Seven things you need to know about Dishonored
- Seven Things You Need to Know
- Arkane Studios
Arkane Studios’ steampunk-style action game Dishonored first slunk into our consciousness back in December last year, and it’s kept us well and truly hooked ever since. A mix of stealth, intrigue, gunplay, magic, melee and bloody big rats, Dishonored tells the story of Corvo Atano, a bodyguard framed for the murder of his beloved Empress. His quest for absolution and revenge naturally leads to copious amounts of bloodletting and all manner of sneaky skulduggery in the retro-futuristic city of Dunwall.
Read on for the seven things you really need to know about Dishonored…
#1 Blow off some steam, punk
The setting is perfectly conceived
It's hardly a paradise, but at least Dunwall has character
The city of Dunwall is almost a character in its own right, with its combination of Victorian-era grime and Steampunk technology. It may not be totally original but, strangely, Steampunk is a subgenre almost completely overlooked in modern games. With Dishonored, Arkane Studios are bringing it back with a bang.
In an interview with Xbox World Magazine, co-Creative Director (along with Harvey Smith), Raf Colantonio explains: “The base layer of the world is in London, 1666; that’s how we started – and then we started to add a lot of layers so that it became our own world.”
The architecture is undeniably Victorian English, but mix in certain elements and Dishonored’s Dunwall becomes something incredibly special. The technology of the world is impressive and creative in its inception, perfectly evoking the retro-future atmosphere and remaining perfectly in context with the game’s universe. In Harvey Smith's words, there's a very "Lovecraftian" feel to the world - as almost all of civilisation resides on The Isles and everything beyond is considered malicious and evil, the folk of Dunwall have not only learned to fend for themselves but to become entirely self-sufficient.
“People have found a way to process whale oil into a very explosive, very vibrant material that is used as an energy source,” says Colantonio, “so you’ll see things like Tesla lights…” The cocktail of frighteningly powerful technology and Victorian-era ignorance is a heady one, and perhaps the main reason that Dishonored is so dripping with atmosphere.
#2 It’s best to have a plan
The world is not open, but that's a Good Thing
This is Corvo, the protagonist. He doesn't speak much
The game is presented as a series of non-linear missions, centring around the assassination of specific targets involved in Corvo’s set-up. There are several areas within the city of Dunwall, but you won’t be able to travel between them and interact with people at will like a traditional RPG; instead, the RPG elements are wrapped up in character development and the way you conduct yourself in the gameworld, which in itself is very unique.
Though you're not entirely free to travel wherever you please on a whim as in, say, Skyrim, the level of behavioral freedom is impressive. Giving the player the ability to influence events directly (down to, for example, avoiding a mugging by killing the would-be muggers before they even think about it) is a much easier prospect inside a confined, streamlined world than it would be if your actions could affect an entire continent. By constricting the world itself, Arkane are able to afford an incredible level of freedom within each mission.
It's a positive, as it focuses both the developers and the players on specific goals within the missions. An open-world structure might have resulted in a lack of such focus, something Arkane have skilfully sidestepped by giving the player specific targets and then letting them loose in a series of sandbox-like environments.
#3 It’s a kind of magic
It’s not all guns and knives
That'll teach you for stealing my lantern to add to your sick collection!
“The Outsider” is an entity within Dishonored’s world that walks among the mortals, acting according to its own whims. During the course of the story, Corvo enters into a pact with The Outsider and is rewarded with the ability to use various magical powers. Though the motivations behind the act are, at this point, unknown, some of the tricks Corvo can employ are brutally effective.
For example, Raf Colantonio talks about a “Freeze Time” spell, which will allow you to stop time at the moment an enemy fires a gun at you, before using the “Possess” spell to take over the attacker and wander around in front of the bullet. Once you allow time to flow again, the poor sucker who tried to shoot you will find a nasty surprise screaming through his right eye. Lovely.
Among the other skills available, there’s also a “Blink” spell that allows Corvo to cover short distances almost instantly, handily facilitating both speedy escapes and violent stealth kills, as well as allowing you to reach higher areas. The Windblast spell, on the other hand, is particularly useful for blasting baddies through windows and off rooftops. All spells are upgradeable using collectible Runes scattered around the world – but it was stated by Smith and Colantonio that no player will be able to unlock all the powers in one playthrough.
#4 Get the job done, one way or another
There’s a lot of room for player creativity
This is a defence system called a "Wall of Light". Running through one is not recommended
Although not an RPG in the strictest sense, Dishonored does contain role-playing elements such as customisable gadget loadouts and non-linear character progression. Also, as is common in action-stealth games nowadays, there are multiple paths to complete your objectives within each mission. Says Colantonio: “We give you a set of tools – some of them you’ve chosen yourself – and then it’s your choice to approach a situation the way you want.”
