Review: Late Eclipses (October Daye #4)

Sometimes I’ll decide to read a long running, in progress book series, and I’ll feel as if the plot and characters would’ve had a greater impact on me if I’d had a year to wait between books (for them to come out in paperback, at least). This is pretty much how I feel about Late Eclipses in a nutshell.

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Two years ago, Toby Daye thought she could leave Faerie behind, now she finds herself back in the service of Duke Sylvester Torquill and sharing an apartment with her Fetch. When her friend Lily comes down with a mysterious, seemingly impossible illness, however, she soon finds herself struggling to save the undine and her subjects, not to mention that the Queen of the Mists has plans of her own, and, as if that weren’t bad enough, Oleander de Marelands, the same person responsible for turning Toby into a fish, is back, and just how does Toby’s mother Amandine fit into all this?

There’s a lot going on in this book. The pieces are moving around the board and things are changing. The central mystery isn’t that hard to solve in that the reader will probably know whodunit, it’s the how that keeps the characters (and the reader) guessing. Well, I figured it out as soon as a certain character was introduced, but even then there are a couple of twists and turns to this tale, and by the time it wraps up there are a lot of intriguing developments for future books to explore, and we’re not even halfway through the books that are in print and the series is still going!

As I mentioned in the little intro bit, I’ve been reading these books back to back and I can’t help but feel that I’m missing some of the impact of certain scenes than if I had had the time to wait between installments. Characters I feel like I’ve just come to know start dying left and right. This must be like what reading A Song of Ice and Fire feels like, except I’m fairly certain a few characters in this series have thick enough plot armor to survive for most of it.

That said, the series slowly seems to be becoming a bit more diverse. May Daye (who is honestly one of my favourite characters in this series) brings her South Asian girlfriend to a ball, and characters of colour like Raj are still up and about, but it’s a shame that given the immensity of the world and the variety of Fae on display that it isn’t more diverse. Then again, this is only book four, and I’ve read entire series that don’t even bother. In terms of potentially triggering content, I can’t remember anything specific besides there being a lot of death. It’s one of those books.

This is one of those books where it’s difficult to talk about it without spoiling everything. Suffice it to say that although this book made me sad (and a little angry) I’m intrigued by the possibilities it presents, and the next book deals with selkies! I love selkies, selkies are great!

Game Review: Dishonored 2

Dishonored was a pretty great game with some really cool levels even if constantly reloading saves because some asshole spotted you during a Ghost run wasn’t the most fun gaming experience I’ve ever had. I’d generally heard good things about the sequel, that it was more of the same etc. which TBH I’m fine with games being more of the same or I wouldn’t keep buying every Fire Emblem game. I was a little concerned, however, by some reviewers comments that the levels weren’t as memorable as the first game.

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Set fifteen years after the events of the first game, Dunwall is prospering as a city under the reign of Empress Emily Kaldwin. Naturally, you get to spend a few moments of stability and safety before a coup is staged by returning antagonist Delilah Copperspoon, who usurps Emily’s throne and declares herself Empress. As either Emily or Corvo, you escape the palace and head for the southernmost island of Serkonos (the city of Karnaca in particular) not only to discover what led to Delilah’s rise to power, but to hunt down her co-conspirators.

For the most part, Dishonored 2 is pretty much more Dishonored: the game drops you into a huge open level, gives you some cool powers and weapons to play with, and lets you accomplish objectives the way you want. Do you want to go in guns blazing or take the stealthier route? Do you want to kill your targets or find a way to remove them without killing? You can even play the game without supernatural powers if you want. There are also a number of optional side objectives, like robbing the black markets in certain levels for some free equipment, and of course there are runes and bone charms scattered throughout the level for you to collect. You can also craft bonecharms and runes if you upgrade the right skill. Crafting is simple and involves “sacrificing” bonecharms for trails and whalebone and creating new bonecharms with multiple traits.

At the time of writing, I’ve only played through the game once with Emily, but from what I’ve heard Corvo’s powers should be familiar to you from the first game. He can still possess characters and animals, but this time around he can possess corpses to create instant hiding spots. Emily’s powers are a bit different. Far Reach, her short range teleport, doesn’t have the reach (lol) of Corvo’s blink, but she can also create copies of herself with Doppelganger, enthrall enemies with Mesmerize, and link enemies together with Domino so that they share the same fate. This last power is easily my favourite, as you can link up to four enemies at once and then knock them all out (or kill them) at the same time.

In Dishonored, if you wanted to deal with enemies in a nonlethal manner, you were pretty much limited to sleep darts and choking them out (and occasionally distracting them with noise). Dishonored 2 is much more non-lethal friendly. You still have your trusty sleep darts and chokehold, but now you can do non-lethal drop assassinations, use grenades or shots from your pistol to destroy bloodfly nests, and destroy clockwork soldiers without worrying about ruining a clean hands run. The game also tracks things like how many people you’ve killed or whether you were detected by enemies, making it much easier to get a clean hands or ghost run without agonizing over whether you were actually spotted or not.

