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Dishonored vs XCOM / Kirkules vs Ewok

Ewok and Kirkules just can’t agree on one thing -- what, definitively, was the best game of 2012?

Ewok, a lover of the roguelike and strategy genres, is hunkering down against the alien menace in XCOM, but he’s so focused on defence that he can’t see the silhouette perched above him, in the shape of Kirkules.


Part 1: Why I Love Dishonored - Kirkules


Everything about Dishonored is fresh. The setting transports you to an alternate, steampunk reality that is as convincing as it is awe inspiring. Atmospherically, it was one of the most immersive games this generation; with its overheard conversations providing exposition, drawing you into the game, instead of cutscenes ripping you away from its rat-infested alleys. Mix this with sci-fi undertones providing some otherworldly, and sometimes chilling sound effects and you have yourself a recipe for environmental perfection.

Another thing it gets right, is the balance of power and vulnerability. If you get surrounded by a handful of guards, they can easily overpower the player, sending you spiralling towards the plague-ridden concrete. Yet, if you approach conflict methodically, you can dispatch your foes with ease. It’s a game that rewards you for using your brain, which feels like the perfect antidote to the saturation of shooty, shooty, bang bang.



The powers at your disposal can be used in a variety of entertaining and experimental ways, and since playing it, I’ve seen some people come up with some ingenious solutions to the puzzle-like levels.

There is a mission, partway through the game, that tasks you with assassinating or capturing a target. If you choose to capture him, you must use the Blink power to teleport your way safely back down to ground-level. This guy just threw the target off the roof, stopped time and blinked his way down faster, catching the target before he hit the floor. Pure class.

Why I love XCOM - Ewok


Hey! How come you get to go first? I suppose I can’t argue that everything about XCOM is fresh, given that it’s a re-imagining of an older game. However, what it manages to do is successfully recreate one of the best games ever made and present it to a modern audience. It gives us a throwback to when games were intelligent, tough, challenging and relentless.

XCOM never lets you rest and really captures the essence of desperation, as you spend the majority of a game feeling as though you are on the constant defensive; outmatched, outgunned and outnumbered. From the very start your situation feels hopeless, a desperate struggle to slow the tide of the alien invasion with raw recruits and inferior technology; making humanity’s last heroic stand, but ultimately doomed to failure. That you can feel so desperately outmatched yet still find enjoyment in the gameplay is an achievement in itself.

There is a beautiful tipping point somewhere in the game. After holding on by the skin of your teeth while your soldiers, scientists and engineers struggle on, you suddenly, without noticing it, come to a dramatic realisation. I’m winning. How did this happen? Somehow, in between getting your ass kicked in Australia and the Nigerians withdrawing their funding you’ve managed to research, build and train your way to the top. This is the best feeling in the world; after 10 hours of playing defensive your elite squad of operatives can grab their plasma guns, equip their ghost armour and take the fight back to the alien menace. Let’s see how they like being on the wrong end of an ass-whooping!

Why XCOM Can’t Be Better Than Dishonored: Kirkules


Well, Ewok, I get to go first, because that way you have a small chance of winning. I like a fair contest, and letting you see my points before you write yours narrows the gap that my superior game choice created. XCOM was good, but at times it felt like it needed a good polish. I remember my first encounter with a Cyberdisc, fondly - - It appeared and I thought to myself: how will I beat this new enemy? Look how many health-bars it has!

It advanced along the highway, so I retreated to more substantial cover. It made its way within range, so I backed up a little more, setting up defensive positions for this unknown threat. Then, it tried to advance some more, I was terrified, it was tense...then it fell off the highway, and died. This comical occurrence sucked the tension out of the game, like an anal probe.

Those aliens should really sort out their navigational systems.

Another thing you mentioned is that tipping point. I did witness it too, in fact, on my first playthrough I was terrible, and had to restart as I failed in my efforts. On my second run, however, I kicked alien ass. The tipping point, happened as soon as I donned my carapace armour. The aliens didn’t even know what hit them. It’s more a case of vague systems, barring progression. As soon as you realise that launching satellites lowers panic, you can plan your efforts accordingly.

In each combat scenario, XCOM played out the same way: slowly advance, whilst covering the corners of the map, and setting up overwatch for when the aliens eventually swarm into range.

Every encounter in Dishonored felt unique and rewarded experimentation, whether you were pausing time to use Tallboys as a Blinking platform, or using Windblast to put out a fire, revealing a new path. The game never forced these solutions upon you, or even hinted at them, and when you did discover something unique you felt like a genius. Another thing worth noting is: I didn’t encounter any bugs in my TWO playthroughs of Dishonored. That’s Dishonored-2, XCOM-0, by my count.

