Having been reading about Dishonored, and the many hands off demos that have been seen by other lucky journos – including one of my own – it was fantastic to finally play the game at this year’s E3. Even better, we had an entire mission/level to play through, and a character that had been powerfully levelled so we could play around with all of the game’s equipment and supernatural powers.
If you’ve been stuck in a dark room all this time, though, Dishonored is a tale of revenge built around sandbox levels and stealth/action gameplay. It’s set in a world that is distinctly steampunk, but with a powerful magical influence, and the graphics, while colourful and sharp, tend toward a certain cartoonish exaggeration.
Surprisingly, it holds up remarkably well, and character designs end up looking more like satirical character studies; there’s actually a lot you can learn about an NPC purely from how they’re ‘drawn’.
The game’s core though is the way you are presented with a task, and how you then choose to go about it. In the demo, we had to infiltrate the home of a rich industrialist (I think – this was the third day of the show after all) and kidnap him. How you do, that, though, is entirely open.
Essentially there are three stages to the level – getting in, negotiating the interior, and then getting out safely to where you can handover the poor unconscious dude. Normally, when I play a game like this, I take the most combative option, but with Dishonored, sneaking is so much fun, and the powers at your disposal so cool, that I went full stealth.
One power was particularly useful for this, letting you do short range instant teleports from point to point. So you could scope a guard, wait until he’s gone past, and then bampf! right up to him to kosh the poor soul; or even just bampf somewhere else entirely, like up onto a light fitting or ledge. Even more fun is making emergent gameplay discoveries, such as learning that your teleport is a great way to cushion an otherwise fatal fall.
Other powers let you possess someone, which is an actual physical possession that makes your in form disappear, a powerful windblast that’s great for knocking people off high places, a time-slowing power that effectively turns you into a Matrix-powered Keanu Reeve, and dark sight, which helps you perceive items and people around you.
We had access to all of these, but in an actual playthrough of the game you won’t be able to pick and max out all these powers. So far, I’m thinking the teleport is essential.
When the sneaking breaks down, you’ve got a range of weapons to fall back on, from your trusty sword (which also acts as clever indicator of whether you’re moving normally or sneaking – you reverse your grip on the hilt while stealthed) to tranq darts, a pistol, an a range of grenades. Combat is fun and fast, and on harder levels you’ll need to rely on well-timed blocks and parries, and powerful counters, as well as all your other toys.
There’s lots to interact with in the environement, as well, from scavenged parts and tool kits, to energy barriers that would normally auto-kill anyone not recognised (ie, you), but that can be reversed to kill everyone else if you play things smart.
And man – that is satisfying!
One thing that makes Dishonored feel so immersive is that sense that the world is like a ticking clock. Guards wander around, occasionally changing their patterns, and often chatting – and we never heard any dialogue double-ups. There are biting fish in the polluted canals of the city, and rats in the alleyways; these are also very handy to possess.
I also learnt the hard way that it’s a pretty sensible world, too; if you’re carrying an unconscious person over your shoulder, don’t go for a swim. I tried leaping out of the building with my victim only to get a mission fail when the guy drowned...
Ultimately, though, I was successful, though not before having to sneak past one of the game’s most iconic enemies, the Whaler, a large walking-suit not unlike Half Life 2’s Striders. They are big, too, and seem best avoided. At the end of the mission, I handed over my target, and felt that rare glow of having gotten in and out without anyone really noticing.
Okay, well, except for the maid I shot in the face with a tranq dart; or that guy who, um, got disintegrated by my re-polarised light screen. But at least in that latter case there’s no real body to find, right?
All through the level, though, I was quite aware that there were just so many ways to play the game; I think it’s going to be great to play through multiple times, with different skill-sets and play-styles. And, even this far out from launch, I’m finding myself thinking of how I’ll be building my first character, and what kind of game I’ll choose to play. Dishonored’s easily one of the best games of the entire show.