Dishonored and Game Difficulty

Dishonored offers many choices - such as, should I ever use this dagger?

Dishonored offers many choices – such as, should I ever use this dagger?

I recently successfully completed a Low-Chaos, no-kills play-through of Dishonored. This in-and-of itself is a pretty excellent thing to exist in a game, but is not exactly what I want to talk about here.

I want to talk about a different aspect of the game, one I ran into by starting the game to try it out – and not taking my non-violent play seriously. There was a huge difference which I would like to discuss.

I don’t think I am too spoilery, mainly talking about spells and general game mechanics. So if you are considering the game, you should be safe to read on!


Blundering About – Dishonored Easy Mode

I was intrigued by doing a no-kills game, but that sounded a little hard, between the epic stealth required and the different actions needed. I wanted to learn my way around the game first, the system, the paths, these sorts of things. I played a violent-stealth play-through of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (the game that Dishonored kept making me think of), and was thinking of doing much the same. The thought was, sneak around, and take targets down when they are inconvenient. It might also be thought of as lazy stealth? Not-following-a-strategy-guide-too-closely stealth?

I played through a few levels, and my goodness, was it easy. Sneak around to a good vantage, and just kind of take things out. Using whatever. And there is a skill built for doing this: Shadow Kill, where enemies you kill dissolve into dust when they die, so that others don’t see the body and grow suspicious. So, not really ever being seen, no one standing in your way, you can just kind of blunder through the game, killing with impunity, but not directly offensive: not using some of the really fun sounding offensive spells, like the Windblast spell that knocks enemies back. It’s also not a great way to get many achievements.

Man, I still haven't ever gotten to use this spell!

Man, I still haven’t ever gotten to use this spell!

What Dishonored Could Have Worked Like

Sometimes difficulty levels should work differently than they do in games. Rather than cranking up enemy difficulty, the difficulty maybe should have had to do with play style in Dishonored. What I mean is, when I started over to do a no-kills play-through, the game – on the same difficulty level – became much, much harder. Suddenly I was hiding unconscious bodies, hoping they didn’t slide down stairs and die at the bottom (whoops!) or fall off of roofs when shot with Sleep Darts.

This became my normal vision mode - constantly playing the stealth game, watching out for the guards.

This became my normal vision mode – constantly playing the stealth game, watching out for the guards.

Easy mode in this game could have been one limited selection of spells, or maybe all of the spells, where you can fight or hide as needed. Having not played the kick-down-the-door play-through, I’m not sure if this would be a normal sort of difficulty or a hard one, but the stealth play was certainly hard. I did not get “ghost” on every level, either, so there were harder challenges waiting for me.

I suppose my other thought is, maybe the difficulty level is almost unnecessary. The difficulty level of Dishonored had more to do with my personal choices than with what the game threw at me. Not killing targets required far more side-questing, more stealth, more care with combat. It made the game fuller and more rich as well. But only by my personal choice.

What I Plan To Do Now

I am intrigued to play the game again, now, in a High Chaos, kick-in-the-door style. All the toys and spells are there to do it, and they kind of dangled uselessly and cruelly in front of me in my stealth play-through. This will also round out most of the game’s achievements for me, so that’s a fun perk. But I also expect this play-through to be harder than blundering around, because I will be under attack, and needing to watch my health from some of the crazy, crazy enemies the game includes. High Chaos will also mean more rats and things in the world attacking me, and guards that expect me to be coming, so again, the game will be harder based on my choices, and not the difficulty level as such.

(Dishonored photos found on, where there are many other great screenshots!)

Two Other Games to Consider

I am thinking of a couple of other recent games as I talk about the difficulty level of Dishonored.  One is Dark Souls, and the other is Mass Effect 3.

Dark Souls

In Dark Souls, there is not a difficulty level. Well, there is, but it is only Extremely Hard mode. Except, like other games with an only PVP aspect, there is a harder mode: facing human opponents rather than computer. The random timing on this in particular can throw you off.

