Hands-on With Dishonored

To err on the side of honesty and transparency, I need to explain how I played Arkane Studio’s new game, Dishonored.  Over the course of three days, I played the game three times, and clocked about ten minutes each session.  I wish I had six times that amount, because I did not see a fraction of what the demo had to offer.

Dishonored is a first-person, objective-based stealth game.  The word ‘objective’ confused me as well, until it was explained to me.  Every mission you embark on has a specific goal you must accomplish, and the player is rated on a number of criteria such as completion time and the number of dead bodies you leave behind.  The problem I ran into at FanExpo was this: how you accomplish this goal is completely up to you.

The idea of putting choice into players’ hands has become something of a staple of modern games, yet Dishonored pushes the ideas of ‘deep’ and ‘varied’ gameplay further than I’ve ever seen.  In order to get as complete an impression of the game as possible, I surreptitiously watched over the shoulders of other con attendees as they took the demo on.  No two people played the game the same, and that isn’t hyperbole.

The goal of the demo was to sneak into a compound and capture a mad scientist named Anton Sokolov.  The man was described as the creator of health and mana potions, but also the maker of many innocent dead bodies.  No less than three routes were available for getting into the compound, and the manner of approaching these paths changed widely from player to player.

While Dishonored is primarily a stealth game, I saw players charge through the front doors, shooting and stabbing guards in the face.  They also snuck through the back and stabbed them from behind, climbed in and reached Sokolov completely unseen, or possessed an animal and crawled in through the ducts.  You get the idea, but these few choices are the tip of an iceberg.

Mission areas are small, but tightly packed with these different routes.  There are also a number of hidden areas filled with treasure or other goodies dispersed around the game world.  Secondary objectives will require you to search for these secret spots and include stealing treasure from locked safes, or discovering valuable pickups to enhance your abilities.

The primary collectables are runes that enhance your different powers, and gold to upgrade your gear.   Finding the right mix between powers and gadgets will be interesting, as the powers all seem multifaceted while the gadgets are only used for one thing.  A gun, crossbow or shrapnel mine, for instance, doesn’t help getting past a locked door.  The one thing your gear is good for, killing and taking out enemies, they are very effective at.

Control felt solid, responsive and somewhat similar to other first person games such as Skyrim and BioShock.  Each of your character’s hands is independently controlled, with the right always holding a dagger and the left cycling through weapons and powers.  Perhaps the most important power in your arsenal is Blink.  It allows you to teleport around the level, allowing you to reach areas inaccessible by simply jumping, or strategically placing yourself behind enemies.

Possession is another power that offers great versatility.  While sneaking past guards is fun in its own way, it’s also possible to possess a servant, and simply walk by them.  Rats and sharp-toothed fish can also be taken over and, as they are much smaller than you, they have access to tiny holes in a compound’s security you’d be unable to squeeze through.  Once I was used to the availability of these powers (which took a small amount of time), I was able to Blink to unreachable platforms with ease, and possess creatures I had at first missed entirely.

The game looks amazing with impressive cell-shading and animation quality that provides a real kick when attacking enemies.  Your weapons do not feel like they are passing through mist when used, and impact is absolutely part of the combat experience.  Killing an enemy from behind provides a brutal first person cinematic, and many players visibly cringed while assassinating.  Then they eagerly dashed to the next target, hoping to see another one.

While the graphics are great, the design of the game is the real star.  If you’re a Steampunk fan, this game is going to be heaven for you.  The world is powered with whale oil (placed in canisters like batteries), tall walkers roam Victorian-looking streets and jail cells are gated off not with iron bars, but with fields of electricity.  The game’s world is completely alien in its entirety yet each individual element is eerily familiar.  Dissonance between the everyday and bizarre is a primary part of the game I look forward to exploring.

Dishonored’s playtime is expected to be between 15-25 hours, depending on how many side quests you finish.   The true strength of the game, however, will be its replay value.  Many attendees went through the booth at FanExpo, none of them played the game the same way and each left with an experience worth sharing.

Dishonored will be released October 9, 2012 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

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August 30, 2012 - 7:59 am