In the business and creative world of video games, timing can be everything.
We are approaching the holiday season and the mass of big budget releases for the usual sports titles and yearly Call of Duty. We’ve already covered Resident Evil 6, with a review still to come once this busy writer has time to put his hands on a controller instead of a keyboard.
While Capcom received quite a mix of reviews for RE6, they have already shipped out 4.5 million copies and sales numbers will likely reflect this at the end of the month. Meanwhile, Arkane Studios, whose biggest contribution to gaming so far has been artwork for Bioshock 2, has finally seen a full release of their creation in Dishonored, a brand new offering that is being lauded as refreshing, innovative and visionary. These are the sorts of words that have been used for the beginnings of games like Prince of Persia, Borderlands and, of course, Bioshock.
All people have to do now is actually buy it.
Not only should we be admiring Arkane’s mental acuity in crafting such a thought-provoking first-person experience that first caught my attention when Game Informer revealed it, Bethesda Studios should be considered one of the ballsiest publishers out there for dropping Dishonored when it did. A quick look at the upcoming release schedule will show you just how much space your wallet will trade with your shelf if you are looking to pick up all the newest and hottest games on their way. Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4, Forza Horizon, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Hitman: Absolution, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, Epic Mickey 2, James Bond: 007 Legends and Far Cry 3 will all be coming out before we ring in 2013. If you have handheld systems like the 3DS and Vita, count your pennies because the number almost doubles.
Oh yeah, Nintendo is releasing a new system as well.
Obviously, Dishonored has its work cut out for it if it is going to be the pretty girl everyone wants to ask to the homecoming dance or whatever useless fucking analogy you want to insert to compare it to the usual offering you get around this time of year. Dishonored will need to be good enough to sell based on its own laurels, an ever-increasing task for publishers like Bethesda who has made a name for themselves with Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. Of course, the most obvious thing about Dishonored is the lack of a number or year in front of its title. Until next year when games like The Last of Us, Remember Me and Beyond: Two Souls drop, Bethesda can lay claim to the highest-profile new IP on the market.
So who exactly is going to buy this game?
I have seen commercials for it that highlight quotes from various gaming publications praising it. The ads sell the scenery as something we have never seen before, a minimalist and retro steampunk universe where every decision made is yours to choose. In fact, not a lot of information is given away in these ads to tip people off as to what they will experience when putting the game into their system. Who are you? What is your role? What has happened or will happen? Give us your money and find out.
Dishonored will have to fight with big budgets as well as the indie market. The continuous outpouring of digital releases across the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade has given people tired of the same old shit a piece of the video game landscape to call their own. On the same day as Dishonored, Retro City Rampage was released for the PSN, a tribute to 8-bit games and made by less people than what usually makes up an entire department of a company like Electronic Arts.
Bethesda has enjoyed plenty of success with their existing franchises but I do question if Dishonored is just a little too unique and asks too much of the player for it to be a total draw at retail. While games like Skyrim and Fallout reward you for exploring every facet of their levels and worlds, they also keep a focus on their core narratives and quests. Dishonored intertwines these. It is entirely on you to decide how to go about your mission, whether you want to be a macho Expendables extra or a ghost who leaves the scene without a trace. Whatever your choice, you must accomplish the mission; there is no wandering off and doing your own thing, something a lot of people who enjoy the games I just mentioned have likely come to expect.
I will always be biased toward a developer who takes a risk like Arkane has done with Dishonored. I will be just as biased toward a publisher like Bethesda who praises such work and rewards it with press and media blitzing like they have done. At the same time, I wonder if this calculated risk is going to pay off for both companies. They had to know what they were getting themselves into with this holiday season; anyone with an internet connection is free to look up the entire catalog of games for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U that will be available in the next two months.
The other thing to consider is if it does blow up and make Bethesda a lot of money, I do not want to see Dishonored 2 on the schedule at this time next year. If gold is found with this game, let it be a hit and let it be a critical darling. I was all set to give Assassin’s Creed a chance for a short time after it came out when I realized that AC: II was the fourth game released in the series. That turned me off immediately, and I don’t want to see the same thing happen to a promising game like Dishonored. I wish Arkane the best of luck and hope to see a Game of the Year label when it gets discounted several months from now.