If there has ever been a good argument for developers to continue supporting E3, it is Behtesda and Arkane Studios’ Dishonored. Before the convention earlier this year, Dishonored was a curiosity. It was the second most interesting sounding title of what many considered a relatively weak Bethesda offering compared to previous years. Prey 2 was AWOL, Skyrim and Rage had both released, there was no Fallout news, and the highest profile title was The Elder Scrolls Online which is still a long way from release.
It isn’t a franchise title, Arkane Studios is not a well-known developer, and the game itself had only been seen a handful of times. But then came E3 and everything changed. The previously unknown game was suddenly a game of the year contender and it won several Best of Show honors (including ours). The most often comparison was BioShock, which seems obvious since Arkane helped out with BioShock 2 and both games use a similar ability and weapon offensive combination. But it was more than just a similarity in the gameplay, it was a feeling that you were seeing something special. Both games featured a rich and original world and both offered a mysterious and compelling story, but beyond that they both offered choice.
How you approach the world is entirely up to you. If you want to go stealth, you have several tools at your disposal. If you want to take on the world, you can do that too. If you want to be a prick to the citizens of the fictional town of Dunwall, you can get incredibly creative and then ruin their evenings. The choice is yours.
In the demo that Bethesda is currently showing off, you are tasked with entering an exclusive party and assassinating an aristocratic matriarch named Lady Boyle — there’s a catch though. The target and her daughters are all wearing similar outfits that include masks. The game randomizes which of the three ladies is the actual target, which means you have to approach the mission creatively and put in the legwork. You could always try to kill everyone, but that be somewhat like ordering a steak from a fine restaurant and then covering it in A1.
Almost immediately I noticed that my game was progressing differently from that of the people playing around me. My game took me through the courtyard of the estate where the party was held, and an optional sidequest offered me the chance to fight a duel with pistols. Throughout the game there will be optional events within main missions, which shouldn’t come as a surprise for this type of game.
Even entering the house can be completed in multiple ways. Assuming you take the main door, you then have options. If you wander around and explore there are other side-missions to partake in, or you can focus on optional objectives that will help with the main quest.
I chose to complete the secondary objectives to help with the main quest. This sent me to the second floor to explore while dodging guards. It would be easy enough to take out the guards one at a time, but there is always the risk that the bodies could be discovered. So I decided to get creative.
The gameplay uses both weapons and powers, and you can bring these up on a selection wheel. From there you can map the weapon or ability to one of the d-pad directions. Using the ability to see through walls, I stopped time as a guard approached, then teleported behind him and went on to find a note that said who the target was. There were several areas to explore after that, and some were accessible through unusual means like possession of a rat that could then navigate the heating ducts to get to the basement. But that was for another quest, and I had an appointment to keep.
Due to my limited time, subtlety took a backseat to speed. I found the target and eliminated her with prejudice, then had to run for it. Once outside it took a moment for the confusion to settle and the guards to mobilize. As bullets ripped by, I froze time to escape the grounds. I sprinted to the sewers and slid into a covered escape route, but came out and was facing tallboys, guards walking on mechanized stilts. These guards can quickly ruin your day, so I laid a trap on a nearby bridge, summoned rats to attack another guard, and threw a sticky grenade into a crowd to even the odds. The tallboy then came at me via the bridge and walked right into my trap. As guards closed in, I possessed a fish and swam to my escape route, a waiting boat.
I immediately wanted to replay the section since I thought of at least five different ways to complete the mission that I wanted to try. When I eventually have the chance, I will be sure to do just that. And then I will probably do it another way, and then try another and another. And that alone justifies making Dishonored not just a game to watch, but possibly the game to watch this year.