Mod of the Week: Ultimate Difficulty, for Dishonored
So, you've played Dishonored a few times. You had a mostly (or entirely) non-lethal run, followed by a decidedly more lethal run (to see the game's bummer ending), and maybe, for good measure, a combat run where you just got into deliberate, chaotic sword fights the whole time. Well, unfold your sword and clutch your weird mechanical heart, because it's time for another trip through Dunwall with the Ultimate Difficulty Mod. The mod presents you with some new challenges by shaving down your leaning ability to a sliver and by vastly improving your enemies' perceptions and combat prowess.
Let's begin with the Dunwall Lean, the stealth move invented by Corvo Attano. No matter what difficulty setting you're using, Corvo's lean always feels a bit like cheating. You're behind cover and you want to have a quick look around, so you essentially shove your head, shoulders, and upper torso out of cover to survey your surroundings. The game still considers you hidden, meaning you can have a long, safe gander without standing up. You can even poke both your arms out and use magic or a weapon, and if a guard is facing you, you can stare right into his stupid face without him ever noticing you.
With Ultimate Difficulty, Corvo's Mean Lean is now more of a Sneak Peek, limited to what feels like about a 10-degree angle, meaning you slyly peep around corners instead of using the upper half of your body like a submarine periscope.
It takes a bit of getting used to, and I found myself having to constantly shuffle closer and closer to the edge of cover to get a decent look, putting myself more at risk of being seen by patrols. It feels far more fair to the whiskey and cigar enthusiasts you're stalking, though, and makes stealth quite a bit more challenging. Once you've got your Dark Vision, it becomes less of an issue, but it still goes a long way toward making ghost runs tougher.
Speaking of tougher, let's talk enemies. They're considerably more difficult to deal with than they are on the Very Hard setting. Improvements begin with their hearing, which is twice as keen as in the vanilla version. This means they will hear the noises you make from twice as far away. Fire your gun, slip off a ledge, throw something, or simply take a few un-crouched footsteps anywhere in their vicinity, and their little head-based lightning bolts will trigger.
Since they can hear you from twice the distance, they will also come running from twice the distance, meaning that a careless or clumsy Corvo will draw the attention of guards from blocks distant. A noise that used to bring three or four guards stomping in your direction may draw twice that many now. Almost every fight I got into wound up being a massive brawl, and when an alarm is sounded, it feels like the entire city watch pours in to your location. Of course, Corvo is no slouch at taking down a crowd of soldiers, but you'll quickly notice that the mod has made the soldiers a lot more formidable at fighting.
It's not that they've been inflated with extra hit points, or that they've learned any new tricks, they just perform their old tricks with a great deal more speed. They're quicker to block your attacks, and if you do stagger them, they're quicker to recover. There's less of a pause between sword swings and they fire their guns more often. They're now twice as quick to throw cobblestones and grenades if you're perching out of reach, and they're faster to do the little sidestep or backwards hop they sometimes do during sword fights. While fighting with my health low, I was kicked to death more than once, something that never happened to me while playing the vanilla version of the game.
On the other hand, they're still pretty easy to befuddle if you blink away, and they still haven't learned the value of looking up on a regular basis, so it's still not terribly hard to elude them if you get overwhelmed. However, they do take much longer to give up looking for you once they know you're around. Their new persistence and improved perception makes good stealth work more or less essential, and their improved fighting ability means you can't just race through the streets hack-and-slashing with relative ease anymore.
Another nice touch is that bodies no longer just vanish, which tends to happen in Dishonored if you've got more than a handful lying around. Up to fifty bodies will now remain in perpetuity unless a swarm of rats shows up, and if you're playing the type of game in which you're accumulating scores of dead bodies, you'd better believe swarms of rats will show up. I'm not sure what purpose this serves. Maybe the extra bodies lying around makes it more likely that your killing spree will be noticed, but if you're killing dozens of people you're probably not keeping a particularly low profile anyway. Still, it's cool because after an awesome fight you can get a real picture of how many people you've killed and how many wives will weep and how many children will grow up without their fathers. Good job!
Impressively, all of these changes are due to tweaks to a handful of .ini files, and the modder considerately lists them all in a text file included with the mod, if you're curious to what's being changed (or if you want to tweak some of them yourself). Version .02 of the mod is compatible with The Knife of Dunwall DLC as well.
The mod is still a work in progress, and the modder is still looking for ways to make things even tougher by raising prices in stores, making spells drain more mana, and other tweaks to give you a more challenging experience in Dunwall. If you're looking for an excuse to play through the game a fourth time, this is your ticket.
Installation: It's super easy, but you'll need to be as cautious as Corvo at an Overseer Convention when installing this mod, because you're going to be overwriting a few game files. First, find your Dishonored folder (probably in My Documents, My Games, Dishonored, Dishonored Game, Config). Make a copy of the entire Config folder, and store it somewhere safe -- you'll need it if you decide to remove the mod. Then download the mod file (this page gives you a couple options), extract the handful of new ini files into Config, overwriting the originals. Make sure the new files are set to read only, and you're done!