And it’s not just about which weapons of destruction you employ, either; deciding who – and when – to kill is just as important to putting your own unique spin on Corvo’s story. “Harvey Smith and I are very interested in morality in games,” Raf explains, “and in changing a players morality in games in general. The idea that a player can arrive in front of a situation and make a choice is really interesting. Like, am I going to kill this guy? Even if he begs me, am I going to kill him?”
In a separate interview with Gametrailers, Harvey Smith reinforced the claim that Dishonored’s central focus is on player choice, saying: “Dishonored is made to be fun for the guy that goes ‘full-force’ and bashes in the door and goes on a slaughter-fest, but it’s also made for the player who wants to take a slower pace and eavesdrop and listen in and read notes.”
An impressive example of how far you can push various mechanics ( not to mention an example of how Dishonored actually surprised its own development team) lies in the ability to summon rats to attack your enemies. Once the rats are summoned, they become "like tiny A.I.s", and as a result can be possessed by Corvo. Conjuring a host of rats to distract / eat your pursuers and then body-hopping into one to make your escape is one for any gamer's bucket-list and just one small part of Dishonored that we can't wait to play around with.
#5 When you grow up, you’ll understand
Dishonored is a mature title, which doesn’t mean it’s rude and sweary
A game cannot be considered "mature" these days without featuring at least one brothel
Dishonored is based around events that take place after a brutal assassination and as such is not afraid to get its feet wet. Guns, knives and magic combine in Corvo’s hands to facilitate some incredibly gruesome kills. The stunning E3 trailer (at the bottom of this article) is a glorious orgy of flashing blades, slit throats and gouting blood, and makes no attempt to hide the fact that Dishonored is a mature game.
The “Golden Cat” mission shown in gameplay demos and narrated by Smith and Colantonio shows off the multiple routes to objectives, and how players can choose to be brutal or merciful as they see fit – and it’s giving players that choice that makes Dishonored a mature game; the violence isn’t forced upon you (and in fact it consumes more resources to play aggressively so it’s almost counter-intuitive), so if you want to spread claret everywhere it’s entirely up to you.
That Dunwall is in the grip of a deadly plague analogous to the Black Death also adds to the grim tone.
#6 Our fate is in your hands
The world is dynamic
The Tall Boys are there to keep riff-raff like you out of the upper class estates
Game worlds that react to player presence are nothing new, but it’s still uncommon to find a game that changes without you being there. Enter a mission in Dishonored and the assassination targets could be in any of several different places, not only ensuring a different experience each time but actively encouraging you to think outside of the box and experiment with Corvo’s arsenal of weapons and spells.
As with Io’s Hitman franchise, missions in Dishonored can be completed with no collateral damage, leaving enemies either unconscious or oblivious to your actions. Some missions can even be completed without you taking part in them; the creators mentioned a character named Slackjaw, a crime boss who will take care of a pair of targets for you if you tie up a few loose ends for him first.
Your activities will have penalties, though, thanks to Dishonored's morality tracker. “Your actions add to the Chaos System,” Colantonio explains to Xbox World, “so if you kill unnecessary targets, there are consequences. The world gets darker – for example there are more rats – if you’ve been Chaotic.”
Both Raf Colantonio and Harvey Smith use the word “simulation” an awful lot as opposed to “game”. Whether this is a little bit of a buzz word or this is truly how they view Dishonored is an interesting – and valid – question. If it’s the latter, which we suspect it is, then that alone is indicative of the level of care and attention they’ve applied to their game (sorry, simulation).
#7 This isn’t our first rodeo
The creators have some pedigree
We don't know precisely what's happening here, but someone is about to get incinerated
A game as ambitious and freeform as Dishonored could so easily fall apart without the right handling. Too much action, too much dialogue, bad scripting, wonky AI, too much freedom (it can happen) could destroy a game intended to be this precise. Thankfully, Smith and Colantonio have got some serious experience with almost every facet of Dishonored’s gameplay.
Arkane Studios (founded by Raf Colantonio) previously worked on Arx Fatalis, a 2002 PC-only release combining fantasy action with open-world stealth – and player choices that have weighty consequences. It’s almost the perfect predecessor for the team behind Dishonored.
Harvey Smith also has some impressive titles on his resume, having worked on Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War (considered by many to be the precursors to modern, consequence-driven Action-RPGs) and PC classic Thief, perhaps the daddy of the stealth game.
The influence of both Thief and Arx Fatalis is shot through almost every aspect of Dishonored, from the dynamic worlds shaped by consequence to the use of sound and lighting to heighten the sense of tension during stealth sections and the balanced combination of magic and combat that defines the action.
At this stage, it’s hard to imagine how Dishonored can fail. Watching the gameplay demos and contemplating the vast amount of info so far revealed by Arkane, we can safely say we’re champing at the bit to climb into Corvo’s blood-spattered boots and find out if revenge really does solve everything.
Dishonored is being developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is scheduled for release on October 9th. For more information, visit the official website.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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