Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Splendid Time with Dishonored

Yesterday I was talking about The Elder Scrolls Online and how we saw both it and Dishonored in a double presentation at E3. The Dishonored presentation was quite a bit different than The Elder Scrolls Online one, for it was almost entirely gameplay and they used that gameplay demo to explain the game. Arkane Studios, developers you may know for Bioschock 2 or Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, brought us right into the game as we watched someone playing through a level. Before they started the demo they explained how they are focusing on storytelling, stealth and giving the player a lot of choices. They are also really focusing on assassinations because that's what this game is all about. Before I start explaining the intriguing presentation take a look at this Dishonored gameplay trailer from E3. At the very least it will show you what kind of world this is.


As the presentation started we saw the player enter into an area of the city near the water. He was on in a street in front of a great mansion of some kind with guards wandering the street, guarding the doors and filling the halls. The guards were dressed in a mix of colonial and spanish armor, with swords and flintlock pistols, yet at the same time there are mechanical contraptions all over the place. It is truly a world similar to that of Bioshock, were the old and new are combined. They also gave us a little background on the plagued city that you spend all your time in. The city is run by an tyrannical emperor who has a tight military grip over everything. You play as the former bodyguard of the empress, who was assassinated and your character was framed for her death. So this level we were shown is one of the many main quests in the game were your sole purpose is to assassinate some of the people who were involved in framing you. There was also some mention of there being side quests around the city, but they didn't explain if that meant the city would be open ended in some way.

As the player started to move into the area he immediately drew out his knife and stabbed a guard silently.
He then disposed of his body using one of his powers. Anyone you kill in the game can be carried and people will react to finding a body. So the player took the dead guard, using the blink power, a very limited teleport, and dropped the body onto a overhang out of sight. It took me a while to figure this out in the demo, but there are certain powers, like blink, that you can use and it will only temporarily lower your power. Some of the more powerful powers, like possession, lower your power and it will not automatically refill over time. The developers quickly explained that this playthrough was going to be played stealthy and afterwards they would show us a brutal playthrough where the player doesn't bother to be stealthy and will kill anyone in his way. The player moved away from the main entrance of the mansion and towards the glistening ocean.

While we were waiting for a guard to stop conversing with a lightly dressed young woman the developers explained that this mansion could be entered eight different ways and they are trying to make every area in the game feel open like that. So the guard left and the player snuck up near the water, saw a fish and decided to possess it. Apparently you can possess anything living and he used this fish to go through the drains underneath the mansion and come out into a room. When you possess something you fully going into it with your whole being and when you decide to end the possession you shoot out of the possessed object. He moved from here onto somewhat secret passages near the ceiling of the room. The mansion was full of little options for sneaking around and he used many of them to avoid innocents, like the women below in the screenshot, or guards.

Once the player got into the mansion proper, with guards everywhere, he started to use a power called Dark Vision that lets you see the line of sight of people and where they are through objects/walls. He quickly found a woman who seemed to be someone important and saw that she had a key dangling from her side. He looked through a keyhole into the room she was in and waited for her to busy herself at a desk then slipped in. They showed us that when you approach someone from behind you have the option to knock them out or kill them, but the player chose to do neither and just stole the key then left. He soon came to a room where two people were talking inside and showed us how the sound is muffled when a door is closed, but if you look through the keyhole you can hear what is going on inside. I'm not sure how many times I've seen sound properly done, or in a way that actually mattered to gameplay, but I was impressed a bit from that. The sound will travel naturally through hallways or rooms and if it is blocked by a object it will act that way in game.

Dark Vision is very important if you don't want to die

He made it a boiler room of some sort and this is where they showed us one of the many options for assassinating this first target. The target was inside a room nearby talking with a scantily clad woman, apparently this mansion was filled with prostitutes, and we were told how you could blow the door open with a grenade and kill them both, or charge in since the key had been stolen earlier, but the way the demo-er chose to kill this target was with something much less direct. He came to a side room that had a window into the room with the target in it and I he turned a handle nearby that sent steam shooting into that room, burning the two of them to death as the player watched the target panic and disappear into the steam. He left that area and continued into the upper parts of the mansion to find his next target.

Eventually, after dodging more guards, putting a few innocents to sleep with his dart gun and climbing onto a ledge he saw the last target. It was a rather pompous and wealthy looking man inside a bedroom with windows all around and a balcony. The balcony looked a bit like the one in the above screenshot, but higher up and no guards inside the room, just another woman. While the player was scouting out the room the developers explained how the game keeps track of how many innocents you kill, like all the women in the mansion, and the game will change later on based on how murderous you are. He snuck into the room and waited for the target to be looking a different way. While the target looked the other way he got just close enough to possess him.The woman was surprised as he led the man out to the balcony, but she didn't raise an alarm. At first I thought he was just going to fling him out off the balcony, but it seems possession isn't that powerful. Instead he closed the door behind him into the room where the woman was and faced the man towards the not so distant ocean. When he unpossessed the target the player came out with his back to the door and the target started vomiting as a side effect of being possessed. We were then shown another ability that was essentially a force push, except it looked more wind based. He used to throw the target right off the balcony and he fell screaming to the ground below, dead.

