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E3 2012: Murder is a game of choices in Arkane’s Dishonored

Given that its creators have collectively worked on games like Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex, I came into my Dishonored demo with high hopes tempered by the cynicism that E3 breeds in anyone who has attended the show more than once. While I only played a relatively short section of the game, presumably toward its beginning, that cynicism has now been completely replaced with an overwhelming urge to own the game as soon as possible. Why? Because unlike many other games Dishonored actually seems to live up to its creators claims that you can play the game in any way you want.

Alright, let me set the scene for you: You play as Corvus, a supernatural assassin in a steampunk world that’s equal parts Half-Life 2 and Victorian-era Prague. In the section I played, the game dictated that I had to assassinate two brothers who happen to be high-ranking officials in this world. It gave me access to all of the game’s various powers and items, but no real direction beyond “kill those guys,” not because the developers neglected to include such instructions, but because the game itself offers dozens of different ways to complete that goal.

I opted to attempt a stealth playthrough, though unlike the developer-led demo I’d just sat through, I opted to silently murder every guard who was stupid enough to patrol too close to my hiding places. In the developer demo it should be noted that Corvus flitted through the city quite rapidly, using the character’s teleportation abilities, killing only the two targets, and possessing fish and other people as necessary to escape detection. Special care was taken to hide bodies out of sight, lest they be seen and alert other characters. Overall it was a very entertaining demonstration of the various things you can see and do to explore the game like a ninja, which given that the character feels like a cross between the protagonists of BioShock and Thief is pretty impressive to witness.

In my playthrough however, I semi-accidentally stabbed the first guard I saw and then spent twenty minutes exploring the various methods in which I could dispatch other nearby characters. I racked up a massive bodycount, but more interestingly were the reactions I caused. Guards would find bodies and seek out the cause for the death — a man with a gaping knife wound looks a whole lot more suspicious than some guy who was mind-controlled into jumping off a balcony — while civilians would mostly become terrified by the shadowy figure chasing them down with a huge dagger.

If you’ve been following the game’s development you’ve likely heard the developers talk about how the world is totally reactive, with characters following their own pre-set routines and living out their virtual lives oblivious of your presence unless you make them aware of you. As far as I can tell, that’s a legitimate claim. I spent a solid chunk of time watching a prostitute go about her daily routine just to see if she would start repeating herself and instead of betraying a scripted set of actions, the character continually opted toward “realistic” acts that she might actually do were this world real. You can’t really grasp how impressive this is until you observe a city full of such characters in action, but when you do it’s some seriously next-level stuff.

The only negative news I took away from the game and Arkane Studios’ presentation is that Dishonored won’t hit shelves until October. No hyperbole, I’m utterly psyched to own the final version of this game, and having to wait four months is going to be really depressing.

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