I have not actually played enough Dark Souls to have been jumped by another player, but I have heard about it from a friend. And it seems to take The Hardest Game Ever (TM) and pull you out of the ridiculous challenges you are facing and throw you at something more dire and harder.

However, for when I finally return to Dark Souls, I have a plan: turn off my X-Box Live. I’ll play the stupidly hard game. But leave me alone to my ridiculous.

Yeah, this totally looks like Easy Mode.

Yeah, this totally looks like Easy Mode.

Still, this game is a great example of there being only one challenge level, and it being open-ended enough that you choose how difficult you want it to be. Also, where making that decision is aided by a strategy guide – much like Dishonored.

Other open world games also change depending on where you go, what you do, and the order you do things in, like Skyrim. The difficulty there has more to do with these sorts of choices than anything else – although considering dragons fall out of the sky all the time, what abilities you select also matter quite a bit for difficulty.

(Photo found on Yep, their website was called Prepare to Die.)

Mass Effect 3

Oh man, now there is a game with many aspects. Mainly, the myriad choices from the first and second games, as well as then the multiplayer aspect.

I played a bit of the multiplayer, only two-player, and it was crazy hard. It felt clearly meant for four players. However, I got a bit of boost to my game, and got some loot for future multiplayer. And then… my multiplayer bonus to my game decayed. The bonus went away. So I would have needed to have kept grinding online like crazy, and then played the game rapidly afterwards to get the effect? Unnecessary online addition (much like the online aspect of Dark Souls?).

I really would have been okay without these guys shooting at me.

I really would have been okay without these guys shooting at me. Photo found on

I am much more interested in the choices aspect, however. I feel that they missed a spectacular opportunity to have used your choices to set your difficulty level in Mass Effect 3. Oh, you have that race as friends? Cool, the game is a little easier. Oh, the Rachni are all dead? Well, I guess there are no Rachni Ravagers to fight! The game is a little easier. Your whole team died in Mass Effect 2? Well, I guess the game is harder.

Suddenly, people could have been replaying the games just to affect their game difficulty, changing it up to see what that would have looked like. Would have been a major boon to replayability of that game. As it is now? I beat it, and have not touched it again. Dark Souls kicked my butt, but I plan to return to it, buy the DLCs, the whole bit. Mass Effect 3? Several DLC have come out that I have not touched, and do not plan to – much like the game in general.

7 responses to “Dishonored and Game Difficulty

  1. Great article. I wholly agree that it would be great to get ‘deeper’ games, but sadly I think that’s as much economics as anything — the need to keep churning product out because games don’t have a healthy shelf life the way they once did, so publishers only spend an allotted amount of time on one thing instead of chasing down and wringing out all the possibities, even when the designers have come up with an amazing system that allows for very different types of experiences within a single framework. DLC *should* in theory, fix that issue, by keeping fresh content coming into the game, but it’s still based around a specific retail cycle, as well. Launch the game, trickle out specific pre-planned DLC, re-release a ‘complete’ edition with all the DLC on disc, move on to the next full sequel / iteration.


    • That cycle is both good and bad, too. Not every game can be World of Warcraft – years and years of new content being worked out while you pay for it the whole time. But if all the things coming out as DLC were part of the release game at first… Some games would take a lot of time to come out. Or, if they were never made, we’d be missing some of the most fun content out there for some games. (Borderlands and Zombies, just saying).

      The other economic side is that the DLC’s allow a game’s makers to make money off of people who buy a used copy of the game. Sad but true, I guess. It also means I’m paying a good chunk more than list price for my games now. But some of them, like Dishonored, or Borderlands, are living up to the cost (although I haven’t downloaded the Dishonored DLC challenge stuff – not what I’m looking for!)


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  6. if easy mode is not for you then do not play on easy mode and stop talking shit


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