Perception is everything. I consider myself a DisHonored fan. I loved the game when it initially released back in 2012. I eagerly awaited and played through both of its side-story/prequel DLC add-ons. I’ll even go so far as to say that it’s one of my favorite games. So, I was rather excited to return to it as part of our Revisiting our ‘Favorite Games’ challenge. The goal was simply to see if the game still held up and to find out what exactly made it a favorite in the first place. Mission accomplished, but I also learned something else: that the difference between a ‘favorite’ game and a ‘hated’ one may be quite a bit slimmer than we like to think. Indeed, it turns out that the way you play can be quite vital.
I’m traditionally a stealthy player when it comes to DisHonored. I love the idea of being a ghost; of striking fear in the hearts of Corvo’s enemies despite leaving no evidence of his presence. I loved meticulously picking along my path, memorizing guard movements, stashing unconscious bodies in silly places, and leaving no one the wiser in the end. So for this challenge I decided to do the opposite. This Corvo wouldn’t care about being seen or cutting down anyone who got in his way. He was going to get his revenge no matter how much death and destruction he caused along the way. I figured that the contrast would better enable me to play without the nostalgia glasses. The thing is, playing this way wasn’t so much taking off said glasses as it was chucking them into the trash heap.
At first, it was still pretty fun. Coming out of the shadows to confront Corvo’s enemies directly actually felt kind of liberating. I got my first real taste of DisHonored’s swordplay in Coldridge Prison, and I learned just how powerful the Outsider’s powers could be as I carved my way through the next couple of missions. I still used stealth techniques for the occasional ambush, but for the most part this Corvo was indeed the unstoppable force I’d always suspected that he could be. This of course changed the feel of the game entirely, and not in a way that I liked.
I suppose that it just felt wrong. I was used to completing missions in a couple of hours, not in just 15 minutes or so that it was taking as a ruthless Corvo. There was rarely an encounter I had to retreat from, so I found myself smoothly Blinking, stabbing, and shooting my way right up to my targets. I suppose you could call it a brutal, yet efficient way of deconstructing the conspiracy. Still, the short missions and general methods weren’t really what got me to dislike this version of the game. No, that distinction goes to the main character himself.
Even though I decided that Corvo was going to be a ruthless killer in this run, I just couldn’t bring myself to sympathize with him after his escape from Coldridge Prison. He was very far away from the ninja-esque Corvo from the past, and certainly wasn’t a man who knew (or even cared) who his enemies were. This Corvo was everything his enemies said he was. He was a brute who cared for nothing but the thrill of combat; a man whose true nature as a killer surfaced the moment he was betrayed and removed from society. In actuality, I’d say that he was just as bad as the men who put him away in the first place. I could not identify with this Corvo, I hated his methods, and yet I continued on as the one guiding him down his destructive path. It revealed, I think, another major aspect of why I enjoyed the game so much as a non-lethal ghost.
The ghostly-Corvo’s goals and mine were the same: to right a terrible wrong and bring those responsible for it to justice. He was an innocent man who was framed for a crime he did not commit, and for whom betrayal had become a regular occurrence. He was a character I could like, sympathize with, and even enjoy playing as. I wanted to see the conclusion of his story, and I wanted it to be the best it could be. “Corvo the honorable Serkononan Ninja” may have been a silent protagonist, but he made choices that spoke volumes of his, admittedly non-existent, character. As I said though, “Corvo the Butcher” was the opposite. I hated his motives, his methods, and his actions. In short, I went from enjoying my agency as Corvo to absolutely hating it.
Now I’ve been speaking as though Corvo, a silent protagonist, has some sort of character. He doesn’t of course, but for some odd reason I find it very easy to sort of “get into character” when I play this game. As a nonlethal Corvo, I found myself viewing enemies (guards, street toughs, and such) simply as misguided people trying to get by the best way that they know how. I saw them as needed help and correction, rather than a sword in the chest. The conspirators needed to be brought to justice, as murder would only perpetuate the problem they created. As a ruthless-killer Corvo, I saw enemies as obstacles to be overcome. It didn’t matter what their circumstances were, they were opposition and thus they needed to be dealt with. By the time I got to the Golden Cat, a “bath house”, that perspective had devolved even further. Corvo didn’t just eliminate the guards and the targets at that location, he also did away with the cruel madam, and those patronizing the place. After all, they were part of the problem too. Being a ruthless Corvo wasn’t just easy now, in fact it had become justifiable. It’s a change that I found rather disturbing, and in truth that’s where I decided to call it quits.
I believe I now understand what made the game into a favorite in the first place. I had a lot of fun being a stealthy ghost, and am looking forward to playing the game that way again. Corvo being a character I could like and sympathize with was also vital to my enjoyment of the game. If I had played as a ruthless Corvo from the beginning, maybe my opinion would be flipped, but, were that the case, I suspect that I just wouldn’t have liked DisHonored all that much to begin with. All said and done, I’d say that DisHonored does indeed still hold up no matter which way you play, but after this experience I’d say it’s better to stick with your preferred style rather than trying to do the opposite.
Have you ever played a game that caused you to see it in a new light? Did it change for the better or for the worse?
Image captured by Hatmonster