Since Dishonored was first announced only back in July 2011, I’ve been clamouring to get even a tiny smattering of gameplay under my belt. With a development team that looks more like a fantasy football collection of truly intimidating designers, combined with the starriest lineup for not only Bethesda, but arguably any game, ever, the stakes are pretty high.
The cruel machanist of the hype machine hasn’t been kind in the past few years and a new IP of Dishonored’s calibre is bearing the weight of expectation like few before it. In Harvey Smith we have one of the brilliant minds behind Deus Ex and System Shock as Dishonored’s creative lead, with Viktor Antonov, former Valve employee and creator of the formidable City 17 from Half Life 2, as visual design director.
Going in to Dishonored I was scared. I wanted my expectations to be fulfulled, especially after reading about the excellent level design and combat, but simply didn’t want to wholeheartedly believe it just in case it didn’t deliver; that’s the state of game for me. Too often have the Hazes and Duke Nukem Forever left their permanent ‘Episode 1’ magnitude scars as a permanent reminder of our collective psyche, but you’ll be more than pleased to know that Dishonored delivers, and I’m talking Royal Mail Special Delivery Next Day with Guaranteed Saturday Delivery.
Dishonored is a game that utilises genuinely clever design rather than just chasing you down a corridor with a broom or leaving you in the middle of the desert, it employs open levels with dozens of possible routes, through multiple stories, catering for virtually every style imaginable. In a preview like this, there’s almost no point at all in talking about story: two levels were played, from different parts of the game, entirely in isolation. The only way to even begin to appreciate Dishonored is a step-by-step description, so you can be shown just how much possibility exists within Dunwall.
Here is the first mission – Kaldwin’s Bridge.
I, Corvo, am tasked with abducting the royal physician and all-round bastard Anton Solokov given his vast medical knowledge.
I begin on the ground, ahead of me was but a bright light in front of a closed door,a smattering of cover and an alley on the right. Cautiously I approach, sticking to the shadows and peeking through rubble I spot a city watch officer on patrol. I don’t want to be spotted, swiftly possess a rat and skirt into the alley, unseen.
Nobody is around and upon first glance this alley is a dead end; I spot the roofs above me, just out of jumping range. I Blink and I’m there, teleporting upwards several times I find myself 50 feet above any danger, surveying Dunwall from where I stand. I dart across the rooftops towards Solovok’s house, guarded by two heavily armed city watch officers, inches from an alarm.
It looks like I have to engage them, something which I later find to be false. Dishonored cannily plays on the fact that contemporary gamers expect a fight and subconsciously seek out trouble; I did this, even though above me was another entrance to Solokov’s house. I was blinded by my own hubris.
I blink to a small ledge above the officers and quick as a flash, I jump upon the first and dispatch with with my blade, turning to face the second. I have mere seconds before the alarm is pressed and the full force of the Dunwall PD comes crashing down around me. I freeze time, sprint towards the guard, slit his through and loot him all before he hits the ground. I then confine both men to the bottom of the Dunwall deep.
I head inside, shutting the door behind me. I am certainly not alone in this place. Coming down some stairs is another guard, armed with a gun, to the right of him is an open space lightly seasoned with three more. The stairs is separated by pillars, I blink behind whilst the guard is on the other side and right up to the top of the stairs. They definitely don’t know I’m here, yet.
Atop the stairs, ahead of me is a Wall of Light – going through with literally disintegrate me – so I head right into a drawing room and am spotted by a maid. In my panic, I possess her, then it hits me; the Walls of Light only affect non-authorised personnel. I warily approach the barrier, having seen its sheer destructive power in a previous encounter, but pass through unharmed.
Now at Solokov’s door, I glance through the keyhole. He appears to be pre-occupied with his studies, muttering to himself as he fumbles with a test tube. At the back of his laboratory is a cage, large enough for a human. I open the door and seek cover behind some raised flower beds, a clear path to the back of Solokov now visible to me I pound, dash towards him and knock him out cold. A captive woman spots my heroism and begs for her freedom, raiding Solokov’s pockets I free her; I dread to think what she’s been through.
Solokov may be sleeping, but I still need to sling him over my shoulder and get to the canal beneath Kaldwin’s Bridge and send Anton on his way. Given the swathes of guards patrolling the floor, I figure height will provide me with a surefire advantage, but will I be able to make it all the way?
Across from Solokov’s are the buildings I first blinked from, and back I go onto a ventilation duct, blinking upwards at every given opportunity. Atop the highest building for several hundred feet I peer down towards my goal, obscured by the bridge itself; containing a handful of guards and a dreaded tall boy. I now have two options, leave Solokov and directly engage them, I have enough mana but why risk exposing myself when I’ve made it this far unseen? No, I am but a spectre and want to see this through.
To my left is a building in abject ruin, an exposed roof with just enough footing to support myself and Anton. Blinking downwards, I have but a slim passage to beneath the bridge. Timing is key, carrying a sinister scientistic fireman-style doesn’t lend itself to any particular fighting style; I hold my breath and blink, just short of cover and fear I’ve been compromised. With just enough mana left to blink again, I dart out of sight and under the bridge.
Nobody knows I was ever here and Solokov is in our custody. A job well done.
As you can see, this is bit a single rendition of countless possible play throughs in just this one level. The amount of choice and variation in just this one level is simply staggering, there are at least a dozen distinct, unique means of completing this level and it balances linear and open worlds with supreme precision and poise. Dishonored has the makings of a special game and even in its current state it would take a disaster of biblical proportions for it not to be a strong contender for game of the year.
Dishonored is also winner of our Golden Bolt award for Best Game at gamescom 2012.