The idea that Dishonored’s characters are slightly, well, characterised
, sells much of what the game is about. The art style throughout is easily one of the most imaginative and down-to-parallel-earth I’ve come across and makes me wish the whole thing were an open-world game to just explore and lose myself in, but it’s not the point of the game.
Dishonored is pitched as a sandbox game, and they’re right in pitching so, but not so much in the open-world sense of the term these days. More that they’ve crafted a careful playground for you to dabble in, with a handful of basic playthings that can be combined in any way you see fit. So how you use
the playground is entirely up to you, and a point the developer is trying to make clear from the outset. It’s kind of like the rocket jump exploit in Quake 3. id hadn’t even considered its usage in the game, or even to really combine the two systems (firing a rocket at your feet as you jumped), but any veteran will tell you rocket jumping is the way to go. It also became such a staple part of the competitive side of the game, the exploit was never actually broached in patching, rather, it was celebrated as a definitive skill and has become a fundamental part of the game.
This is the sort of thing Arkane Studios wants players to find, and exploit, when they toy with the myriad systems in Dishonored. We’ve talked about this already though, what’s more important is how these systems feel in your hands, and it’s in the control department the game truly begins to shine, and I’ve only touched the Xbox 360 version so far. PC, as it were, is going to be its own beast as creative director, Harvey Smith, himself told us in an interview
. But I digress.
So in any game where you can exploit dynamic systems, the first thing you’re going to do is test the extent of them. For me it was working out just how far the possession mechanic can be taken, and in a pool next to me I saw a fish swimming around. Hot-keying the tool to one of the 360’s D-Pad directions, I switched it on and proceeded to get my swim on. It worked.
The thing here though, is it had no real impact on the task at-hand, but the sheer joy at being able to do something as seemingly trivial as possessing a fish was too much to bear, and I began to see all kinds of exploitable components to the game.
Teleport, for example, is a satisfying molecular displacement from where you are, to a targeted area some 20 metres (in-game) away. Being able to play with this tool in a vertical sense was also incredibly fun, and gave me recourse to look for different ways through the level. Below I saw a guard on his own going about his guardly duties. I started zipping around, up, behind and eventually over the top of him, as if I were Nightcrawler from X-Men before performing the overhead assassination move to silence any cries for help.
This is important as well, because the enemy AI throughout, even on Normal difficulty, we’re told, is tough as nails and forces the player to truly utilise all of our protagonist, Corvo Attano’s abilities. It also forces more stealth play on the player without it being an ultimate requirement. Because aside from using your skills to stick to the shadows, it’s also possible to exercise them on the escape and evade front, and I can see people with particular skill at playing the game, being able to handle almost any situation in an outside-the-box approach every time.
I particularly enjoyed sending a swarm of rats to devour enemies alive as part of the aforementioned escape opportunities, like I was some (even more) twisted pied-piper. Just call me rat boy
With only roughly 10-minutes of hands-on time with the game though, I was not particularly skilled, but that didn’t stop me having a huge amount of fun with it. I played with a wind gust move that pushed enemies off perches, or knocked debris out of the way or, even cooler, down on to unsuspecting guards below. Possession of rats, fish and humans was also more fun than it ought to be, and stood out as a staple mechanic for me. The real rub for players is going to be how you combine any or all of Corvo’s abilities with the game’s spectacular level-design and nasty enemy AI. It’s always hard to fully grasp the true depth of a single-player outing like Dishonored at a trade show like E3, but as far as being able to play with Arkane Studios’ playground, I can tell you the game is reactive, easy to get into, simple to manage (from a UI sense) and a heck of a lot of fun.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions though. Like how often you gain new abilities, what the gameplay component of earning them is, and how reactive the game’s missions are based on what abilities you us are. There’re questions about the dynamism of the game-world, like, what happens if you kill someone you’re supposed to kidnap, or only knock unconscious someone you’re supposed to assassinate. Will game’s story or mission structure change as a result of your direct decisions? Answers to these and more will have a huge impact on perception of a game that currently promises so much.
But thankfully Dishonored doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously, in the sense that Arkane aren’t after an uber-realistic experience, and want to craft something that is larger than life, which brings my point about the characterisation of the game’s inhabitants full circle. This is fantasy of the highest calibre; a world built around familiar territory, but where we can all dabble in superhero-esque features and ideas. There hasn’t been a game like this with so much on offer from a player-choice perspective, in an abilities sense, in a very long time, and it truly tantalises. How far we can go with everything on offer though, in terms of depth and choice, will remain to be seen, and will definitely require more than 10-minutes of hands-on and no hand-holding from anyone at Arkane.
But until they let the gaming world loose in their playground, I’m definitely sold on the concepts on offer. Dishonored just feels
fun to play, and with that already nailed, half the battle for Arkane is already won. Stay tuned for more on Dishonored from us here as we draw ever-closer to its release this October.