Back when I was young, I used to take great pride in scouring my games for every last item. 100% in Banjo-Kazooie, for the secret ending. 120 stars in Super Mario 64. Every last DK Coin and bonus coin in Donkey Kong Country 2. I didn't just beat my games, I conquered them.
Yeah, I was a kid with a lot more free time. But I loved these games so much that playing them to 100% was a joy in itself: Iit gave me an excuse to spend more time in these worlds, searching every nook and cranny until I knew them better than my own neighborhood.
Above: Donkey Kong Country 2 "Kannon's Klaim" playthrough
There was so much joy in going through a beloved level, like Kannon's Klaim, looking for secrets, enjoying the music and the flow of the game. Exploration and traversal are my favorite things to do as a player, so those "gotta find it all" moments came naturally.
I thought I left those days behind. Sure, I like to explore big games like The Witcher 3 and Mafia 3, looking for cool, weird details. I love looking at art that makes the space feel real and inhabited (like the many posters littering Sevastapol station in Alien: Isolation) and taking my time to explore random areas (like running through the bayou in Mafia 3). But I feel totally comfortable picking and choosing sidequests, ignoring collectibles, and sometimes, cheesing the hell out of combat mechanics to get to the cool bits faster.
But Dishonored 2 is bringing back the latent completionist that I haven't been since I was a teen, leaving me scouring every inch of its intricate, richly-detailed worlds for every last secret. I've spent just shy of 19 hours in the game so far, and I'm still at the beginning of the Dust District mission (maybe ⅔ of the way through the game). That, my friends, is slow.
Let's be clear: I'm not actually 100%-ing the game. There have been a couple of portraits left unturned. A blueprint went missing somehow, somewhere, in the Clockwork Mansion. But every rune, every bone charm, every document, every little sliver of story content, every goddamned bloodfly nest, has been in my grasp. Let's say I'm 99%-ing the game.
Dishonored 2 is fantastic—better, I think, than the excellent-but-uneven first game, which I admit, I fell off of. It's complex and respects player choice with multiple *valid* approaches to every situation, and playing as a mostly-stealthy *mostly* non-lethal Emily, with heavy use of Dark Shadow and Far Reach, has been an exercise in sneaky pleasure. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a stealth game quite this much.
It's tailor-made for quiet, way-too-long sessions, clearing an area of main objectives and hostiles (piling up sleeping bodies in arrangements that'd make my colleague Patrick proud), then taking my sweet, sweet time to find everything. Sometimes, I'll stumble upon another way to approach an area after clearing it of enemies, finding little hidey-holes or nooks from which I could've taken out enemies from above, and I have to fight the urge to reload a previous save.
There are side effects to this approach. My girlfriend chided me, the other night, for being way too boring onstream, spending thirty minutes figuring out how to find a rune. And I think I managed to make myself queasy one night, fussing with the slightly prickly PS4 sensitivity while trying to highlight every single beaker/bottle/glass/whatsit in a lab, just to see if any of them was a precious collectible.
When I got to that point, I started to suspect I might have a problem.
But this is what Dishonored 2 has done to me. It's made me a sneaky, shadowy thief, hiding forever in the darkness, knocking everyone out, then enjoying the precious jewels that each stage has to offer me. It's made me appreciate the level design even more, jumping from surface to surface, or climbing through secret passages and finding all those tiny hiding spaces.
The mentality that the game fosters, and the varied, layered approach to level design made this descent into completion-madness a slippery slope indeed.
The aesthetics support this: Dishonored has always presented a dark, dingy, nasty world. You don't *want* to get caught with your pants down, so to speak, you want to approach situations with caution, and a backup plan. Ok, you can go into situations guns blazing, but the limited ammo and mana support a more careful playstyle. Or, at the very least, a strategic one.
And if you're going for a low chaos playthough (basically, killing fewer people for a "more optimistic ending), you have to be more careful and jump through more hoops. Most missions ultimately have you eliminating a target. You can either kill them (and be done!) or go through a series of other steps to render them harmless. In the Clockwork Mansion, I had to take an unconscious body through a series of hostile encounters, and bring another body to a bizarre device.
It's actually making me anxious, at this point. Sitting down to play has become something of a commitment, something I need to clear time for. I can't just play this game half-assed, or mess around in it, the way I did often with those aforementioned open worlds. Dishonored 2's mechanics, it's level design, and its general flow put me in this heightened, tense state, and I basically cannot just play it.
I have to conquer it.
Disclosure notice: one of the game's writers is a personal friend.