Originally published on GameInformer.com October 12, 2012, at 7:30 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 10/18/12.
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Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
I began playing Dishonored yesterday and spent an hour and a half in game, but what consumed most of my time was not what you might expect. Unless, that is, you know me pretty well, and my penchant for sometimes macabre pursuits (as in, here). But to begin, I had been drawn to the stylized design, open mission structure and gameplay variety. Not that I was able to experience any of that. (Regarding story, I'll only discuss the basic premise, so don't think spoiler alerts are necessary.)
I was able to sample elements of the game such as its impressive art direction. Realistic portrayals have their place, but so do more creative, stylish depictions such as you'll find in Arkane Studio's Dishonored. The developer followed the path of Timesplitters, Second Sight, BioShock, Borderlands, etc., in using designs more appropriate to fantasy than reality. And for its fictional industrial setting of Dunwall, it works well.
Environments do display a variety of influences as do the wonderful wardrobes, and in fact such design can appear realistic and add authenticity to the story. But it's the details in such design, not to mention the character models themselves, that bear the mark of the developers' imaginations and lend necessary elements of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings.
My first excursion off the beaten path involved my character engaging in a game of hide and seek. In the process, I began exploring the limits of the game's platforming, which impressed me with its level of environmental interactivity.
While icons typically alert one to such opportunities, experimentation is important as this wasn't always the case. I was able to scale ledges, walls, furniture and even equipment that I otherwise would have thought was not possible. That said, it's important to know your limitations, as falling can leave its mark. ; )
Non-player characters, besides having compelling features and unique wardrobes, all interact with your character to various degrees. Typically they will engage in brief conversations that provide a give and take until they've exhausted their dialog. Thankfully, they rarely if ever repeat themselves as is the case in other games, and the dialog itself is believable, while voice acting is neither over the top nor uninspired (so far).
The characters seem strong enough as far as dialog is concerned though it's too early to tell whether they are three dimensional or more conventional. What IS apparent at the beginning is that the narrative follows a familiar path.
The basic premise is that your character has been framed for the murder of a leader you were sworn to protect. The Witcher springs immediately to mind though I believe this same thread has run through other titles as well. While Corvo Attano does pursue a vengeful path, hopefully the story's trajectory diverges in more interesting ways from other similar tales.
At this point the combat is introduced in the context of your escape. Soon armed with a blade, I experimented with its edge and found that this city's rodent problem was no match as one swing turned each into bite sized lumps of bloody meat. Importantly you can't pick up the pieces of plague infested rat for sustenance. I then decided to take a swing at an inmate on the other side of his cell's bars, assuming he could not be reached by my blade. Boy, was I wrong!
Not only could I take a load off his shoulders, but said load could then be picked up like other objects in this world. Of course, such actions typically have a purpose such as hiding bodies, accumulating weapons or obtaining other items. But what to do with a head? Allow me to demonstrate ...
Naturally (OK maybe not naturally), I was curious how guards would react to having a head tossed at their feet. My aim proved a little too good as I delivered a flying head butt to the nearest guard. Unfortunately they seemed less upset by their comrade's head rolling around on the floor than in having someone assault them. More situational awareness would have been nice a la Rocksteady Studios' Batman games.
The basic combat itself is an intuitive and entertaining mix of block and strike from a first person perspective. It's nice to know the fundamentals seem pretty solid, as the game will build upon that when later introducing other elements of stealth and ability-based gameplay. Add to that a detailed presentation, fluid animation and at least standard enemy AI and it's a fun combination made more exhilarating with brutal consequences and finishing moves.
When a developer mixes graphic combat with basic gameplay such as the option to move objects it can inspire some creative experimentation (as demonstrated in the earlier link). I emphasize "can," as not everyone will journey down this path. With the exception of yours truly, that is.
For instance, putting a head back on to a headless body is not as easy as you might think, and we all know how much time is spent in consideration of that problem. Maybe I should have used the body's actual head instead of a substitute (there were plenty laying around).
The throw option is pretty robust as objects can be tossed pretty far. Case in point, who knew an otherwise weighty human head can virtually defy gravity to soar high into the air? The grab feature comes into play on its way down as well, though timing is everything in this game of catch-as-catch-can. To add to the challenge, try tossing and grabbing with one hand on the controller and the other on your smartphone as you simultaneously catch and snap a picture.
The toughest challenge I set for myself was throwing a head onto the highest point possible. Initially I tried to toss it onto pipes that run through the prison environment but that proved especially tough as the angle had to be just right to avoid losing it onto an elevated walkway nearby (as happened with one).
So instead I tried my luck with a loudspeaker and after several repeated attempts I hit its sweet spot and there the head rested. RIP, Mr. Head. It was fun while it lasted. For one of us, anyway.
One last observation about the environments: They don't disappoint. Even generic, conventional locations like the prison had elements that add to their design. Indeed, Dunwall benefits from its industrial setting as there is related mechanical equipment, pipes, etc. that provide terrific atmosphere.
All in all, my short visit with Dishonored proved very entertaining, even if I was engaged in activities that probably aren't what Arkane Studios or publisher Bethesda Softworks had in mind. Though Bethesda should know better as Fallout 3 similarly encouraged such mischievous behavior on my part.
I for one can't wait to return to Dunwall and see what other trouble I can get myself into. I hope you come along for the ride either by trying the game for yourself or reading potential future phlogs of mine while I explore the city and its story further.
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