Dishonored First Look Preview -- A Steampunk Mix of Hitman and BioShock? Yes Please!By Kevin Kelly - Posted Aug 05, 2011
Dishonored was one of the few surprises to come out of E3 this year, having been announced at the start of the show through Game Informer. We haven't seen much of the game until a session here at QuakeCon where lead designers Raphael Colantonio (lead designer on Arx Fatalis), and Harvey Smith (lead designer on Deus Ex) of developer Arkane Studios took us through a controlled demo of the game.
In the world of Dishonored, which does not take place on the Earth we know, you play as a supernatural assassin who has been wrongly framed for the death of the Empress for whom he formerly served as the bodyguard. When the game opens, some time has passed since those events, and you're now tasked with some assassination duties. It's a first person, immersive action game, according to Colantonio, which features both combat and stealth.
According to Smith, it's hard to make a predictable path through Dishonored. "We literally just saw something in the game that I didn't know you could do." Which is a shot in the arm for this new IP. Too often enemies will have predictable pathing in games like this, which means multiple plays soon become a boring recipe. "We've created a new world for Dishonored," Colantonio explained, "It's not derivative of anything that's been created before. We do like choices, and we like having the player do things in different ways and finding their own way to play."
Although our demo was primarily focused on the action, they did show off plenty of stealth throughout. You've been asked to kill a prominent lawyer in the city, and you start off in the sewers beneath. Slashing through wood timbers that are blocking your path with a knife, you exit onto the docks on the edge of the ocean, which is most of this world, as it's covered by seas and only contains a tiny cluster of landmasses called The Isles, which is where the game takes place. A huge ship is pulling into port, carrying a gigantic, suspended whale. This is just like an oil tanker pulling into port in our world, because the economy and systems of Dishonored all run on whale oil.
Slowly entering the world and avoiding dockworkers that are tossing what looks like bodies into the ocean, you enter the city, and here we did a bit of exploration. You can tap the right stick to bring up a spyglass that has different levels of zoom on it, and you'll soon notice that the world looks like a living, breathing location. People carry out their tasks, and walk from place to place in paths that aren't preset. Although Smith and Colantonio both shy away from the word steampunk, this definitely shows a strong steampunk influence.
There an overhead monorail system throughout the city, electrical devices run on processed whale oil, the crossbows are all pulleys and gears and the pistol you're armed with (after you take it off of a guard) looks like a flintlock. In fact, the best way I could describe this title would be to call it Steampunk Hitman meets BioShock: WhaleWorld. Although I mean that in the best possible way, because this demo looked extremely fun.
You can stealth approach and choke out people in the game, such as the guard we approached who shouted, "What the f*ck was that?" just before we grabbed him. You can loot bodies and even pick them up entirely and dump them in locations where they won't be spotted. Approaching an archway, you'll notice that it's electrified. This is a "Wall of Light," and you'll have to figure out how to bypass it. In a nearby shack, you'll find some coinage, a health elixir, and a journal with some story points in it. Just outside you'll find a box attached to the wall that contains whale oil circuitry that you can disable.
Of course, once you turn that thing off, rats come pouring out, and they'll attack you en masse. These are vicious, killer rats that hate light, so if you stand in the shadows, they'll attack you. But if you keep the light, they'll tend to avoid you. Luckily, they'll attack your enemies as well, and there's even a Devouring Swarm skill that summons a rat herd out of nowhere to attack your foes. In fact, in our first real encounter, we saved a woman who is being attacked by a man, and when you begin helping out, two of his thugs appear and attack with him. But once you dispatch them, she runs away in terror... straight into a pack of rats that quickly kill her.
Speaking of abilities, this is where the game really resembles Bioshock. Over time, you'll develop skills ranging from Bend Time, Windblast, Possess, Devouring Swarm, and more. You'll use these throughout the world to determine your approach to targets. For instance, in one portion, we possessed a rat, ran through a drain into a house, and then changed back into full-size by tapping the left trigger. Although it's important to note that if you're in rat form, you can easily be squished by anyone, as rats are much hated in this world. They carry the plague, which is a serious threat. Some of the elixirs you find stave it off, and they are popular items. Besides rats, you'll be able to possess other animals, like fish, and even humans.
Additional abilities include things like Blink, which teleports you forward, and Superjumps, and there's a whole mobility system with moves like mantling, sliding, and leaning that can be upgraded and improved as well. They've also put a heavy emphasis on exploration throughout the game, and what they call "extra space." These are buildings and areas that aren't essential to the game, but also aren't locked off to the player. You can explore them, and you'll often find subthreads and side events in them. You'll even encounter subthreads within the plot, according to Smith.
Pressing on, we finally found and killed the lawyer, and after that things go nuts. Alarms are blaring, guards come chasing after you, and the Watchtower (an enormous security device/tower) starts actively searching for you. Also, huge stilt-legged "Tallboys" manned by guards come stomping after you, and they aren't easy to take down. But, they're powered by whale oil, and you can target those fuel systems to disable them. The Bend Time ability came in particularly handy here, allowing us to freeze time, and then target the oil bottles with pistol and crossbow attacks.
As you progress through the world, you'll find runes to upgrade your major powers, or you can collect money to buy equipment upgrades. You can also find bone charms throughout the game that have been carved by sailors, and each one has a different property. These provide minor perks, and there are 40 different ones throughout Dishonored. There is also a Chaos system that tracks things you do that cause more Chaos. It's not exactly a karmic "good and bad" mechanic, but was noticeable throughout the demo, and it will affect the game.
Dishonored runs on a modified version of the Unreal engine, and so far it looks pretty impressive.