The environments also have more of a sense of being lived in than in the first game. You can open cupboards and find towels and bath salts, books the occupant has been reading. Once I stumbled into an apartment shared by two women where one appeared to be cooking and I really felt like I was intruding in someone else’s space. Unlike Dunwall, much of Karnaca sees actual sunlight (which reminded me of the last mission in the Brigmore Witches DLC) and yet it still feels every bit as oppressive as Dunwall’s dark streets.

One major criticism I have, despite saying that the world feels lived in, is that the mission locations lack a certain uniqueness. There’s one notable level involving a time travel gimmick and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy zipping around the Royal Conservatory or going between the walls of the Clockwork Mansion, but much of the game is spent going from fancy house to fancy apartment to fancy house. I can understand the desire to not retread old ground, but I’m baffled as to why they didn’t attempt to do another “social stealth” level like Lady Boyle’s Last Party, especially since that mission is so popular among the fanbase. It’s not an awful game by any means–I had more fun playing my no-kill run than I did in the original, and to be fair, I do like exploring fancy houses (and there’s some great environmental storytelling if you care to explore) but by the time I’d finished the final level, I’d had enough of seeing the same paintings over and over again. Another thing that I almost didn’t mention because it’s more of a personal pet peeve of mine is the way you pretty much have to play Dishonored’s DLC to really get what’s going on in the sequel. This isn’t really a huge deal since the definitive edition of the game is available for really cheap (especially during a Steam sale) but I hate it when companies make it so that reading tie in novels or playing DLC is required to understand the sequel (hey Dragon Age Inquisition) I might seem like a fussbudget but I remember a time when you could play a game and jump right into its sequel and understand what was going on. I miss those days.

In terms of diversity, Meagan Foster, who basically does Samuel’s job from the first game, is black and plays a not insignificant role in the story. A minor character, Mindy Blanchard, is implied to be trans, and one of Corvo/Emily’s targets is implied to be gay. while another is implied to have romantic feelings (or they could just be obsessed) that may or may not be reciprocated. There’s also a more overt bisexual character. Emily herself has a significant other, Wyman, and the game deliberately avoids using gendered pronouns for them. You can also encounter NPC couples who may or may not be romantically involved. The first game’s gender representation was limited, but in Dishonored 2, women are Empresses, witches, community leaders, enemy combatants, domestic workers, artists, doctors, it does feel like Arkane listened to criticism in that area, even if their LGBT representation could stand to be a little less implied.

In terms of trigger warnings, one mission takes place in a hospital, one of the non-lethal options involves giving a character a lobotomy via electric shock, while another can end up in an asylum, and notably there’s the old chestnut of “split personality where one is evil”. The slow motion assassinations of key targets return, and they’re even bloodier than before. Also. for those of you who really don’t like bugs, bloodflies are glowing bloodsucking wasps that glow orange and buzz menacingly when you come near their nests. Unfortunately, they’re unavoidable, especially on a high chaos run, and boy, talk about unnerving. The Heart also has even more horrifying secrets to spill, usually involving murder.

Dishonored 2 is a fun game. IMHO, it lacks the uniqueness of the first Dishonored‘s missions (although the time travel mission was a blast), but in terms of gameplay I had way more fun playing the sequel, so much so that I’m thinking of doing a high chaos run with Corvo, but I’d also like to get to Death of the Outsider. I’m just bad at stealth. At the end of the day, it’s more of the same stealth action gameplay in a whalepunk setting, and that’s good enough for me.

Game Review: Dishonored

This is one of those games where a review has been a long time coming. Since I lacked the hardware necessary to play the game when it first came out, I had to wait until I had a PC that was capable of handling the game, that time came and went, and I progressed to near the end of the base game before being swallowed up by other, newer, shinier games.

You know, the usual.

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Dishonored is a stealth action adventure game about a man on a quest for revenge. Corvo Attano, once the bodyguard to the Empress, is framed for her murder and must hunt down and eliminate the people who orchestrated his downfall with the aid of supernatural powers bestowed upon him by the Outsider as well as rescue the late Empress’ daughter, Emily.

The basic gameplay flow of Dishonored is that it drops you into a huge level in the plague-infested steampunk city of Dunwall, gives you a target to eliminate, and then gives you free reign to accomplish your goals. There are multiple ways to approach targets and multiple ways to dispatch them, including nonlethal means. In addition to conventional tools like crossbow bolts (regular and sleep darts for nonlethal takedowns), Corvo also has some neat supernatural powers: Blink is a short range teleport, whereas Bend Time slows or stops time completely. Corvo can summon rat swarms to devour enemies or possess animals and people. These powers can be combined in interesting ways. One of my favourite things to do is stop time, fire a couple sleep darts at enemies, then watch as they all keel over unconscious. Powers can be upgraded by finding runes scattered throughout the level. Corvo can also equip bone charms (also found throughout the level) which enhance his abilities (increasing his movement speed, for example). Another important gameplay element is Chaos. Killing enemies (other than key targets) or leaving bodies around for enemies to discover raises Corvo’s Chaos rating. High Chaos will make Corvo’s enemies more suspicious, and result in increased defenses and a more difficult time traversing the level in the next mission.

