QuakeCon 2012 Hands-on Preview: Dishonored
Dishonored was one of those games that I hadn’t really heard much about until E3 just a couple of months ago and then became extremely excited about it. I wasn’t able to play it at E3, sadly, but from what I could tell, it was steampunk version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but with more amusing powers to play with. For example, instead of learning the ability to float down to the ground from absolutely any height, Corvo can simply possess someone already walking on the ground, thereby avoiding both splatter and detection. What intrigued me even more was how the developers–Arcane–emphasized that Dishonored could really be tailored to play any way you want, from stealth to guns-a-blazing. Now, we’ve heard this argument before, and sometimes it holds up and other times it does not, but after playing today, I firmly believe that this is true for Dishonored.
I was treated to a single mission, a “whodunit” requiring Corvo to sneak his way into a masquerade party and assassinate a particular woman. Corvo only knows her as “Lady Boyle,” but there will be three Lady Boyles at the party, a widow and her late husband’s sisters, so Corvo must first learn which woman is wearing which costume. One of the Arkane devs explained to me that each time you play this mission, the Lady Boyles are randomly generated, so you must do some sleuthing before you assassinate. In other words, you cannot tell your friends that it’s the girl in red, as it might be, and it might not be.
During my playthrough, it became readily apparent that there is no one way to do anything. While playing, I often saw ten to fifteen different ways of tackling each mission objective, which then allowed me to pick the one I thought would work best for me. When things fell apart, I could simply pick a different strategy I thought of upon respawn. The game saves automatically, and unlike many other games, the auto-saves the game chooses and dumps you in are excellent points to try a different strategy right away. Honestly, you can. For example, when I first discovered the right Lady Boyle, I messed up in how I needed to get her alone to get rid of her. She walked away from me, and as I followed her, she told the guards to have me removed from the party. I was instantly surrounded by ten guards and no easy way out. It wasn’t long before I was killed and forced to restart. The game dropped me at the point I first uncovered who the right Lady Boyle was, so I could immediately implement a different approach. (For those wondering, the second time I confronted her, I was successful.)
The controls took a bit of time to get used to, as Corvo’s right hand constantly has his blade and it’s his left hand that swaps out different powers and weapons. It sounds very similar to other games who use this control scheme, such as BioShock and even Halo, but it took me some time getting used to pressing LT to shoot, as pressing RT just swung down Corvo’s blade. When using Corvo’s various powers, I had no button stumbling, but it always took me one or two swings of the blade to remember that it’s the other side that fires. By then, my health was often too low for it to matter anyway. Since this preview dropped me at about half-way through the game, I’m confident that with practice in the beginning, this won’t be an issue.
There is no third-person point-of-view to help you through playing stealthily, but Arkane included a few other tricks in both controls and in Corvo’s bag to help you continue making those sneaky takedowns. If Corvo is hiding around a corner or behind a barrier, a button press allows players to move the camera to sort of “peek out” around the barrier. The Arkane dev monitoring my progress explained to me that doing so doesn’t mean that Corvo is peeking out and risking detection, but it’s only the camera, similar to what you would have if the game went into third-person upon stealth mode. Corvo also has the ability to see through walls with one of his powers or spy through keyholes and look around to see if anyone is present before swinging open the door.
Audio-wise, I haven’t found a game that forced me to rely on sound as much as BioShock did until now. Before entering any scene, it was vital to remain still–and hidden–so you can hear sounds of guards walking, people or guards talking, and the ominous sounds of the tallboys (city watchmen on stilts as shown above) stomping nearby. Due to listening, I was able to avoid a flurry of guards in one room and avoid a tallboy who was about to turn the corner right into me. I didn’t realize how much I was concentrating on the sound until the first time I died, and the following load screen was deafeningly silent.
I honestly believed that I would treat Dishonored like I did Deus Ex, and give up on the stealth completely, but this preview really gave me a great taste of how much fun and brilliantly creative stealth can be. I am greatly looking forward to Dishonored‘s release on October 9th, and it’s only half because I can’t wait to play it in full. I also can’t wait to hear all the different ways my friends played!