Dishonored may have been pegged as a first person, stealth/assassination, tale of revenge from first impressions, but from what we gathered from a recent demo, the stealth part (and basically how you go about the missions in general) is really all up to you.
Dishonored is taking an interesting approach to its mission structure and objectives. While the entire game is completely mission based and linear, the method in which players achieve their objectives is completely open. Players take control of a skilled assassin with an arsenal of weapons and supernatural powers, named Corvo. Your choice of powers and weapons will determine the course of action you take. Players could “ghost” a level, leaving every enemy alive, completing the objective, and escaping without anyone knowing the wiser, or aggressive action can be taken. That’s where head to head sword fights and telepathically throwing enemies out windows comes into play.
The main idea behind Dishonored’s level design is for the player to “craft their own experience” with the various powers, weapons, and paths available to them. The world is sort of steam-punk mixed with Victorian England style look, but the dreary setting isn’t without lack of color or varied, stunning environments. One mission was set in what looked like a wealthy noble’s estate full of expensive furniture, colorful gardens and leaky basements. The second mission was set in a flooded, unlivable, war torn city district. Every level is its own little sandbox, leaving it up to the player to decide how to tackle the mission objectives.
We saw how a level could be played with stealth and, alternatively, a more aggressive strategy. The stealthy playthrough showed off Corvo’s infiltration skills. One ability that was incredibly useful was the power to possess enemies and even animals. In one instance, the assassin possessed a fish swimming in the nearby moat, where he was able to swim through a building’s plumbing to gain access to the lower levels. Another prominent ability, Blinking, also becomes an essential way of remaining undetected. This short range teleport can be used to gain access to otherwise unreachable places like overhangs and ceiling vents or simply be used to move from cover to cover.
Peeking around corners, blowing out candles, and taking cover behind couches help keep you hidden while monitoring enemy patrols, and setting up your ambush. Instant stealth kills will silently take out individual guards but leaving dead bodies or missing comrads will be noticed by intersecting guard patrols. There will be the option to completely avoid taking lives for the pacifists out there, even the main assassination target. These characters can be dealt with by your own sword bleeding them out, environmental traps, or non-lethally stripped of their influence and identity. The devs mentioned that the last option would be the most difficult to pull off, but doing so could have unexpected, non-violent results; like having the victims serve a life sentence working in a coal mine.
On the other hand, taking a more aggressive approach can bring a totally different experience. The action in this playthrough reminded us of Bioshock with Corvo always having one devastating power assigned to the left hand and his sword in the right. The sword parries blows and slice’n dices like you’d expect, but the real fun comes from the powers chosen from the game pausing weapon wheel.
Battles typcially started off with an instant stealth kill, but everything after that was not so quiet. The assassin was able to confront multiple enemies with attacks that launched them across the room with a powerful whirlwind blast, unleashed a swarm of rats to attack groups of guards, and freeze time to avoid enemy bullets.
Combining powers with weapon fire and attacks proved to be extra effective as we watched Corvo use time freeze then fire off several bolts from his crossbow. When time freeze is deactivated the bolts fly off into their targets. This ability can even be combined with others; like the possession power. If timed correctly, freezing time as enemies are firing their guns will stop bullets in mid-air, to which the assassin can possess an enemy, walk him in front of the barrage, start time up again and sneak away to safety. They can also be used as a means of escape. When cornered he could summon a hoard of rats, possess one of them and run to safety. There appears to be dozens of ways to use and combine powers in the middle of a heated battle. When jumping directly into the fray, it becomes about thinking on your feet rather than executing ambushes.
As missions pass, more enemy types will be on patrols other than the standard guards. One in particular is called a Tallboy. These are armored guards on stilts that stand almost two stories tall. These guys are no pushovers either, carrying explosive crossbow bolts and having a sever height advantage. We saw some of their attacks countered in Bioshock fashion as Corvo used his whirlwind ability to push the explosive bolts back to the Tallboy. It didn’t do much to dissuade the stilts walking menace, but these guys definitely look like the types of enemies you’d want to avoid.
Dishonored releases later this year for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.