When you think Bethesda, you think quality gaming with rich storylines. So when the publisher invited us out a few weeks ago to get a first-look at their upcoming title, Dishonored, which is being developed by Arkane Studios for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, we simply couldn’t pass it up.
What we saw was an early Alpha build that while is far from finished, looked very polished and promising. Dishonored is a cross between an FPS and a stealthy-action game that is set in an alternate reality in the city of Dunwall – a city that is inspired by a Victorian London with some steampunk influences. You play as Corvo, the bodyguard of an Empress who has been killed and unfortunately for you, wrongly accused of her death by Lord Regent.
Only minutes into the presentation it’s hard not to notice how visually stunning the game looks. Using hand-drawn art reminiscent of the Darkness II with over-exaggerated character models and backed by the Unreal engine, Dishonored looks unlike any Bethesda game we’ve seen before it, bypassing the typical photorealistic design for something a bit more “artsy”. And while the game looks gorgeous, it too isn’t shy about getting gory. We’re talking blood gushing all over the place, dismemberment and the like. This is not for the feint of heart folks!
The demo then kicks off about three missions into the game in an abstract room. Dubbed “Eliminate the Pendletons”, Corvo must seek out members of the family, who also happen to be corrupt members of parliament, and as the mission title suggests, eliminate them. The game puts a heavy emphasis on stealth, and though you can be as brutal as you want, it does pay off by being as sneaky as possible. In fact, we’re told you can play the majority of the game without having to kill unnecessarily. Fortunately for you, Corvo is a handy swordsman with exceptional training in infiltration and possessor of supernatural abilities. As Corvo tracks down the first Pendleton family member, we get to see proper uses of his abilities. Using a power called “Blink”, Corvo is able to teleport short distances to remain unseen. With a set of guards walking around, Corvo sneaks up behind one guard and chokes him out, before dragging him away into another room to forgo suspicion. Then opening up his bag of goodies, Corvo lays down a sort of spiked mine that when walked over, unleashes said spikes onto unsuspecting torsos. As you can imagine, a nearby guard found himself in pretty bad shape afterward. Having found Morgan Pendleton inside of a room with a woman, Corvo ensure the room cannot be opened and unloads a smoke bomb that suffocates our target.
Harvey Smith (Deus Ex) and Raf Colantonio (Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic) describe the game as having an open world design, but with linear missions. Now while the missions themselves are linear in progression, the way you complete each mission is entirely up to you and every subsequent mission is altered based on your decisions and tactics. There’s also a living world that is going about its business at the same time. That means that NPCs you encounter are not simply spawning in randomly, but rather they have their own lives that you may interact with or in some instances disrupt. An example we were given was seeing thugs mugging a civilian. If you encounter them earlier, it’s possible to beat the crap out of them, thus ensuring that the mugging never happens.
Getting back to the mission at hand, we listen in on a conversation taking place between some city officials. As sound can travel through walls, we’re close enough to find out where our next target, Curtis Pendleton, is located. The way the next part of the mission plays out was one of my favorite moments. As Corvo is able to traverse rooftops and ledges ala Assassin’s Creed, he makes his way into another building and finds himself again in need of bypassing a set of guards. This time however, he uses the ability to bend time, pull out his musket and blast away. In fact the ability to bend time can even let you do something as cool as catch an enemy’s bullet, move him in front of it and thus making him get shot by his own bullet.
After finding Curtis, Corvo uses another handy power, “Possession”, to take over Curtis’ body, much to the dismay to a lady friend who doesn’t seem to understand what is going on, and forces him to walk outside to an adjacent balcony. While on the balcony, Corvo exists his body and proceeds to stab a confused Curtis in the neck, before pushing him over the ledge into the water. Again, while missions are linear, there seems to be all sorts of cool options and alternate routes to every goal. Throughout the game, Corvo can collect gear and use money to upgrade them including his weapons, which are based out of daggers, swords and guns. You’ll also come across “ruins” that will allow you to upgrade your powers.
Another interesting aspect of the game is this mysterious entity known as “The Outsider”. We’re told this entity is part angel and part devil that is the one responsible for getting you out of prison to exact revenge and giving you your magical powers. This “Outsider” walks among mortals in the world and will at various parts, come to you.
Certainly Dishonored is unlike anything we’ve seen from Bethesda before and it’s mysterious story with fantastic art is something that needs to be seen. Combat style and moral decisions will shape the experience and if what we saw from the hour-long demo is any indication, Dishonored will be a can’t-miss title when it hits stores sometime in 2012.