When You Get the Exact Game You Wanted, and It Turns Out You Don't Like It


#1

I’ve been replaying Dishonored 2 lately, mostly because the old mill town where I now live made me intensely nostalgic for that series’ paranoid Gothic-Industrial aesthetic, but also because Death of the Outsider reminded me of how much I’d forgotten about the details of Dishonored 2’s plot. So I decided to revisit one of my favorite game worlds and play through what I had regarded, at first glance, as the masterpiece of the Dishonored series… only to discover I didn’t like it nearly as much as I thought I did.

What’s odd about this is that I don’t feel like my feelings have actually changed. Everything that I loved and that impressed me a couple years ago is still capable of taking my breath away. It’s a world I just love to inhabit and explore, thanks to its use of architecture to establish characters and their backstory, and the extensive array of in-game art and literature that portrays how this world’s inhabitants respond to it. Dishonored 2 still feels like a gorgeous murder-museum, unveiling one haunting diorama after another. It’s huge and ambitious and full of things I love… but for some reason it just feels less inviting and playful than either Dishonored or its paired expansions, Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches.

I think the difference might be that, for reasons either technical or financial or both, Dishonored and its expansions always felt like they had to suggest a world more than create one. Levels still felt like self-contained spaces built around a core theme or idea: the Flooded District was Dunwall’s deserted wasteland, the symbol of a government’s callousness and growing incapacity. The Golden Cat was a club and bordello meant both to cater to the elite’s demand for sophistication and elegance, and their fetishization of and exultation at the creeping squalor overtaking their social inferiors. The sadistic “slumming” of the Golden Cat contrasted well against the desperate, panicked revels of the masked ball at the Boyle estate.

But each of these moments stands out as a distinct chapter in a tightly-constructed novel. Dishonored 2, by contrast, does much of its world-building in interstitial “city” levels that you have to navigate before you ever get to the mission locations where your targets reside. In other words, Dishonored had to imply a world beyond the confines of its carefully constructed puzzle-boxes. Dishonored 2 just builds the world around the puzzle box and, as I play through it again, I’m realizing how much less I enjoy that structure even as I admire the scale and detail it allows. Dishonored 2 is the exact game I thought I wanted after playing Brigmore Witches, and now I’m realizing just how much of a monkey’s paw proposition that proved to be.

I still love Dishonored 2 and enjoy the degree to which it is catering to my gluttonous desire for more. But it also makes me think about how good limitations can be, because they leave room for the imagination to fill-in spaces around what is directly depicted. I don’t actually have to see an extensive fictional neighborhood in order to imagine it, and in fact it might be more fun if there’s just the barest outline of it that you glimpse from a window and learn about from a snippet of overheard dialogue. But I think there’s an impulse with video games in general and sequels in particular to literally portray what is best left to the imagination, which often comes at the price of focus and momentum. In a word, it’s more interesting to me to imagine commuting through Karnaca than it is to actually have to do it a half-dozen times over the course of a game.

What about you? What are games that gave you exactly what you thought you wanted, only to discover you liked them less?

Let me know in today’s open thread!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/9kgnmy/when-you-get-the-exact-game-you-wanted-and-it-turns-out-you-dont-like-it

#2

So Shadowrun Returns sounded like the exact sort of game I could get into. I love turnbased tactical games, I dig a lot of the ideas the Shadowrun universe introduces, and I was really excited by everything this game was delivering. But I don’t know… the game just never really clicked for me. Maybe it my own mood or mental state coming into the game, but the story, the combat, the rpg systems all fell a bit flat.

And I’m annoyed because the little I played of Dragonfall was so good, but I feel this arcane requirement to finish the first game before I move on to Dragonfall than Hong Kong!


#3

Every RTS since Warcraft 3. Turns out, I will always just want more Warcraft 3, not evolution of RTS gameplay.


#4

I find a lot of times when I revisit games, the magic just isn’t there anymore. The interactivity of the game itself more often than not seems to be the issue, because on a second or third play through the mechanics are typically trivial. I’ve either internalized the mechanics so the playing part doesn’t dominate my thought process anymore, or I’m no longer invested in playing well as much as getting to my favorite bits. I’m not sweating guard patterns or hunting to for clues, so I can spend more time thinking about how everything is put together and what that all says as opposed to trying not to get killed. The first time I played Dishonored 2, I was having fun plotting out the Jindosh puzzle, but the second time around I had the time to wonder why no one had managed to either solve it or brute force it after all this time.

Immersive sims probably suffer from this the most because they spend the most effort asking the player to actually notice the world. I’m sure if I actually sat down and carefully looked at something like DOOM, it would become almost immediately apparent that the layout makes zero sense at all and that no human being could ever possibly navigate these rooms. The game never invites or rewards your curiosity for the world itself beyond “can I climb that ledge?”


#5

I loved Dishonored 1 but I only liked Dishonored 2.

In D2 I played as Corvo, and I didn’t love that he talked. Also the decision to use the voice actor who portrayed Garrett in the Thief games … is a little too on the nose.

And maybe D2 was too long?


#6

I’m in totally the same position. I need to just leap into Dragonfall. I’ve started Returns three times and have never had it land for me.


#7

The thing is, Dragonfall’s story is so much more interesting right from the get go. The characters are much more fun and it feels a lot more like a good tabletop RPG story! Also the combat is improved.

I’m just broken in that I feel the need to finish returns. I think I’m around the midpoint though so I’ll still see it through.


#8

I haven’t played the first Dishonored, but I loved how the city levels built up to the target levels in Dishonored 2. The bank heist in Death of the Outsider also really does the going from the city to target levels really well and I hope Arkane builds on that formula.

I don’t think I have an answer that exactly fits your question, but the closes I can think of is Tacoma. A Gone Home like game in an abandoned space station seemed like something I would love, but I ended up finding the setting less interesting then Gone Home.


#9

The Wargame series is a dream game I would have come up with but it turns out I just don’t have the right mindset to be good at RTS. Really what I want to do is play with virtual toys and watch weapons of war from a period of time I’ve always been interested in blow up bad guys. Actually being good at the game is beyond me and probably always will be since I started playing RTS games in 1996 and I’m still no good. The Command and Conquer games have skrimishes and campaigns that I find accessible while still being unskilled. Wargame didn’t have this. I never could finish the campaign of the first game. Luckily, World in Conflict was a good time and had a lot of the same weapons I enjoy seeing in games (hello MLRS).


#10

Rimworld seems like a good shout. Love hearing so many talks about these weird games with so many systems and I’m like “Ah, cool, let’s go” then I give up within a week of attempting to bulldoze my way through.