QuakeCon 2011: Dishonored impressions

August 8, 2011 — 4 Comments

While it wasn’t viewable to the general Quakecon public, members of the press finally got a solid first look at the upcoming game Dishonored, being published by Bethesda. When introducing the game to the press, Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio, co-creative directors at Arkane Studios, listed off a few games that could be viewed as influences on Dishonored: Deus Ex, Thief and Bioshock. And artist Viktor Antonov, of the Half-Life 2 fame, is also helping out. Sure enough, if you took some of the best aspects of all those games, you might have a general idea of what this game is.

Dishonored is a first-person stealth/action game in which you play as a supernatural assassin framed for the murder of the empress. The city he’s in has been ravaged by a plague that has already killed half the population, setting a dark tone for what could come. The world is at first familiar and like our own, but there is an interesting blend of technology and supernatural magic that sets the style apart quickly. They referred to it as a sort of “retro future industrial” look, rather than steam punk. Smith and Colantonio didn’t speak in great length during the demo, keeping much of the story under wraps, but what they did share hints at a plot thick with corruption, betrayal and conspiracy. As someone thrives on games with strong storylines, I’m excited to learn more.

That slash in the genre description, “stealth/action,” is important, as it seems Dishonored can be geared more to either stealth or action (or a balance of both) depending on how you want to play. There certainly seem to be enough tools at the player’s disposal to allow for both, and the creators stressed how hard it was for them to make a predicable path through the demo to show us. The demo we saw had the unnamed assassin on a mission to kill a lawyer in the old London-esque streets of the game’s city.


The man running the demo started off being very stealthy. Seeing a group of guards on a dock in front of him, he jumped unnaturally high to some awnings above him, staying out of sight. He stealthily killed enemies, hid their bodies, peeked into keyholes and typically stayed undetected. He even used a few powers to avoid trouble, such as a teleport ability used to sneak past guards to an opposing hallway.


But it wasn’t all stealth, and it appears that you can go into many situations with sword flashing and guns blazing if you would prefer. Early in the demo, the assassin came across a group of thugs being less-than-gentlemen to a woman in an alley. The assassin was able to handily slaughter the thugs using not only weapons, but also adrenaline kills and other special abilities. Later in the demo a slow-motion ability allowed for even more devastation.


Unfortunately, even after the young woman was saved from the brutes, she ran off and got herself attacked and eaten by rats. Rats were a big deal in the demo I saw, and they could both a help and a hindrance. If you’re not careful in dark areas, rats may swarm around you and try to eat you alive. On the other hand, you can summon rats to kill enemy guards or even possess one in order to sneak into a building.


The way the powers work seems like it could allow for a lot of gameplay diversity. The Arkane guys said they really disliked games that only give you certain powers at certain points in the game. Instead, they’ve opted for an economy system in Dishonored. By collecting runes that you’ll find throughout the game (in the demo, one was stolen from a house), you can purchase any power you want right from the start. More powerful powers require more runes to purchase, so you have to balance whether you want to save up runes and get awesome powers early (potentially making your early goings more difficult) or slowly invest in many smaller powers as your progress.


This rune system is combined with two other ways to improve yourself: money for new equipment, which is probably self-explanatory, and things called bone charms. Collecting a bone charm will improve some facet of your character, such as speed, but you have no control over what that improvement is. Bone charm upgrades are randomized, helping create a more unique gameplay experience for each individual playthrough.


A couple of times during the demo, a message popped on screen that said “Chaos increased.” After the demo, Smith and Colantonio talked a little bit about this “chaos” system they have in the game. It’s not a morality system, where you are considered more “evil” for killing people or more “good” for avoiding combat. Rather, the chaos meter seems directly tied to action. If you’re playing a more action-oriented game, the chaos meter will go up, resulting in different story beats and changing the game in other ways. The game’s characters may try to encourage you to perform a mission a certain way, such as by avoiding casualties, but ultimately the choices are left up to you. The game itself will neither encourage nor discourage actions that will affect the chaos rating.


It was stressed that missions could be played through in a wide variety of ways with a wide variety of paths. You can also find optional side missions to take part in if you want, which can affect the world around you. But they also said that the game did not feature an open world. The map area you’re in on a given mission is open, but you can only be in that area when a mission dictates it, rather than being able to travel wherever you want at will. Sometimes you will go back to previous areas, but they may be different than when you left them.


Dishonored may very well have been the game that got me most excited at Quakecon 2011 (it’s in a close running with Skyrim, which appeals to my massive love of the fantasy genre). It has a lot of potential, and is in the hands of some very talented people with a history of making great games. I’m particularly hopeful for the story, because I really like what I’ve seen of the world of Dishonored so far. It’s a shame I won’t get my hands on the full product until 2012, but I’m hoping the wait proves worthwhile.


Britton Peele


Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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