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.


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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…