Dishonored is a game about vengeance, death, and weeding out the evil of a kingdom. You play as Corvo, a handy protector who was framed for the empress’s death. After six months in jail he’s freed by a group of rogue citizens hoping to assassinate those responsible for the killing of the royal family. So why in the world would Corvo ever consider the stealthy route? He’s pissed. He’s capable. He’s out for blood.
Maybe that’s not enough of an argument. I guess I don’t know Corvo, a silent protagonist, all that well. Maybe he promised the princess he’d never kill? Possibly, sure. But if he is a pacifist, his arsenal and skills don’t reflect that in the slightest. Out of the weapons available (including the crossbow, pistol, sword, grenades, mines, and their ammo variants) there is only one that will not kill an enemy (tranquilizer darts).
If you plan on using mana to fuel your espionage you won’t be able to spend magic fast enough. Your bread and butter technique will be teleporting behind enemies, choking them, and teleporting back behind cover. This is all done in a yellow haze because if you want to see enemies, traps, and danger zones you’ll need to use “Dark Vision.” Dark Vision paints the world yellow, a shame considering the beautiful landscapes and art that surround the world of Dishonored. Stealth drains the world of color, lushness, and variety. I groan with every activation of Dark Vision. The scenery and art is one of my favorite parts of Dishonored and covering it in yellow feels wrong.
The reward for making it through a level without dropping an ounce of blood or being caught is a little icon on the end-of-level stats. Just a glowing dot. That dot may be a beacon of pride and patience for some, but it’s just a dot. It’s not a new ability. The dot is not an incredible experience. But it’s compelling in a way. The dot resonates with my fascination to earn respect and notoriety in the circle of gamers.
But maybe it was meant to elicit this reaction. The designers may want players to kill and avoid stealth. Could this be a bait and switch? Most stealth game are met with criticism that the gameplay is boring, predictable, and no fun. Arkane Studios built a game that looked like a stealth game, but favor the opposite. It could be a practical joke. I can hear a developer in the QA room saying, “Hey, how long do you think these dummies are gonna try and play stealthily and non-lethally despite us packing the game with a dozen awesome moves that kill the enemy?”
75% of my first playthrough was spent hiding and knocking out guards. Mostly because my definition of an assassin is nary seen nor heard and only kills as a last resort. I’d wait patiently behind a concrete wall refreshing my Dark Vision the moment it ran out waiting for my mark to come within reach Then, I’d choke them and move the body silently out of the way. Rinse, wash, repeat. The stigma of the stealth genre rears its sneaky head. Not killing people and waiting patiently just seemed like the right thing to do. It’s what stealth games are about.
This rote exercise was a habit. A condition that I contracted long ago with Metal Gear Solid. The idea of not killing anyone and making it through an entire game blood-free is appealing because it’s so unusual. As if achieving a no-kill run will erase the stigma of violence and nonsense associated with all video games.
Playing stealth / no-kill is a disservice to Dishonored. You’re missing out on interesting techniques, abilities, and strategy. It would be like playing Mega Man without using a single power gleaned from a robot master. Or entering a Street Fighter tournament promising you’ll never throw a hadouken. Not taking advantage of the mechanics and skills built into the game’s foundation means missing out on a number of features. Imagine playing through Dishonored without being able to summon an army of rats to devour your foes or being able to shoot a crossbow bolt into someone and have them turn into a pile of ash in front of their pals?
Go ahead and play through Dishonored without an enemy feeling a ripple your character creates. But play through again the way the mechanics insist you play; be a blood hungry protagonist who’ll stop at nothing to avenge your queen.