those particular villain’s modus operandi. The screenshot above from the Mad Hatter encounter was a great example of this, putting you in a surreal world in which you have to fight your way through to get back to reality. I liken it to the Scarecrow encounters of Arkham Asylum, unique encounters that break away from the main game in order to mix things up a bit.
The way in which you come across these kinds of unique encounters though is one of the more common complaints I’ve heard about Arkham City. Indeed Arkham Asylum was far more linear in its game play owing to its comparatively closed environment. Arkham City on the other hand is a true sandbox style game, pushing you to follow the main plot line whilst also throwing up dozens of side quests that can be done at your leisure. Truthfully this can get a little overwhelming at times as you can’t go too far without triggering one of these quests and after you’ve done a few of them you don’t feel the compulsion to seek them out as often. It is definitely is one of the weaker aspects of Arkham City.
The sections where you play as Catwoman are interesting although I must admin they weren’t my favourite part of Arkham City. The different Riddler trophies for example seem to be a cheap way to reuse the same assets, forcing you to go back to somewhere you’ve already explored in order to collect them. Since the differences between Catwoman and Batman is limited to the lack of gadgets, lack of detective mode and no glide ability it’s not different enough to make for a break from the core Batman play. I like that Rocksteady are experimenting with things like this, it shows they have confidence in their abilities to make AAA titles like Arkham City, but they’d need to work on differentiating the playable characters a bit more ion order for them to really shine.
Overall Arkham City improves greatly on its predecessor in technical terms with the graphics being improved, the glitches being ironed out and amping up the ambition of the game significantly. It’s not without its faults however owing to the transition to true sandbox style play and some compromises made to appeal to a wider audience. Still unlike many sequels Arkham City stands very well on its own as an unique game that draws well on its rich IP heritage. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to both fans and new comers to the Arkham series.
Batman: Arkham City is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 33% of the achievements unlocked.