Archive for August 24, 2013

Dishonored The Knife of Dunwall + The Brigmore Witches

As game narratives go, the result of all the choose your own adventure binaries often put in front of us is nil. In Bioshock Infinite you can choose one of two pendants, it doesn’t make a big impact on the storyline… if it does at all. One of the things that Dishonored did, was that it took the choice of playstyle and then based the story line on top.
The result is a game that has slightly telepathic abilities: Dishonored reads your playstyle and decides if you need a tender moment of forgiveness, or a bad ass boss fight. While the main campaign I played in “low chaos” which means I primarily decided on non-lethal actions like choking (I know) and Sleep Darts. To be honest, the game was kinda wearing on me by the time I got to the DLC missions so I decided to do a high chaos play through. The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches center on Daud, the central motivator of Corvo’s tragedy in the main game. Daud is an assassin gifted with a few special abilities and a link to his accomplices that allow them to share in his trickery.
A Brigmore Witch

Daud’s central dilemma is that after a lifetime of assassination he has killed someone genuinely merciful. The Empress was a kindly ruler, and her time on the throne brought prosperity to Dunwall.
Daud is consistently conflicted in his actions, his gravely voice sounds like a man full in deep remorse, his dreams are haunted by the moment Corvo comes to kill him. To further add to Daud’s woes, he finds himself on a quest for Deliah, a ship used by a Dickens like slaughterhouse owner. I’ll stop there because the plot builds in unexpected ways, suffice to say it’s not a ship Daud is after. This last mission Daud takes on is one of charity, as the rope thickens around his neck and betrayal meets mercy Daud’s own men begin to doubt him and he is betrayed by someone fairly unexpected. In the walkthrough I watched of the Knife of Dunwall the player choose a nonlethal, but less than peaceful route through the game. They were rewarded with compassionate endings which seemed fair taken the circumstances. In my game, there was no such mercy, even nonlethal options eventually dissipated as my killer sought his way through Dunwal and to a confrontation with a Witch who seems more powerful than he is.
One of the many NPCs you meet along the way and can kill to!!

Let me take a moment here to highlight something in The Brigmore Witches: the DLC introduces a few new game play mechanics, portions of stages are coated in music that disables magic, street gangs roam about in fight, poison gets thrown around, euthanasia is an option, option side quests have mini-bosses, and finally the witches are just mean. Daud takes on some of the toughest opponents in the games, and The Witches in Brigmore manor require more than a little savy to over come. Daud gets a new power to and also the addition of Bone Charms that sacrifice key statistics to buff others. I came into the game with the pre-existing abilities and high chaos I had from The Knife of Dunwall so my character almost immediately felt invincible. I also came into the story with a history, and one that made my play through more than little uncomfortable.

In interactive story telling tokens are the new rage. Tokens are things you acquire in the story that allow entrance into new parts of the narrative. Emily Short’s blog is full of new storytelling techniques as the machine slowly becomes the muse. Dishonored’s chaos rating is an example of this token, my higher chaos rating unlocked boss fights not available in the nonlethal play style, and it also eliminated some decisions, try as I might I had to kill one of my favorite characters. But there was something in The Brigmore Witches that surprised me: disgust. I felt disgusted at my story line as it sank further in carnage. I wanted Daud to get his forgiveness, to be free, I wanted Billy Lurk to get another chance, I wanted this likable character to become something more than he is, instead my legacy of easy peasy murder sprees lead to a tragedy, on the day he became a hero Daud also met a rather ugly fate, and from someone who had no idea of the intense voyage Daud had just completed. This story line accomplished something you could not do in a novel: it made my actions reflect the text.

A lot of words have been spilled on the nature nonlinear narratives. Games are supposed to be nonlinear because play styles differ and giving you the option of choice creates immersion while strengthening identification. What Dishonored did though was something far more risky: a novel can’t watch you play a game, but a game can. Dishonored watched my impatient playthrough, my potion chugging killathon and decided to give me a bloody unforgiving story. It made me feel bad about playing the game the way I did.

Novels are more than capable of producing nonlinear narratives. Choose Your Own Adventure books often do this in spades. What Dishonor does is more akin to a role playing game, it smacks your hand with story line to ensure you’re choosing the right path, unfortunately for Daud the weight of my backlog and my own impatience on perfecting the nonlethal play through meant he got a fate he might not quite have deserved, but it also brought up a topic of morality. From Corvo’s perspective Daud is the killer of the Empress: Corvo’s loved one. By spinning Corovo’s tale first, Daud’s becomes all the more empathetic. It made me think about justice, was Corvo in the wrong because he didn’t know Daud’s tale? But the main point I want to get across is that video games forge such links between player and avatar, that our actions in game often affect them, in Dishonored I was allowed to disgrace Daud, to make him into a killer and victim. Few games I’ve played have allowed such discrepancy, Dishonored reveals that we don’t need an infinite universe of choice to make games personal, in fact the friction between the ethics of each path is enough to make it engrossing. We shouldn’t be looking for virtual worlds, we should be looking for meaningful choice. It’s our own knowledge of the binary that makes the choice powerful: if we choose nonlethal we know the lethal ending is out, it could have been different. I am still racked with guilt over a virtual character! I am sorry Daud for what I did. I had a responsibility to you, and I choose convenience over your own best interest.

August 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment


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