Immediately afterwards the player used a combination of blink and possession to get to the ground quickly. He then escaped and started the level over, but this time with an intent to kill everyone in his path. This playthrough was much shorter and a lot more difficult looking. The demo-er quickly went up to a rooftop using blink and killed a guard on a balcony of the mansion with a silent crossbow. He went through the doors and blew up a couple of guards with some kind of grenade, then met several other guards rushing to fight him with a pistol shot to the skull of one and he brought up his blade to fight the other two. We got to see how melee works with counters, blocking and brutal moves. He absolutely murdered both of those guards, but not without taking a few hits and using one of his healing stims. When he got to the target in the basement he opened the door, marched in and slit his throat. Kind of like this screenshot below.

The game was still pretty violent and brutal with the stealth playthrough, but he took it to a different level now. Most of the onlookers, the prostitutes, he also killed or at the very least knocked them out. There wasn't any immediate ramifications for doing so, but like I said earlier they promised that the game will keep track of these types of kills. After he killed the first target he went through the mansion pretty quickly and killed everyone who was anywhere near him. Outside the last target, the man in the room by the balcony, he fought way too many guards and almost died several times, but he also used the slow time power in combination with the push power in order to throw bullets back at those who fired them. Most of these lofty and powerful powers that he used permanently dropped his power gauge and he had to use power stimulants to restore that. Both types of stimulants are placed openly around each area, but there are many that aren't all that overt.

While this playthrough was a bit short it was also interesting. When we watched the stealth one we didn't see all the different types of bullets, bolts and grenades. With stealth you have a lot of different ways to move through the environment, while the brutal style of playing offers you many different ways to kill people. Either way we were shown that Dishonored does offer you a lot of choices. After both demos they let us out to play the Dishonored ourselves, but it was on a different level that had a different goal. In this one we were not supposed to assassinate someone. We instead had to find someone, knock them out and carry them to a boat for extraction.

That's the mansion from the presentation in the background

Our demo placed us in another area near the water, but this area had few innocents and was filled with guards. The man we were supposed to capture was in a greenhouse on the roof of a facility that was over the water. I studied the controls a bit then headed off through rooftops towards the front door of the building.  I saw two guards right outside the front door conversing and they were both together right near the railing. I thought hey, looks easy, I can just blink on over and quickly push them both off with the wind/push power. I didn't realize that blink isn't very long range and I blinked right over the water, instead over the walkway I was aiming at. After I got out of the water and back to the rooftops I decided to sneak up on them instead of teleport. I reached the first man and knocked him out silently. The other was near the railing looking off and I was aching to try the push ability and threw him into the ocean, which was a lot louder than I expected it to be, but thankfully no one was around.

The facility I moved through had two women inside, the only two non-violent NPC's that I found on the map,  and I knocked them both out before they raised any alarms. In the first couple of rooms I found some items that I hadn't seen in the presentation, like crafting ingredients, which I didn't even know was in the game. I got stuck at a security gate, an electric gate that blocked two doorway, for a while and noticed a bunch of other ways I could have entered the main room, but I eventually made it through by possessing a guard and walking him through the security field. My big mistake of my entire playthrough came right after this. I saw something on the wall called whale oil and I picked it up. I didn't know what to do with it so I tried to put it down, but instead of letting it roll gently onto the ground it exploded and alerted every guard in the area. For the next minute I was frantically fighting five guards. I used all of my health stims, nearly died four times, and only won because I used slow time, which allowed me to kill three of them in quick succession. It didn't help that I had no experience with combat at all, so I was horrible at countering in melee and breaking through their blocks.

Eventually I got a little better and made it to the roof of the facility. I captured the target and used blink to travel across the roof tops until I got to the water. I almost got caught by that big fella in the screenshot above, but thankfully my last blink landed me safely next to the extraction point, while the walker guard was right above me on a bridge. I threw the unconscious man on the boat, talked to the man who waiting to take us out of there and the demo ended.

The demo wasn't quite as impressive as the presentation, mainly due to my ineptitude and it was a little bit more rough than they level they showed, but it was very interesting and I loved every second of it. The controls were pretty solid, I was playing on the Xbox 360, and the graphics did a great job bringing this plagued industrialized city to life. I can't wait to play more and we will all be seeing a lot more of Dishonored when it releases on October 9th in the US and October 12th in Europe. Thanks for checking this out and reading my offensively long recount of my experience with Dishonored.
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-Written by Sean Cargle


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