For my playthrough, I went with a Low Chaos, Clean Hands (no killing), Ghost (no enemy alerts) run, which is one of the more difficult runs but is perfect for stealth runs. I didn’t manage to get Ghost due to an annoying alert guard in the very first level. This means that many of Corvo’s more interesting abilities were off limits to me (although I did take the opportunity to mess around a bit with the combat before loading a save). As a stealth game, Dishonored is engaging, if at times frustrating, and Ghost runs involve a ton of reloading if you’re spotted. I personally wouldn’t recommend a Ghost run on your first run, I just really like stealth games.

Here we come to the disconnect between Dishonored’s gameplay and the Chaos system in that the game gives you a bunch of cool toys to play with and punishes you with a bad ending if you use them. You can choose to only take down key targets or complete most missions in Low Chaos and still get the good ending, but even so, it still feels like you’re being punished for playing with your toys.

Even though the game isn’t technically open world, Dunwall feels huge. You can find the usual assortment of books and documents to read which flesh out the world. You can look for the Outsider shrines in each level, which contain a rune and some dialogue from the Outsider that changes slightly depending on your actions. Point the Heart (a macabre artifact that beats whenever a bone charm or rune is near) at an NPC and you’ll hear a fact about them. You might find out a guard you just knocked out is a serial killer or that one of your associates peeps on women in the bathroom. One of my favourite missions in the game is Lady Boyle’s Last Party, which sees you rubbing elbows with the elite at a fancy party where you need to first identify your target before moving to the main event. You can even eschew stealth altogether and walk in through the front door like a boss. Some of the nonlethal methods to eliminate your targets arguably leave them worse off than just outright killing them (like handing a woman over to her stalker or having two targets sent to be worked to death in their own mines).

Some criticisms I have is that the Blink power is a bit too sensitive, I’d be wiggling the mouse around, trying to get the indicator where I needed it to be and accidentally end up blinking too soon and faceplanting in front of enemies. Sometimes there would be a weird “time skip” where I’d save my game, get spotted, and reload to immediately be spotted again. Sometimes unconscious bodies that I’d stashed away were missing after a reload. Fortunately, the instantly spotted on reload only happened to me once and the game autosaves frequently. This is something that happens in many games, but after a while you hear the same NPC chatter over and over again. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a guard whistle the same tune I’d be filthy rich right now. Another thing I personally object to is the way the DLC apparently has more to do with the sequel’s plot than the actual base game. It’s not a complaint about the DLC itself, it’s just a personal gripe of mine. I dislike when I’m expected to play the games, play the DLC, buy the tie-in novels, and bake the officially approved cake so I can understand what’s going on in the series. To be fair, Bethesda isn’t the only company that’s guilty of this EA and BioWare but I thought I’d mention it because I despise the practice so much.

Normally I don’t buy a lot of DLC but I bought the definitive edition of the game on sale on Steam. The Void Walker’s Arsenal includes bone charms, gold, and books that were offered as preorder bonuses. The Dunwall City Trials are a series of challenge maps, each with a different objective. In “Mystery Foe” your goal is to collect clues in order to find and eliminate a random tarot, while “Kill Cascade” is a series of drop assassinations on a timer.The real meat of the DLC are the two story campaigns: The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which follow the adventures of Daud as he searches for a woman named Delilah. Daud controls much like Corvo with the addition of some new tools like the Chokedust grenade, which can distract enemies for a few seconds while you escape (or sleep dart them). Another new feature of the DLC is corrupted bone shards which have both benefits and drawbacks. The favours system allows Daud to purchase advantages (like a weapons cache or a rune) that can make levels a little easier. The DLCs are supposed to be harder than the main campaign but they are absolutely a must play.

In terms of triggery content, one of the easiest ways to non-lethally deal with enemies is to choke them out. As you might expect from a game where you play as a supernatural assassin, violence is par for the course, and even in a playthrough where the player isn’t violent, NPCs will frequently be shot and stabbed by other NPCs. Descriptions of the effects of the rat plague are horrific and the game makes it clear that children are not exempt from the horrors that the poor of Dunwall experience. There are a couple sequences (one in the DLC) where you can torture characters for information.

I spent about 55 hours in total on both the base game and two story DLCs and 26 hours on the base game alone. There is some replayability if you want to go back and try a High Chaos playthrough. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t played this game, but if you’re the one person who hasn’t. Dishonored is a dark but engaging stealth action game with some really interesting level design.