 

Why Dishonored Can’t Be Better Than XCOM: Ewok


I hardly think going second gives me the advantage. For one, you are picking the topics of discussion and can move the debate in any direction you choose. Despite this obvious disadvantage I’m sure I can prove I’m right, although that in itself is a moot point as our intelligent, well-informed and handsome readers already made their decision in favour of XCOM before they even started reading your insane, maniacal delusions.

I’ll freely admit that XCOM had some teething problems bug-wise upon release, a fact I expanded on within my review. However, this was sharply resolved and had you still been playing this magnificent game you would know that this is no longer an issue, the game being a far more polished and bug free experience. Further, if your combat missions were completed by sweeping across the map and liberal use of overwatch, then I guess you didn’t give ‘classic’ difficulty a go - because that’s just the sort of thing that’s liable to get you entire squad killed.

My problem with Dishonored, my MAIN problem with Dishonored, is that it gives you such amazing powers, fantastic combat abilities and brutal assassination techniques then goes out of its way to discourage you from killing anyone. It’s made pretty clear from the start that killing is the wrong way to go and the game even punishes you for doing so, by adding more weepers and rat swarms into the game. Without the killing what do you have? You go from being the silent killing-machine lurking in the shadows to the little fraidy-cat hiding in the darkness, with your finger hovering over the quick-load button ready to hit it as soon as you are spotted.


There is a lot of emphasis placed on choice in Dishonored. How do you get past that wall of light? You could possess the rats and dive through the hole in the wall. You could possess an enemy and walk straight through. You could sneak by, disabling the guards and sabotaging the gate controls. You could do all of these things, but nine times out of ten your problem can be solved by blinking across the rooftops, the easiest and most risk-free option. It felt like I spent a good 90% of the game just blinking from platform to platform, only pausing to let the mana meter refill. Yawn. What’s the point of giving me six ways to solve a problem when the same solution works over and over again?

Why Ewok is Wrong


Our readers are far too intelligent to be swayed by your flattery, for a start. They will be sat there, shaking their heads in despair that you would try such a juvenile tactic to sway their brilliant minds.

They have honour, and won’t be corrupted by your flattery, blinking and fluttering your eyelashes at them. Their vision isn’t darkened by your attempts at indoctrination, and your words are like the wind, blasting through one ear and out of the other. You are a weeper, plagued with bad intentions.

You say XCOM is bug free now? *Slow clap* Dishonored worked when I bought it, day one. That in itself is a feat in the age of the patch. Also, you said my tactics wouldn’t have worked in ‘classic mode’, did you ever consider that I’m just better at games/arguments than you?

I am, you know.

Your next “point” is that Dishonored discourages you from killing, well yes it does, but not in the way you seem to think. How is it a punishment to throw more danger at an aggressive player? Surely the game is just tailoring itself for the player’s preferred playing style. Oh, you like killing lots of things? Here, have some more enemies. If you want to run around hacking limbs off, you can.

The game doesn’t punish you, it gives you more meatsacks to stab.



What’s that you say, valued player? You want to be Batman? We will keep relentless zombies to a minimum, and tailor your experience around stealth gameplay. The game’s director Tweeted that the completion stats showed a 50/50 split for stealth and aggressive playthroughs.

That tells me one thing: most did both. I certainly did.

With regards to “the same solution works over and over” I can’t help but think you’re missing the point. It is a game crying out for you to play with its systems, encouraging multiple, improvisatory playthroughs. I remember one playthrough, where I played a single section about ten times, experimenting with the mechanics. The same encounter felt totally different each time - once, I used Windblast to fire four guards into a rewired wall of light. The next time, I jumped at a guard from above, cleaving his head from his shoulders and stashing his body in a dark corner. I thought I had performed this feat unnoticed, but I accidentally left his head on the floor... whoopsie. What I’m trying to say, Ewok, is that you’re obviously playing it wrong.

Why Kirkules is Wrong


Wow. I obviously played it wrong. Ironic really that the criticism you have raised there is exactly the same as I am about to level right back at your hypocritical [expletive deleted]. I didn’t play Dishonored the ‘right’ way, but you did so with XCOM? You said yourself that “In each combat scenario, XCOM played out the same way”. It played the same way? Or you played the same way?

Did you explore all the abilities available to your troops? Did you try sending out your guys in Ghost Armour to ambush the alien forces? Did you use your Skeleton Suits to take your snipers to higher ground, while your assault troops used their ‘flush’ ability to force the enemies out of cover into their sights? Against a tough enemy did you use your support troopers to suppress them, while your heavies readied their rocket launchers? Because it sounds to me that despite being a man with ‘experimental’ tastes that you, in fact, did not.

I’m still convinced you played it on one of the easier difficulty levels too. Else your tipping point would be later and you would have HAD to use those tactics described above to survive; along with liberal use of the ‘hunker down’ button. I’d recommend you have a bash at it on ‘Classic’, you will find it a far different beast. Just don’t try ‘Impossible’; it WILL make you cry.



