The Great Arkane Immersive Sim Off: Ranking Arkane’s Best Immersive Sims

Games Lists Arkane
The Great Arkane Immersive Sim Off: Ranking Arkane’s Best Immersive Sims

Arkane Studios is a developer famous for its take on the immersive sim genre. Their games invite players to deeply lose themselves in fantasy worlds while using a wide suite of abilities to solve problems any way they want to. They first achieved critical success with their games Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, but they came into the public spotlight with the release of their 2012 smash hit DIshonored after being purchased by Bethesda.

Arkane’s latest game, Redfall, comes out on May 2, and in advance we’re looking back on the five games they’ve developed under Bethesda. Specifically, we’re ranking their immersive sims, the genre they’re known for, so the two Wolfenstein games they helped develop won’t be included. And we’re starting with a standalone expansion of one of their best games.

5. Death of the Outsider

Arkane: Death of the Outsider

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the de-facto conclusion to the Dishonored series as of now, stars fan-favorite Billie Lurk and Daud as they go on one last job to kill the titular Outsider, the generally neutral god of the universe who’s the source of our protagonist’s powers. Death of the Outsider‘s biggest changes include BIllie’s unique abilities and the removal of the series’ sometimes controversial chaos system, but when held up against its predecessors, Death of the Outsider is kind of underwhelming. To be fair, it is a standalone expansion so the reduced scale is understandable, but even then it still feels like it’s missing something. Billie’s powerset is lackluster compared to Emily and Corvo’s, not helped by the fact that she only has three abilities instead of six. It feels limiting in a way that’s occasionally interesting—like using Semblance to disguise yourself and bypass restricted areas like you’re in Hitman—but generally it just leaves me wanting to go back to Dishonored 2.

The level design is still impeccable as always with the Bank level being the highlight, but the game’s narrative and toolsets lack the impact that its predecessors have. The worst aspect of the game is Daud’s sudden 180 shift in personality and motivation after his DLC episodes in Dishonored ended his arc satisfyingly. It’s still a fun time, but it’s the most forgettable Arkane game to date.


4. Deathloop

Deathloop

Deathloop absolutely rules on your first playthrough. Its retro-futuristic aesthetic oozes with style, Colt is a wonderful protagonist, his banter with Julianna is great, and the entire premise of breaking the time loop is awesome. The multiplayer elements with real players invading your game as Julianna ups the ante of completing a level, turning a run into a unique experience each time. Deathloop leans more into combat compared to Arkane’s other games due to its large focus on gunplay and a lack of a morality system that makes it all the more easier to go gung-ho. As the loop continually resets, it’s up to you to collect clues from around the isle of Blackreef and fashion the best loadout and plan in order to kill a set of “Visionaries” that’ll allow Colt to break free of Blackreef and the loop in what many have dubbed a “murder puzzle.” Deathloop successfully merges aspects of roguelikes and immersive sims into a game that really works—on the first playthrough, at least.

The main problem with Deathloop is that the game reveals all it has to say on the first complete playthrough. There’s only one real way to break the loop, which makes the idea of multiple playthroughs unappealing, and it lacks the customizability that other Arkane games like Dishonored 2 and Prey both have to make more varied playthroughs. The lack of difficulty options also hurts Deathloop, as the game is incredibly easy due to the lackluster enemy AI and the sheer amount of ridiculous weapon combinations you can acquire, but can also swing to ridiculously hard when an invading Julianna has the requisite skill and map knowledge to kill you before you even see her. The world of Blackreef is an interesting one at the very least, but it would’ve been nice if the game went slightly deeper mechanically.


3. Dishonored

Dishonored

Dishonored is our first introduction to the depressing world of Dunwall, a plague-and-rat-infested ersatz Britain if it were powered by whale oil. The first game in the series has us play as Corvo Attano, a silent guard who must regain his honor after being accused of murdering the empress and kidnapping her daughter, Emily, who you may remember becomes a playable protagonist in the sequel.

Dishonored rules. The sheer amount of freedom granted by Dishonored’s powerset is rivaled only by some of Arkane’s own titles. Want to sneak around like a ghost, never to be seen? Sure! Want to go in through the front door, gun and sword in hand, slicing your opponents to ribbons? Why not? While you’re at it, why not stop time and fill a poor guard with crossbow bolts before he even knows what hit him? The choices are yours and yours alone, and though they aren’t limitless, they are empowering. The only thing holding you back as a player is the chaos system, which impacts Dunwall based on how often you kill your targets or incapacitate them, as well as how often you go undetected. Kill enough people, and bodies begin to line the streets, summoning swarms of rats that could help or hinder your own mission.

