Dishonored’s Lone Pseudo-Boss Fight is Its Best Moment

Spoiler Warning! We’re discussing late-game content in Dishonored here. Attempts will be made to hopefully keep spoilers to a minimum, but your best bet is just not to read.


Late in the game in Dishonored, you finally track down a key group of people: the assassins that actually carried out the murder of the Empress, the woman you were charged to protect.

After a series of sneaky assassinations, it might be the game’s most interesting moment. As is apparent in the opening moments of the game when the assassination takes place, these guys are powerful, wielding the same supernatural capabilities that the player gets to use through the course of the game. Sneaking up on them is more difficult and fighting them outright has a much greater chance of being lethal.

One of Dishonored’s flaws, I think, is that moments like this are far too few. After sneaking past and assassinating guards for hours, finally, Dishonored throws something really new our way. These are enemies nearly on equal footing to the player. The event culminates in a fight with their leader, the man who actually killed the Empress and the most powerful enemy in the game by far.

(Update: Commenter Greg brought it to my attention that you can, in fact, avoid Daud altogether if you’re sneaky enough. So though I mention below that you’re forced into this fight, it seems you can, in fact, stealth around it. I think the point still stands, however: the culmination of challenge offered in some sort of boss situation is missing from Dishonored. If you skipped the Daud fight, I feel sorry that you’ve missed it, and I maintain that some moments of greater off-balance challenge, be they fights or perhaps something else, help to intensify the experience.)

It’s a harrowing, poignant fight when Corvo finally takes on the leader, a man called Daud. It’s a mix of straight attacks, quick teleportations, and retreats to the shadows, interspersed with some of the game’s better dialog. Like the other assassination moments in the game, it includes the lethal or non-lethal options, but it’s also a fight you pretty much cannot avoid. It immediately made me think of those boss fights from Deus Ex: Human Revolution when I came upon it.

When it came out, DXHR caught serious hell for its boss fights — how dare the developers smash the player into a forced battle after offering all that freedom? And you can’t even choose mercy, even if you’ve spent the entire rest of the game avoiding killing folks: these are people who must die, no matter what you do. In many ways, it was a jarring experience for people to have the controls ripped from their hands and blood spilled on them without their say-so.

But there were benefits to those boss fights. For one thing, they offered enemies who weren’t easily dodged, stabbed or shot down in the usual manner. They could be evaded but not avoided. They forced the player up against a wall, made them face danger instead of skirting around it, and brought a sense of culmination to the events and levels that preceded them. They were climactic clashes, and complain about them as you will, I think DXHR was better for having them.

Dishonored is the opposite, the experience for which those who disliked DXHR’s boss fights were asking. The entire game can be stealthed, including this moment, and it also leaves non-lethal on the table.

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5 Comments on Dishonored’s Lone Pseudo-Boss Fight is Its Best Moment

greg

On October 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Your argument seems to be predicated on a simple fallacy: you *can* avoid the fight with Daud entirely, by picking his pocket, snatching his key, and getting out of the room undetected.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm

@greg

Fascinating. Daud picked up on me even though I thought I remained hidden. He wasn’t facing me, and yet he acknowledged my presence in the room (actually up on a shelf). I didn’t think he could be avoided.

Even still, that you must fight him isn’t really the foundation of the argument, because the point that you don’t have to, or that you can do it differently, is what DXHR players complained about not being able to do. My point is that, the fight with Daud is great, and I kind of wish the game pushed me into those situations and challenged me more. I like the idea of the game reacting to me and forcing me to react to it — I like when characters and NPCs are more than set dressing, and the Daud fight really shows off the strength of the people in Dishonored when you DON’T avoid them. That you can is nice in a positive-choice way, but by the same token, shouldn’t he be a more formidable opponent, even in terms of stealth?

So maybe the answer is something else in this case. A challenge from Daud that reacts to the stealth capabilities of the player — perhaps not a fight, but a “boss stealth” situation. A greater stealthing challenge, the way DXHR used boss conversations.

I dunno. But I do know that when Dishonored does shake things up, I really like the way it forces me to react.

greg

On October 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Phil,

I disagree about forcing the encounter — my Corvo ghosted the entire game to that point; a scenario he couldn’t resolve except with a direct confrontation would feel counter-intuitive at best, contrived at worst.

That said, I agree entirely that Dishonored would have benefited from more instances where it pulled the rug out from under you, forced you to react to a changing scenario. My favourite moments in the Thief series were invariably when I was rolling along ticking off objectives only to have the entire scenario change, and my seeming control of the situation completely destroyed. Sounds like you had that experience with your Daud encounter, which, cool.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm

@greg

I think you’re right. “Forcing” perhaps is the wrong way of looking at it. If we go back to the DXHR example, forcing was the trouble there. Ricardo Bare and Harvey Smith have kind of said the same thing — they weren’t really into the idea of shoving you into that box, and I *really* respect that. But like you mentioned, having things shift beneath you because of the actions of other factors leads to some cool moments. Daud was that for me.

This has me starting to wonder what a “boss stealth encounter” would be like.

Patches

On October 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

For the record, you can indeed sneak and use blink liberally to be behind Daud and steal his key… Dispatching his guards first helps a lot though…
That said, I remember my second playthrough, where I choosed to play Rambo-style… And indeed, I had to fight Daud, and his bodyguards… Ironically, Upgraded pistol (my weapon recovered) helped a lot make me win the day…

All this makes me remember of an other “boss stealth encounter” that ended quite quickly: Deus Ex, the first… The right hand of Bob Page waiting for me on my return to the surface of the underwater facility. Cloak Ability + Rocket Laucher turned him into gibs before he could even finish his speech…
I guess you could says it’s a good example of “Forced” encounter, where the fight can be done the hard way or the easy way… Or not fight at all, using Cloak & Stealth to bypass him and steal his submarine! If Deus Ex had a mechanic that reward ‘no alarms-no killing’ like Dishonored…