Dishonored Hands-on Preview from E3 2012 -- Sneak, Kill, Sneak, Kill, Joy!By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jun 11, 2012
The jury's been out on Arkane Studios' Dishonored. The upcoming Bethesda-published game, which feels like the bastard child of Thief and BioShock, could go in one of two directions: either the open-ended stealth-action gameplay will work beautifully, or it will fail utterly. After dipping into the game for the first time at E3 2012, I am pleased to report that the former appears to be the case.
Arkane offered up a portion of one of the game's levels to play through in Bethesda's E3 booth last week. Dishonored isn't quite an open-world game, but each sprawling level set within the fictional steampunk city of Dunwall is broken into smaller bits, offering up multiple paths, side quests, collectibles, and other diversions as players make their way to the next target using lethal or non-lethal means.
Here's a quick refresher on what Dishonored is all about: you play as Corvo, a disgraced former bodyguard who starts the game as a wanted man following the murder of the Empress that he was charged with protecting. To clear his name, Corvo embraces the role of assassin, though Arkane is always careful to note in all demos that it's possible to play through the entire game using non-lethal methods, even for your primary objective targets.
The E3 hands-on for Dishonored drops players into the final section of a mission set several hours into the game. An array of powers are unlocked here, though players will actually have to be somewhat selective with their unlock choices in the final game. The demo's wider assortment of abilities is meant simply to offer a more complete taste of what the game has to offer.
In this playable portion of the game, Corvo is tasked with abducting a man named Anton Sokolov, a mad scientist-type who serves as Dunwall's Royal Physician and Head of the Academy of Natural Philosophy. On-screen text reveals that "your new allies" hope to obtain the name of the Lord Regent's mistress from Sokolov. The good doctor's apartment is located "somewhere atop Kaldwin's Bridge."
The demo starts with Corvo in an alley located a short distance from Kaldwin's Bridge. Although the option of following the streets at the ground level is certainly a viable one, I immediately turned my eyes skyward in the hopes of finding a less obvious route. It's not long before I find an opening leading into a nearby building. It's just out of reach, but Corvo's Blink ability proves useful here for teleporting over the short distance to the platform.
Swapping between powers is as simple as opening a radial menu and selecting the desired ability there. Corvo's blade is always mapped to the right trigger; the power you select from the radial goes to the left trigger. Using Blink is a snap; once it's "equipped," you simply hold down the left trigger to make a glowing reticle appear and then use the right analog stick to highlight your desired destination. Letting go of the trigger completes the process, zapping you over to wherever you are aiming.
I make my way along high above Dunwall's streets, working through partially demolished and along an elaborate air duct network. Far below I see a trio of men trapped behind a Wall of Light, a protective electrified barrier in the game that only recognized individuals--like patrolling enemy guards--can pass through.
This is one of the game's many sidequests. Players have a number of options available for freeing the captives. You can't pass through the barrier as Corvo, but you can blink yourself over the top of it. Hacking the barrier is also an option, which reverses its effects and makes it a danger to enemies. There are other possibilities as well, though I choose to simply ignore the imprisoned men in my demo so I can avoid venturing back down to the street.
I continue sneaking and Blinking my way along the rooftops until I reach Sokolov's apartment, a large, warehouse-sized building with multiple guards stationed out in front. Blink comes in handy once again, getting Corvo in via a person-sized opening in the grille-work above the entrance.
Once inside, I swap Blink out for Dark Vision. Activating this power allows Corvo to not only see the silhouettes of nearby people through walls, but also to get a sense of whether or not they'll detect him thanks to convenient, easy to see vision cones. Using Dark Vision and Blink as a combo is handy for stealthier play, since you'll use one to spot where threats are coming from and another to zip past them without being spotted. The D-pad is especially handy, allowing you to map up to four "favorites" for easy hotswapping. My advance toward Sokolov's lab on the uppermost floor.
At one point, I nearly blow my cover by stumbling out into the open where a maid can see me. Instead, I quickly swap over to Corvo's Possession ability, jumping into the maid's POV and walking along out in the open up a set of stairs. Unfortunately, the time limit on that power runs out, and I suddenly find myself deposited directly behind the now-vomiting maid.
I quickly take her head off with my blade, but a guard spots this whole bizarre scene and advances. I take him out too, with nothing more than a few quick blade stabs, before he can raise an alarm. It turns out that I got lucky here; turning on my Dark Vision after the encounter plays out, I see no less than three other guards in nearby rooms who could easily have come rushing in.
With disaster temporarily averted, I leave the corpses where they lie--you can move them, but I figure it's better to be quick than thorough at this point--and climb the final set of stairs to Sokolov's rooftop lab. Dark Vision reveals that he's all alone inside, and facing away from the door. I sneak in, choke him into unconsciousness, and hoist the inert body over my shoulder after first using a stolen key to free one of the mad doc's poor test subjects.
That's not the end, however. It's not enough to simply knock the scientist out; you've got to spirit him away as well. Fortunately, Blink still works fine when you're carrying a body. The extraction point is close by, but it's also five stories down and past a couple of guards and a Tallboy, one of the stilt-walking enemies you may have seen in screenshots.
I manage to reach the escape boat after a few failed attempts. It turns out that Sokolov (and other unconscious carry-alongs) is particularly susceptible to taking damage. Accidental encounters with some of the baddies separating Corvo from the escape boat make this weakness painfully clear. After my abductee eats it a few times, I take the hint and proceed stealthily. It turns out that Blink can be useful for breaking a big fall; simply use it before you land to avoid taking damage.
When I finally reach the end of the stage, my boat-driving contact asks if I'm ready to leave or if I have unfinished business in the area. You'll always be given the option of going back into a level to complete secondary tasks. I use this opportunity to stroll back in and rain bloody punishment down on Corvo's enemies with some of his killing tools.
Combat shows plenty of promise, though I suspect that most players will opt for Corvo's stealthier abilities. The default blade is good for trading blows, but other tools like the one-handed crossbow (with regular, sleep, and explosive bolt options) or the spring razor trap feel like something of a necessity for evening the odds when facing off against a group.
Overall, Dishonored feels great to play. The easy-to-master controls place the emphasis on reading your environment and responding quickly to changing conditions. I continue to wonder just how sprawling each mission map is and what the ability unlock progression will feel like in the finished game, but the basic moving parts all seem to offer plenty of potential for fun times.