I put an hour into both XCOM Enemy Unknown and Dishonored last night, which is obviously not nearly enough time to give those games their proper due. That being said, I am a firm believer that what a game shows you in its first 10 minutes is very often a good indicator as to the general quality level of the experience you’re about to embark on, and on that note, I feel pretty confident in saying that these games are looking very good indeed.
Two things I should point out before I start: (1) I am very intimidated by strategy games, be they turn-based or real-time, which also means (2) I never played the original XCOM games. I am approaching this game as a recent convert to the genre, specifically because of the noob-friendliness of Firaxis’ own Civilization Revolution (which, in turn, got me into Civ 4 and Civ 5). I have no allegiance to the original games. What I’m interested in, then, is a compelling experience, and with an option to turn the difficulty down to the easiest setting (just so I can get my feet wet, and so that I can better understand how the game systems work without getting vaporized).
The tutorial walks you through each move; the first two missions still hold your hand a bit, but you have a bit more freedom to work with. I managed to finish the first post-tutorial mission with everybody alive (though one dude got dinged up a bit); in my second mission, I lost a rookie and two other soldiers are in sickbay, out for at least 2 weeks with some serious poison damage. (I have not yet renamed my soldiers, but I am already somewhat attached to my most powerful guys, and I can already see myself making sure they have the most cover at any given time.)
I am still intimidated once I’m on the battlefield, but in a way that’s a boon – my abundant need for caution at every turn also happens to be the proper way to play the game, and because the controls are incredibly easy and intuitive to use (I’m using a 360 controller, though I’m playing on the PC), I find myself getting more and more comfortable. Even though there’s no greater feeling of dread that moving your guys into what you think is a proper cover position, only to see enemies suddenly appearing directly behind you. Ordinarily I’d say this is a cheap shot, but the game never makes it feel unfair – there’s almost always a better vantage point that I should’ve seen, and in any event, this is war – people will die.
I love the in-between bits the most, I think. I love looking at the base of operations (presented as if it were an ant colony, which is a useful subliminal reminder of that old saying about a boot stomping on an anthill), talking with my various departments, starting research projects, outfitting my soldiers, etc. It’s elegantly presented and does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re a vital part of the story.
I am already enjoying the hell out of Dishonored even though I’ve died a lot in the game’s first hour. Quite a bit more death than I’d anticipated, if I’m being honest. My intention was to play as non-lethally as possible, but it’s not always easy to tell when you’re hidden in shadow and when you aren’t, and thus I’m forced to shoot and stab in order to escape, and since I’m still getting the hang of the controls, I don’t always escape. I’m tempted to delete my current save and just start over from scratch, in an attempt to really make sure I understand what I’m doing and how the stealth mechanics work.
My terribleness at the game aside, I love everything I’ve seen thus far. The art direction is quite stunning (even if some of the textures on the 360 are a bit blurry and pixelated) and the little of the city I’ve seen looks remarkable. And I love how many hidden secrets there are, and how well the game rewards you for going off the beaten path. There is remarkable detail in every corner of the world.