As Dishonored plods along with it’s pedestrian tale, XCOM gives you the freedom to make your own stories, featuring your own custom cast of heroes and rookies alike. I almost cried when Felix, my eldest soldier, died when trying to rescue a downed comrade. I remember the sense of redemption when Martinez, who lost his nerve and killed the alien we were trying to capture on his very first mission, found his potential and volunteered for the Gollop chamber. Finally, the pride I felt when ‘Mustang’ led the triumphant final assault against the alien menace outshone anything I felt for Corvo Attano during my Dishonored experience.

XCOM was my experience, personal and unique to me in a way that Dishonored never was. Dishonored was Corvo Attano’s story, but XCOM was mine.

Final Summary: Kirkules


You felt nothing for Corvo Attano? Neither did I. Do you know why you didn’t feel anything for him? Because you ARE Corvo Attano, in Dishonored. I haven’t felt a game as truly immersive since Half Life 2.

Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy XCOM, but it’s a detached experience  when contrasted against the oppressive, yet beautiful, Dunwall City.

I suppose preference in narrative boils down to two extremes: horrific Orwelian alternate history, or B movie hamminess. There’s a place in my heart for the Starship Troopers-esque alien fest, there really is, but I didn’t just enjoy Dishonored as a game, I know it’s a cliche, but it was an experience.

I just wish more developers would think of new IP’s set in fantasy worlds with innovative mechanics. Think back on the last year, and think hard: was there any blockbuster game that was such an interesting, original concept?

I didn’t think so. I rest my case.

Final summary: Ewok


I just don't get how you could feel so detached from the XCOM experience, knowing that the men and women you raised up from nothing are only a second away from being snatched away from you and that you will be the one to blame when it happens.

XCOM may not be a brand new IP, but those who played the original X-COM games of the 90s know that this is a new creation. It's like comparing 2005's Batman Begins with the 1966 Adam West Movie: of course they share a theme, but one could hardly say Nolan's work lacked originality.

XCOM brought turn-based strategy out of its shell and breathed new life into a dead franchise. It also succeeded in the massive undertaking of bringing the genre to the home console market without sacrificing any of the game’s detail and integrity (Civilization Revolution anyone?) Is there another home console TBS anywhere with the depth and playability of XCOM?

I'm sorry you don't agree with me Kirkules, but it doesn't matter. Gaming is such a personal hobby and we will always fall in love with different games. I think one thing we can both agree on is that 2012 was an excellent year. You have Dishonored, I have XCOM, and we both walk away happy.

kirkules | 1st February, 2013
kirkules's picture
I think it's fair to say that I won.
Ewok's picture
You'd lost before I even started typing....
Dead Alive's picture
My vote goes to XCOM. Because XCOM.

I fucking love that game!

Good read though, guys. Well played.
evilgiraffeman's picture
Got to say I really enjoyed the article.

Dishonored was one of my most anticipated titles last year after seeing it and playing it at various GamesCom's. In fact after getting a good solid chunk of gameplay time on the Boyle Manor mission, I was so excited for it.

So when I came to play it there was a lot I liked but a lot let me down. The gameplay was fantastic and I'm a massive fan of stealth/action and freedom of choice.

What I will say is that the setting and atmosphere was brilliant and is easily one of the best environments in the past few years.

However, there were so many disappointments. The story was massively lacklustre in comparison to the freedom and originality of some of the gameplay. At times it was so predictable you just wanted the inevitable end portion of the game to hurry up and get out of the way so you could move past it.

Similarly, the length was a real shame. At only ten or so proper missions it was over much too quickly. Just as you were getting into the swing of things and fully appreciating the awesome powers at your disposal the game finished. The side quests (barely any) were largely brief and tantalised you then just stopped dead.

I'm going to be very interested in the forthcoming story DLCs they have planned (no more Dunwall City Trials please).

However, I've not had the chance to get XCOM yet, so alas I can't compare them. After reading Ewok's sterling defence, but cautioned by Kirk's comments I'm interested but not sure about it.

Would both of you advise splashing out on it?
Ewok's picture
Definitely bud. It should be cheap enough now and you'll get many hours of quality gameplay out of it. It's also very challenging at the higher difficulty levels.
Emseypenguin's picture
Haven't played either game, and was totally like "yeah Dishonored sounds amazing, I wanna play that" until you started talking about "custom cast of heroes and rookies" and how you got all attached to them...and then I changed my mind. XCOM sounds super shiny and I MUST play! Final vote XCOM!
kirkules's picture
To be fair, XCOM is a fantastic game and was probably my second favourite of the year.
Kaostic's picture
I liked both games however xcom took it for me.

Dishonored was fun but didn't grasp me for very long while xcom did. I haven't played for more than 6 hours on xcom but want to really get a good solid 20 more out of it. Lan is needed.

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