PAX Prime 2012: Dishonored Preview

Even though PAX is one of the best outlets for indie games to find a home on an expo show floor, the show can, from time to time, boast an impressive line-up of the most anticipated games revealed within the respective year. One of those said top tier games was Dishonored.

Developed by the fellas at Arkane Studios, whose rap sheet lists work on games like Dark Messiah: Might and Magic and Bioshock 2, Dishonored takes the first-person action approach to a whole different level of depth with the promises galore. Some of these touted features range from multiple circumstantial tactics that adapt based completely on your actions and decisions to limitless freedom with a user-supported magic ability palate that will push your imagination with every combination you create. With Bethesda hosting a playable build of the game, I jumped at the chance to see the title first-hand, and the result I came away with was, well…fulfillment followed by unbridled excitement, to say the least.

The premise of Dishonored maybe a bit overplayed in today’s market, with yet another dystopian society suffering from the oppression of a corrupted government regime; Dishonored has a central focal point around its protagonist, Corvo Atano, the victim of conspiracy framing him for the murder of a prominent political figure.

Starting the game, you find yourself in a boat drifting near some dilapidated aqueducts with the intent of infiltrating a prestigious party in order to assassinate an influential figure who supports the platform of the villain who framed you. The moment you assume control, the level of interaction is unparalleled. The sensitivity of movement and aliasing with the camera immediately engrained itself within muscle memory. Corvo has the ability to jump and wall climb structures, along with entering a stealth posture that automatically has slink down and slow, contextually recognizing distance against walls and objects lean up against in a very immaculate fashion.

Loosely based off of the plasmids mechanic from Bioshock, Corvo has a load-out wheel of abilities available that he can dual-wield with his direct weapon. Powers range from, but aren’t limited to, being able to summon a plague of rats which will not only help overcome a small group of foes, but will consume any corpse of a former enemy, expunging any potential evidence of your existence against the enemy. Another is being able to teleport short distances that work for both rapid movement and evasive tactics when making a swift escape. These powers can be upgraded and work to serve a multitude of combinations. In just one playthrough I used my telekinetic push ability to throw a an object against a wall, which alerted the guard who also happened to be keeping watch over a scientist who held hostage. As the Guard investigated the noise, I teleported behind him and stuck in his trachea with my blade. The scientist, panicking from the sight of death, was making an incredible clamor, and I was left with no alternative but to launch a crossbow bolt directly into his temple in order to contain secrecy for the sake of the mission. What consequence did my actions have? I have no earthly way of knowing. Killing the scientist was simply fueled by instinct towards the reality of my position and keeping consistent with my objective, something Arkane directly wanted to convey.

Eliminating any clear definition of influence from a conscious, the ambiguous nature behind their coined chaos system works behind the framework of narrative and gameplay to adapt the world covertly to whatever you resolve on any chain of events without catering to you personally, but rather what you infuse into the premise. I then initiated my time stop ability and snuck by the mobile tank-like machines referred to as “Tall-boys” in order to get by and infiltrate my targets party through one jump of the fence. Even as I was within the grounds, I still had no way to determine my target due to the event being masquerade affair, so being given a palate of various options, I chose to eavesdrop. Learning what the target was wearing, I started my approach and was interrupted by a supposed ally who claimed he supported my cause but was in love with my future victim, pleading that I hand her over to him instead and that she could imprisoned to ensure her influence is silence. The target would no longer oppose my cause and there would be no need for her blood to be spilled. I chose to agree…only to placate him.

Seeing her life as a liability, I approached her, given the opportunity at several different points to warn her of my intentions or coerce her into forced hiding, I chose to seduce her instead, and then I did the deed in her own bed.

The execution that the premise delivers and its conviction to the indefinite fate that your actions wield and the subtlety in your world's transformation is why the chaos system seems to gel so in a lot of right ways. Decisions are instinctive to the plot and manage to reinforce an engaging bridge of storytelling with the protagonist, and find a way of playing a part in the choices you’ll be tasked to make. These choices come natural to the mindset of life in a shambled world, plagued by an epidemic infection where the advantaged struggle to survive and the poor are trampled in the wake. With this level engagement at hand without a programed response of reflexively bouncing off of any core fundamentals of the so-called “moral compass” gives you the ability to play based on what feels the most pragmatic, and how you wanted to aid your cause, not what’s right or wrong. The variety of choices were limited, but the timing and nature of the decisions and how I made them became the delight and satisfaction behind them so surprising with the amount of time I had with the build.

Dishonored is slated to hit shelves sometime in October, and if the preview is any indication, the experience waiting for you within its world could be one that's hard to best.

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