Dishonored is an interesting new project by Arkane Studios and Bethesda Games. Arkane’s made their name with games like Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and Bioshock 2, all of which are somewhat unique first person experiences. Dishonored is definitely unique in a number of ways as well, not the least of which is its steampunk setting, so sorely underused in games.
I got the chance to sit in on a guided demo of the game at the Bethesda booth here at E3, as well as some hands on time afterward. Head past the break to see what I thought.
In Dishonored, you play as supernatural assassin, Corvo Atano – framed for murder and out for revenge upon those who set him up. First and foremost, Dishonored is a game about choices, and I’m not talking the black and white, “good” or “bad” options as presented by so many games these days. Rather, Dishonored gives you choices in how to handle a given situation. Think of it a bit like Hitman, in first person, with the ability to possess people instead of wearing disguises, among other impressive powers.
The guided demo presented the same situation handled in two very distinct ways. Much like the Hitman series, you’re not guided to your destination – you’re given a basic objective, and the rest is up to you. Tasked with the assassination of two men suspected to be part of the plot to frame Corvo, the first playthrough was all stealth.
The first step was getting into the brothel the two men were visiting. After silently choking out a guard and hiding his body, Corvo then spotted some fish down in the water below, and proceeded to possess one of them. In fish form, he found a waterway leading right into the basement of the brothel and disposed of his fishy visage. From there, a bit of good old fashioned sneaking and eavesdropping revealed the locations of the two targets.
As Corvo made his way toward the first target, located in a room a few floors up, he demonstrated a number of cool abilities. One of them, called Dark Vision, allows the player to see enemies and their field of vision right through solid objects. The Blink ability allows you to teleport a short distance in any direction, making it simple to dart around in secret (so long as you’ve got energy for it, of course).
Upon locating the target and looking through the keyhole of his room to verify his presence, Corvo made his way around to a side room with a conveniently placed steam valve. It was a simple matter of twisting the valve to cause scalding hot steam to go venting into the target’s room, killing him and the poor, innocent prostitute he had in his employ.
Upon locating the second target, a similarly inventive approach was taken. Rather than make the death look like an accident, Corvo opted to make it look like a suicide. He possessed the target, walked him out onto his balcony, left the target’s body, and shoved it over the edge with a quick whirlwind blast. He then jumps over the edge, possessing a woman standing below, then walking calmly away from the scene of the crime.
At this point, the demo restarted, only a very different approach was taken this time. Rather than playing the stealth game, this playthrough was a blood bath. As he made his way to his two targets, Corvo used a nice variety of abilities, weapons, and gadgets to clear out anyone who got in his way. One such power summons a devouring swarm of rats, while another power (perhaps the most useful in com at situations) briefly stops time entirely as you set up kills.
As for weapons and gadgets, in addition to Corvo’s trust sword, the demo displayed a pretty devastating pistol, and a crossbow loaded with either knock-out darts or incendiary bolts. Using the crossbow while stopping time can be a dangerous proposition if you aren’t careful, because if you’re in front of one when time resumes, you’ll be on the receiving end of it. There were also a couple of grenades on display. One of them was a spikey grenade which sticks to whatever it hits, and the other was a pretty painful looking proximity mine that literally whips a guy’s legs off when tripped.
Once the two targets had been eliminated, Corvo needed to make yet another daring escape. This time, he fought his way through the streets, even going up against Tall-Boys, soldiers who saunter around on mechanical stilts and wield heavy firepower. Once he’d made his escape, the demo ended and I was given a chance to get some hands on time with the game.
Now, let me just say this about Dishonored. Artistically, the game looks quite good. The steampunk city run on whale oil is downright captivating in its dinginess and despair. That having been said, it’s lacking on a technical level. I mentioned before that Arkane Studios worked on Bioshock 2 – well, it doesn’t look like they upgraded that graphics engine a whole lot. The result is that Dishonored looks a bit dated in spite of its stylishness, but at least it seemed to run without any framerate hiccups.
Fortunately, what Dishonored lacks in visual fidelity, it makes up for with solid gameplay, fun powers and lots of choices. The guided demo showed only two ways to approach a situation, though during my hands on time with the game, it became evident that you’ll always have far more than just two options. The Blink ability in particular really opens things up, allowing you to make your approaches from pretty much any angle.
The melee combat felt especially enjoyable. There’s a lot of blocking, parrying, and counterattacking involved, and it feels quite tactile. You can tell that Arkane took what worked about Dark Messiah’s swordplay and refined it greatly.
Overall, I was left with a pretty positive impression of Dishonored. Bethesda is taking a risk releasing a new and unproven IP into the wild during the height of the fall release season, but Dishonored is one you should definitely try when it comes out on October 9th, 2012 for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.