Upon my arrival to Bethesda’s E3 booth, I was taken into a room equipped with many a chair and an enormous screen. It was here that I would see one of my most-anticipated games of E3 2012 – Arkane Studios’ Dishonored. As we took our seats and nodded in mutual respect to one another, the room fell silent.
Hardy Smith and Raphael Colantonio from Arkane took their positions behind a jet-black podium, while my fellow game writers waited anxiously as the crew performed microphone checks and other preliminary tasks. The pair introduced us to the game, and explained in greater detail some of the new story elements that gamers will see upon its release, including the background to the main protagonist, Corvo, the disgraced bodyguard of the Empress, and why they chose to build a steampunk city powered by whale oil. Hardy closed this introduction with a short-but-sweet statement.
“Dishonored is a game about player creativity and choice,” he said.
After a quick video highlighting the environments of Dishonored, with a surprising amount of dark and dreary places on display, we got to the gameplay – with Arkane opting to demonstrate it to us first, before we got handed a controller for ourselves. This was what we were all there for, and also what we were expecting greatness from.
As the live gameplay began, the two presenters walked us through Dishonored’s spin on a “karma” system. Like titles such as Infamous, the game tracks your efforts and gauges them as good or evil. It’s a fairly simple concept, and will be familiar to veteran gamers. It was not announced at this time whether or not the game would have different story outcomes or other unique events due to this feature, but the smart bet is that it probably will.
The sheer amount and variety of gameplay that Arkane have crammed into even small segments of Dishonored like this was astounding. The demo player took us through the gameplay segment with expert accuracy and at a blinding speed, but the experience was nonetheless great. The use of traps, magics, and weaponry offered a great variety of options, although some of the magics in particular felt somewhat overpowered – namely “Blink,” a teleport spell, which saw a lot of use. Despite this, when it was activated it often seemed fairly balanced, and it even made Arkane’s demo player pay harshly for his mistakes.
At this point, I couldn’t have been more ready to get my hands on Dishonored - a game that was already, even before E3, being labeled “Game of the Year” material by countless media outlets – and when I did so, everything that I saw in the demo gameplay was available. The magic still hit with power and fury, weapons hit with satisfying impact, and the stealth gameplay was more than admirable.
Bethesda and Arkane were even nice enough to provide us with an entirely different gameplay segment than the one shown to us. I feel like this worked against the hands-on experience, though, because then I had no idea what I was doing. The game is exceedingly difficult, make no mistake about that. On the “Average” level of difficulty it only takes four or five hits from an enemy to kill you. Meanwhile, my application of stealth mechanics was lacklustre to say the least, and the title is very much a stealth-centric game – but we’ll chalk that down to being forced to use the default Xbox 360 controller they had set up, rather than the keyboard and mouse I’m used to.
One thing I quickly discovered is that the game will make you pay for it if you attempt to abuse magic. Your mana reserve is generally only useful for three or four offensive spells before being exhausted, which leaves you fending off enemies with naught but a knife, pistol, or other small-arms.
So, how does Dishonored stack up? There’s no denying that it does exactly what it sets out to achieve, and it does it well. Although it’s still in development, when held up against other, more linear titles, the game is already shaping up to be a masterpiece of player-driven gameplay. As such, through no fault of the game itself, I felt shamed by my own ineptitude. This will be a game that rewards talented gamers, and those who can trudge through the apparently steep learning curve.