The art style is striking, with the stylized character designs and the shading of the world still looking good 10 years later. The only real flaw of the game is the disparity between nonlethal options compared to lethal options for moment-to-moment gameplay. The unique non-lethal options for the mission targets are fun and usually cruelly ironic, but choking out and sleep-darting generic enemies feels less fun in comparison to the lethal options. Still, Dishonored is one of the best games of its era and is worth revisiting despite its few flaws.


2. Prey

Prey

Prey is the closest thing we’ve gotten to a real System Shock successor since the original Bioshock, and one of the most overlooked games of the last generation. It stars protagonist Morgan Yu as they try their hardest to contain an outbreak of Typhon, a shape-shifting alien species threatening human life, to a lunar space station called Talos I.

If Deathloop is Arkane’s take on the roguelike, then it’s apt to say that Prey is their take on Metroid. Talos I is a labyrinthian maze of a space station that players will constantly be backtracking through as opposed to the linear levels of Dishonored. Prey never really lets the player rest as the Typhon Phantoms creep around even areas you’ve backtracked, keeping you on your toes at all times. Prey heavily revolves around themes of identity and humanity, and this is blurred through the powers you acquire through the game’s neuro mods. Will your Morgan Yu choose to remain strictly human, using their brute force to open doors and use their wits alone to survive the Typhon threat? Or maybe you could indulge in the Typhon neuromods, acquiring alien powers such as teleportation and possession at the cost of your humanity. It’s a fascinating dichotomy that is both narratively and mechanically sound.

Prey’s moment-to-moment gameplay is never boring, bolstered by strong tools that make a variety of playstyles viable. The GLOO Gun, for example, while useful for patching up broken wires and stunning enemies, also sequence breaks the game frequently, allowing you to make paths and more importantly shortcuts that circumvent the game’s traditional logic. Using the Mimic power to turn into a cup is equally useful for avoiding detection and bypassing entire segments by falling into a mail chute. Combat changes drastically throughout the game, evolving from smacking aliens with a weak wrench, to using psychic blasts to clear rooms, all the while possessing enemies while you teleport all over the place.

Prey’s greatest tragedy was that no one knew what it was. Some felt that the game was going to lean harder into being a horror game, while others were unsure how cleanly it fit into the stealth genre beside Dishonored. Even more were jilted that Prey wasn’t a more traditional follow-up to the 2006 game of the same name. Prey wound up ticking some of those boxes, but it isn’t any single one of those things, and is greater than the sum of them all. It’s all the better for it.


1. Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 takes the existing framework of its predecessor and doubles down in the best ways possible—more intricate level design, more crazy tools to incorporate into your arsenal, more responsive combat you get the idea. Take one of the best immersive sims of all time, and then make the moment-to-moment gameplay somehow even better and you’ve got Dishonored 2. It is without a doubt Arkane’s magnum opus and one of the finest games ever made.

Let’s get the one major nitpick out of the way: the story of Dishonored 2 is basically beat-for-beat the story of the first game, but it makes way more sense if you play it as Emily than Corvo. Playing as Corvo storywise will just leave players wondering why the main antagonists did not imprison the world’s greatest magical assassin. It’s a bit silly.

Everything else about Dishonored 2 is phenomenal. The sheer amount of replayability this game has is dizzying. With two playable characters (who are now voiced!) with unique powersets, more non-lethal and lethal options, and the ability to play with no powers, Dishonored 2 improves on the original in every way. The dopamine I get from teleporting 100 feet in the air above an enemy just to slam them into the ground non-lethally still hits to this day. The game is gorgeous as well while also keeping the strong art direction from the first game.

Dishonored 2’s level design is a work of art that few games can hold a candle to. The Clockwork Mansion is a fully modular house that changes at the push of a button, while also having the spaces behind the walls fully mapped out, and it is incredible. A Crack in the Slab using time travel mechanics to have three different levels in one potentially based on your actions in the past is another highlight. If you have a free weekend, there are far worse ways to spend it than doing a quick playthrough of Dishonored 2.


Desmond Leake is an intern for Paste‘s games section.

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