It isn’t every day that a game can come along and blow your socks off in a pre alpha build. It’s even rarer that a game can do all that, and at the same time make you wonder why nobody else has filled this gap that the industry has been crying out for. Bethesda clearly realized the potential in Arkane Studios newest project and so decided to help publish it. Akane’s previous developments have been Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah and they helped develop BioShock 2, you can see all these elements in their latest game Dishonored. We were shown the game being played behind closed doors and it was just incredible, apparently we were being shown it being played on a PC although throughout the demo it was giving xbox prompts for button presses.
Throwing out a little bit of the backstory to the game may be handy, although it still didn’t quite explain why the protagonist had been given the quest we were watching unfold. Playing as an assassin who had formerly been bodyguard to the Empress. The Empress was killed and you, or Corvo as the character is called, is framed for the murder and so flees to live a life beneath the streets in the dark of the sewers. The world itself is also deeply rooted so to create a rich and believable world for the player to romp about in. Its origins started back in a world of 1666 London where the plague was rife and life was very segregated between the rich and poor. This was then twisted by supposing an industrial revolution came about earlier and the land found a means for creating resources from whaling. This Whale Oil was a very high output energy source and so the world evolved quickly, however still along its current path. The game is now set in a 1900s that has come directly on from that early industrial era, and the inspirational city of London has now become Dunwall; and although you’ll never leave the city, Arkane have outlined what other nations are like to further enhance this reality (something that Bethesda did with The Elder Scrolls series, and that has only gone from strength to strength).
For the guys at Arkane Studios, the key feature to Dishonored is the idea of giving the player the option to play the game their way. They don’t make missions with specific requirements, or methods to finish them; they give the player a mission, scatter about potential ways of solving it, and then let the player find their own method to play it. In the session we witnessed, Corvo was tasked with assassinating a Lawyer. We were told that if the player chose to investigate buildings they could, and inside some buildings are things that can assist you in reaching your target, such as keys or maybe papers – such as the lawyers schedule so you know where he could be at any given time – however in this session they decided to investigate his offices as it was daytime and it made the most sense for him to be there.
To get there however Corvo needs to get out from the sewer tunnel the level starts at and progress past the guards and other obstacles in his way. Upon leaving the sewers we see a set of guards around a dock keeping guard on some supplies, although what they are doing is of no concern to the player, the fact that they could potentially spot them is what makes them dangerous. This is the first time we get to see combat in this world where anything seems possible. Coro picks out his dagger blade ready to cause some violence – and boy this game is violent. Crouching brings up a little Elder Scrolls-esque status detailing if you are hidden, have been seen, or are in danger of being spotted. From behind a stack of crates, suddenly Corvo pops up and grabs the guard nearest and plunges the dagger into the back of his neck separating his spine and killing him instantly; he then bounds of the boxes and jumps towards a second guard grabbing his head and thrusting the blade in through, around, and up his throat completely beheading him, at which point he throws the head away. The final guard – who is slightly dumbstruck at what has just unfolded – dies a split second after Corvo drops the previous guards head due to a swift headshot right between the eyes. After such an impressive scene and display of violence it is worth stressing that you can go through the entire game without killing a single person ever.
To add to the dynamic style of combat already present in the game are some incredible gadgets you can possess too, with one such gadget actually being possession. If the incredibly simple climbing and jumping mechanic isn’t enough for you to traverse the city, then the teleporting ability simply called ‘blink’ should be somewhat helpful. With ‘blink’ you can warp to any point in your line of sight, within a certain distance, one example is to traverse rooftops the player jumps and then ‘blinks’ midair to land squarely and safely on a roof that was previously too far to reach. Possession is a great skill that means you can take over bodies of NPCs and rats too. As a rat you can slip into areas you couldn’t previously access, such as going through a ventilation duct to gain access to the inside of a locked house. Once inside that house you can then get about the heavily guarded building by possessing a guard, whereby as long as you act normally, you can go undetected through the building. When ditching the possessed body the player quickly executes him with a dagger to the back of the neck so not to raise alarm. Now we see him hiding in a chimney hearth whilst waiting for a guard to pass by. With a key that was obtained by pickpocketing the passing guard Corvo can now unlock a door that was at the end of the hallway. On the other side of the door was a small room, with another door.
The player opts to look through the keyhole and inside we can see the target Lawyer, talking to another man and we hear a third voice from off screen too. Instead of opening the door, it seems that for maximum effect, breaking it down and charging in will be the best tactic. Upon doing so the characters are visibly shocked and begin to attack. It is at this point we see a third gadget come into play, Time Bend. In Time Bend everything stops still, frozen perfectly in place whilst the world is drained of colour and bullets from guns and debris from gunshots hang in midair. Corvo can move freely around this environment and so calmly walks over to a guard and casually beheads them with his dagger blade. He dispatches a second attacker by stabbing them in the stomach and then finishing off with a bolt to the face from a crossbow, and then for the Lawyer we get to see the fourth gadget on show. A whirlwind blast that throws him up and out of the window and over the balcony to the floor below, unsurprisingly this brings forth an armada of guards and so our player makes a quick escape using blink to warp to the roof tops and then to the streets where the guards come in pursuit.
It should be mentioned at this point that to keep the city free of plagued rats there are gates dotted about the city that zap any rats attempting to get in, by hacking these gates you can make it so it zaps any guard that tries to go through, or by destroying them you can allow rats into the city. Of course the gate that our player has landed on the other side of is one he hacked on his way to the Lawyers location so every guard just gets turned into a pile of ash on the spot. Continuing his escape three guards block his path but at the same time a wave of rats arrive and begin devouring them until only some semi flesh covered bones are left. The same fate can come of you if you venture to close to a large pack of rats too. The rats themselves are a large part of the game world, they each have their own AI and so can act individually or in a swarm, and so are completely dynamic in how they act – meaning you can’t ever predict what may happen.
The gameworld of Dishonored is vast and has lots of deep intricacies that aren’t present on the surface. The way that the demo was played doesn’t have to be done like that, more subtle ways will change how the world works, as for every important person removed their lack of influence in the world will either improve or decrease ‘chaos’. This is not so much like a morality system but more how the game world shapes and changes. Some of your allies you meet along the way will be more pleased by some chaotic actions but not by others so it is always worth thinking if you really needed to kill that guard, or if he could have been left alone, although ultimately its up to you how you wish to play it.
Visually it is really good for a pre-alpha stage game. The world has a very stylistic and angular feel yet also has a very Bioshock look to it to, probably in part to the contribution Arkane made to the series. So far this game was by far the most impressive game at Gamescom 2011 and it was only a small snippet at what is possible inside the world they have created, if it turns out like it promises to, it’s hard to imagine it being seen as anything other than an absolutely amazing piece of game design. This is very much a title that is worth keeping on the gaming radar.
Dishonored will be out in 2012 on PS3, 360 and PC.