Dishonored Hands On Preview
I smell a rat. Many rats. Lots and lots of wonderful smelling rats.
The most sought after demo at this year’s QuakeCon that didn’t require a virtual reality headset was Bethesda’s upcoming stealthy first person shooter: Dishonored. Really, sticking the game in the FPS pigeon hole is a bit constricting since during the short demo, I possessed several people, summoned swarms of rats, and slowed time to a crawl. The single level I got to play showed a ton of promise for a game set in a refreshingly unsettling world with a myriad of different methods available to reach your objectives.
The level’s goal was to extract a scientist who has been performing unethical experiments on innocent citizens. To successfully complete the level, you had to sneak or fight your way to a building, up to the top floor, capture the scientist, and then make your way back down to a boat waiting on the river. To make sure that I had the full experience, I tried several different ways to get through these sections.
Initially tasked with sneaking by a couple of gossiping guards, I slunk down and hid in the shadows and crept by. The next time through this part, I possessed one of the guards whose partner thought he was safely standing next to his trusted pal. At just the right moment, I burst forth from the possessed guard and took out the other with a quick stab. On my next pass, I tried wildly unleashing a cross bow at everyone in sight. Some of these methods took more than one try to pull off (mainly the wild crossbowing), but each idea I had was easy to put into action. Now that I have no more access to the demo, I’ve thought of several other methods I could have used to get around the same obstacles. Inspiration hits every time I think back to the circular menu used to access all of your twelve abilities. Luckily, this was just the first section and I used plenty of other tools before the end.
Once in the building, I quickly decided that my go-to method for success would be summoning a mischief of rats (yes, I had to look this up) on a patrolling guard to throw the whole in-building contingent into a panic. In the confusion, I eased up the stairs and took them all out as they came up after me single file. I had to resort to the brute force of the gun in order to take out these characters despite a few attempts at sword fighting. The gun was tactile and satisfying to shoot - I sure felt like I was connecting with my targets, but ammo seems scarce which forces you to not always run and gun. The sword fighting was similarly meaty and seemed like it would take some practice to perfect. Hitting an opponent's weapon with yours really felt like you had been parried and were in the thick of battle.
When I wasn’t sneaking and possessing my way to the building’s roof, the game was throwing some puzzles my way. Even these seemed to have multiple solutions, allowing you to use more skills from your repertoire or items in the environment. Although none of the puzzles were a crazy challenge, they were good enough to make me feel smart when I completed one - about on the difficulty level of Half-Life 2.
The run-down, steampunk aesthetic of the world is highly detailed with broken building walls, graffiti-painted signs, and rusted machinery making it clear this is a troubled place. The crumbling technology that jutted out from the surroundings made encounters with working machinery a bit more fearsome. A great example of this was a run-in with a so-called Tall Boy at the end of the level. The Tall Boys are enemy soldiers on mechanized stilts, and in this case armed with a longbow - an effective but slow to reload weapon. Since I had spent tons of time messing around on other sections, I only got to face off against this Tall Boy one time and I fell back on old habits from other games. Sneaking up behind him and sticking a grenade on his spindly legs was enough to drop him to the ground. It was an impressive collapse, but I now regret that I didn’t think to possess him and march around a bit or spend more time to come up with other possible ways to get around the big fella.
This could be Dishonored’s biggest problem at this stage. There are so many choices and possibilities - all of them fun to pull off - that some players might be paralyzed by their extensive options. The more likely scenario is that people will play through the game multiple times to try out all of the creative tactics the malleable world allows. We’ll have to see how the game doles out the abilities that were all available in the demo and see if that hampers or improves the rest of the experience. A good balancing of these issues will be key, but there is little doubt that tons of care will be focused on every detail if the demo is any indication. If there’s one thing my time with the game showed is that the hype building for this game appears to be warranted, unless the rest of the game is absolutely nothing like the demo.