Dishonored’s Lone Pseudo-Boss Fight is Its Best Moment
In an interview with Game Front earlier this week, Lead Designer Ricardo Bare explained the philosophy behind the boss fights, or lack thereof, in Dishonored. Namely, while the game has some significant enemy encounters, the developers didn’t want players to find locations where they were suddenly forced to play a different game than what they’d been playing moments before.
“We didn’t want to follow that game design trope,” Bare said. “Which, by the way, I like boss battles when they’re done well, so it’s not that we think at Arkane that boss battles are in and of themselves bad, it’s just that given the open ended nature of the game, we thought it wouldn’t be good for this game to have be locked in a room with someone, and now there’s a very special pattern.
“We don’t like to do things like exclude some of the player’s powers, for example, and suddenly the game is totally different in this special room, unless it made sense. For instance, with Daud, you cannot possess him, because fictionally we said that he has resistance to that. If you try to possess him he actually talks to you while you’re in his mind.”
Bare’s comments are extremely valid, and the big criticism surrounding DXHR’s boss fights is that they do exactly what he’s describing Arkane trying to avoid: changing the rules in one particular room before sending you back into the game for which you’ve signed up.
But is Dishonored better for never really bucking its formula? I say (a qualified) no.
While the developers of Dishonored didn’t feel the need to stray from the core formula much, the fight with Daud is a great one. He’s fast and deadly in a way nothing the player has faced is in that moment, and the crutches upon which the player has relied in the worst moments — namely, their superpowers — are rendered much less effective against an enemy that’s more of an equal. You still have your abilities, but you’re no longer a god fighting men, you’re a man fighting another man. Defeating Daud was extremely satisfying; refusing to kill him, even more so.
I wanted more of that.
The trouble with Dishonored is that, if you choose to go sneaky, there’s really so little variation in what happens in the game. Sure, you’ll screw up, knock something over, land on an enemy and whatnot and find yourself in combat — but you’ll eventually just go back to sneaking, zipping around and climbing stuff. I finished the game with a pile of tools I never used and skills I never tested. There’s a degree to which, in Dishonored, I was never fully challenged. I was never put through the crucible of having to face down anything more challenging than running the hell away and finding a better rooftop pathway.
Except with Daud, an equal who not only tested my capabilities, but also my resolve as a player to stick with the merciful, non-lethal path I had chosen. I couldn’t go around him in my playthrough — I had to go through him.
Choice can be a great thing in games, and I very much appreciated how much Dishonored allowed the experience of the game to be My Experience, rather than the one laid out before me, at least in several respects. But I can’t help but feel that the game might have been more affecting and more intense if sometimes I found myself snared in traps the same way I snared others, and sometimes was forced to draw my sword, even if I only meant to use it to block. While player choice is important, reacting to the choices of other characters, like Daud, also allows its own kind of freedom. And that freedom is easily overlooked.