For the past week I’ve been housebound, unfortunately, with an infected kidney. In my lethargic state I thought it apropos to indulge myself in Arkane Studio’s Dishonoured, where my plague-addled kin roam wild all across the city of Dunwall.
I must give it to Microsoft, the Christmas sales on the Xbox One Marketplace last month offered a generous range of reputable titles, and I impulse-nabbed Dishonoured: Definitive Edition for a meagre £7.50 ($9.29) at the time. I remember my hesitation due to the game’s 35GB download size against my really quite flaccid internet speed, but I am glad that I relented, and on Christmas Day 2016 I commemorated the birth of Jesus Christ by electing to bask in the glory of throat-slitting and pistol-slinging that Arkane Studios has to offer.
That first week with Dishonoured, after the hefty download, was unprecedented. There was something so ineffably attractive about the game that it had unlocked in me that part of my imagination I thought only existed years ago, in that first week I would catch myself in reverie during schooltime, thoughts wandering, running, takedown-ing, exploring, revolting, revenging, all whilst the real world remained below and the forum of my A level English classroom commenced. I have not experienced this holistic capturing of my attention on-and-off the console since I was only a boy playing through the Assassin’s Creed series. It really did give me that childish sense of glee that even the most evocative titles, or even titles I can confidently distinguish as more artistically fulfilled than Dishonoured, fail to give me to this day. It provided me that very rare hankering, that feeling that you cannot wait to resume play and commence with your strategy.
I suppose it was because of Dishonoured‘s multiple-approach dynamic that I felt this kind of powerful satisfaction when playing through it. This is the first truly-sandbox FPS game I have played since Metro, and that agency to pursue whatever route is most pleasing offered me a sense of possibility that was truly exciting, and it was exciting just to regard the existence of that sense of possibility. As well as this, Dishonoured‘s dedication to its own universe can only be described as endearing. Reams and reams of discoverable text enriches its universe to an uncanny degree, with some of the writing having a level of authenticity that would suggest the authors care about each piece of the universe they are cultivating through each textual asset. Be it an excerpt from a fictional academic journal or a page of an antagonist’s diary, all words feel truly cared about.
As is always the case, the novelty of this excitement wore off with iteration of play, but that didn’t discourage me and I’ve gladly played over 30 hours and subdued 417 enemies in the process.
I had a blast with Dishonoured and its two story DLC packages, so much so that I had no qualms about impulse-purchasing its recent successor on Amazon two days ago now.
I attempted to watch reviews from my trusted troupe before my purchase of the first title, but due to spoiler content I was naturally restricted. Having now completed the game I thought it appropriate to watch in retrospect, and to my surprise the critics that I trust the most tended to differ from the general consensus, criticising the game for narrow options of stealth and also for an unsuccessful gamification of ‘low chaos’ and ‘high chaos’ playstyle qualifiers, which determine the game’s ultimate ending.
I understood their criticisms but I still maintained reverence for the game unflinchingly. I could comprehend perfectly the reasons why my critics had a distaste for the game and yet I did not let that affect my opinion as I have in other instances, I could only regard them in apathy.
Now this might seem like an unreasonable question to draw from the subject at hand, but… does that me a dick?
Seeing genuine complaints about the flaws of a game not as reasoned expressions of deconstruction but rather as entirely dismissable statements of opinion is exactly the kind of thing I’m scared of as an amateur games critic. I understand that criticism about Dishonoured should impact my reverence, but I suspend my criticism so that I revere this evidently flawed work with a kind of unconditional admiration.
I’m being exactly the kind of person I hate. Look, if you’re a regular reader of mine you know I thought Virginia was more useless as a game than Dmitri Payet is a player for West Ham right now, and I couldn’t stand seeing positive review scores for this game where there was clearly an explanatory gulf between assessment and score. It is the biggest sin of a critic to claim that a game is good or abysmal without appropriately explaining why that is the case. On a similar level, I feel that Dishonoured is a great narrative and ludic achievement, but I couldn’t hope to explain to even myself, let alone somebody else, why exactly I feel that way. How can I then justifiably feel this way?
I believe in criticism as an evocative and influential tool that can both nourish interest and challenge established conceptions. If I didn’t believe in the latter element of it, I would only write about games and not against them. If someone read one of my reviews, fully understood the line of reasoning in which I criticise the game, and yet didn’t let that impact their own opinion at all, then what was the point of both me writing the review and them reading it?
I have wasted everybody’s time.
But is there a way I can make myself not like the game as much as I do? Should I cancel my order of Dishonoured 2? Should I shock myself every time I think about the game? Would that shorten the distance between what I know and what I feel? Should I feel bad about feeling good about something?
Dishonoured, I love you, but you’re bad for me.