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Jon Hartley avatar 12:01 AM on 10.19.2012
A Taste of Discipline from XCOM and Dishonored

I usually try to make my writing well-structured, if nothing else. This is perhaps as a contrast to my everyday life, which is a chaotic series of (only sometimes) hilarious, unrelated, unpredictable, and often horrifying events. Similarly, I seem to gravitate toward videogames that demand some level of organization, and when they don't outright demand it, I enforce it upon myself (see: my stupid plan to hoard every unique weapon in Fallout: New Vegas, my even stupider plan to collect every book in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

Even though both games provide plenty of choices to be made, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored both have enforced their own brands of rigidity and discipline upon me, even if they have done so in entirely different ways.


Not pictured: XCOM, Dishonored, other things that are actually awesome

I really enjoyed my playthrough of XCOM. So much so, in fact, that I didn't touch anything else until I had properly dealt with the alien threat, even if I got a few dozen soldiers massacred along the way. I'm a sucker for strategy RPGs, with Gladius, Valkyria Chronicles, and anything Disgaea being among my favorites. Therefore, XCOM was right in my wheelhouse, allowing me to devise strategies that ranged from "pure lunacy" to "somewhat effective" on the Strategy Scale (TM).

My favorite? When I realized that you can't directly attack a mind-controlled enemy, I realized that I needed to do something to deal with my soon-to-be pissed-off mental captive in a couple of turns. So I placed my soldiers around the poor Muton in all directions, then used the Muton's last move while under my control to move him into the middle of them. I used my squad's last moves to place them all on Overwatch. When the Muton got control of his own mind again, he thought to himself, "What the shit?!?" and immediately went to move to some sort of safety, like any sane sentient being would, only to get mowed down by six soldiers simultaneously ripping him apart. I call that maneuver "Firing Squad".

Anyway, while the game had its flaws: the pacing can be uneven (especially late in the game, since it can be controlled by the player). Late in my playthrough, I was just leveling my soldiers for the final battles without any regard to money (I had tons of money that I didn't need any longer), research (didn't really have anything to do there), building my base (ditto), and so on. Furthermore, I encountered a number of glitches, almost of all of which had to do with SHIV units.

Multiple times, I couldn't assign active SHIVs to my squad for a mission. The problem would repeat until I dismantled the SHIV and built a new one. One time, I brought my SHIV in and it had no actions available. In the bottom right of the screen, no actions were shown where they normally be located; that part was simply blank. Pressing "Y" (Xbox 360 version) at the end of a turn wouldn't allow my SHIV to overwatch, etc. I couldn't do anything but move and provide cover. Another time, my alloy SHIV came into battle as a rookie soldier with an inability to take cover, provide cover, or do anything but move and perform normal attacks with an assault rifle.Weird, and since I was playing in Ironman mode, I simply stopped using SHIVs since I wouldn't have the option to go back to an earlier save if I had a SHIV glitch in an important mission. It was a bummer, since I really liked using them.

Otherwise, I loved the game. Loved it. The strategy elements were great, and it may be the most challenging SRPG I've ever played. I'm looking forward to tackling the tougher difficulty levels and endangering the lives of my dearest friends and family again. I was even surprised by how much I grew attached to some of the generic soldiers that I inherited once I got tired of re-naming soldiers to replace my dead ones. Also, I loved the feeling I got that I improved so much at the game as I played through it. It's a challenging game, but a fair one. It just punishes you for doing dumb shit, and I love that about it. The only real reason I'm not playing through it again while we speak is Dishonored.

Now, Dishonored has forced me to play intelligently, thoughtfully, and carefully, but a lot of the blame for that rests on myself, rather than the game.

Sure, Dishonored heavily pressures players to play with their brains rather than braun- killing more people results in a "darker" ending (or so the game says; I'm not that far yet), the game's biggest achievements are for getting through the game while keeping killing to a minimum and not being seen, and getting into a fight with more than a couple of enemies at a time is just asking for a "game over" screen.


You haven't seen me stumble my way through an undetected Dishonored run, Hand Person

However, I take a lot of the blame for turning Dishonored into an obsessive-compulsive repetition of save->fuck up->reload (repeat), because for some weird reason it got into my brain that it would be fun to go through the game without killing or even alerting anyone.

Yep, that's right- in the game where you can do over-the-top melee executions or summon a horde of rats to horrifyingly devour living foes, I figured the best thing to do would be to say, "No, I'd prefer to not check out all that cool stuff and instead give myself a massive case of Gaming Blue Balls by sneaking around and reloading saves non-stop."

I can't be alone, though. When I did a Google image search for "reload save" to look for a picture that I could add a snarky caption to for this very blog, several pages in there was a picture used in a Dishonored review.

Plus, I have ways to cope. Every now and then, I save, and then just freak the fuck out stabbing friends and enemies alike, slowing time and shooting as many dickwads as I can, or just flinging unconscious bodies to their deaths. It's strangely therapeutic.

I thought about starting over and playing the game in a more natural way, using my tried and true "Stealth Until 'Fuck It'" playing style that has served me so well in The Elder Scrolls series (where stealth is laughably easy, mind you) and other games. Then, I could do my nonstop saving, reloading, sneaking, and loudly cursing in smaller intervals. However, for some strange reason I'm actually enjoying the more challenging, trial-and-error approach.

I haven't felt this inadequate since algebra class, and yet I love it.

XCOM and Dishonored may be different in a lot of ways, but for me, they're similar in that they both require the kind of discipline that a lot of games don't have the balls to ask of gamers these days. I don't know if it makes me a masochist, but I don't mind enforced discipline as long as the challenge doesn't feel cheap (and aside from unlucky dice rolls and those fucking terror missions in XCOM, as well as your usual stealth-related AI detection issues in Dishonored, it usually doesn't).

Some play games in order to relax. Apparently, I often play them to have my balls busted, and XCOM and Dishonored are all too happy to oblige.

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