Preview: Dishonored is a Series of Unexpected Events «
“You can stop a bullet in mid-air using Bend Time, possess the guy who shot at you, and then walk him around in front of it,” explains Dishonored Co-creative Director Harvey Smith. “When time resumes it kills the guy and he’ll have this shocked expression on his face.”
Considering Smith’s resume includes System Shock and Deus Ex, I’m not surprised with Dishonored’s approach to emergent gameplay design and reactionary AI. With both Smith and fellow Co-creative Director Rafael Colantoino, known for his work on Arx Fatalis, expectations are pretty darn high for Dishonored to be something special when it comes out later this year.
But through all of the sword fighting and sneaking around Smith showed off, one constant seemed to stick out to me above all of the brass and dark metals that cover this magical steampunk world: gameplay in Dishonored is surrounded by a series of unexpected events that enhance the living and breathing universe, and it’s these aspects that help make it such a tantalizing prospect.
“One of the things about Dishonored is the design of the powers; it’s very general purpose. And so far people have figured things out all the time that we didn’t plan,” says Smith during a gameplay demonstration that introduced protagonist Corvo Atano. “Jumping off a five-story building normally would have killed him. But on his way down he possessed a woman leaning on a rail. So it kills the inertia of the fall, and now he can walk past the guards disguised as the woman. We never planned that; that’s just what players started doing.”
Moments ago I witnessed Atano runing across rooftops, then sneaking through shadowy alleyways to avoid members of the local militia, and infiltrating The Golden Cat brothel by possessing a fish (yes, a fish) in order to sneak through the sewers that ran underneath the building’s foundation. It’s this possession power that makes Dishonored intriguing — every living being is possessable for at least a short period of time, be it small creature or human. The more complicated the creatures (a human, for example) will have a shorter duration of possession compared to a small animal, such as a rat.
But it’s also interesting to see how some of the NPCs will react to the type of character you have possessed. For example, if you’ve taken control of a guard, those around you will look at you strangely and ask if you’re okay. Whereas if you happen to take control of a rat and try and sneak under tables or by guards, you run the risk that you’ll be stepped on and killed — a hazard that Smith claims was completely unplanned. And death is the caveat of possessing these bodies — if your host dies, you’ll die along with them.
Time After Time
Another notable power is the aforementioned Bend Time, which allows you to freeze the world around you for roughly 10 seconds. You can use this to your advantage by sneaking by guards or combining it with lethal attacks — for example, freezing time and shooting a series of arrows at the craniums of your targets, then watching them all strike their targets at once. But what can make this even more interesting is how the world responds to your character as you move through these frozen moments in time.
“A bottle you threw, or fish you see swimming in the water, all of that — you’re the one moving and anything you touch will move into your time,” explains Smith. “Say you’re climbing on a wall and there’s a bottle there. If I touch the bottle, it moves into my time, and as soon as it gets a foot away from me, it stops again. So a lot of fun things happen along with that.”
Using any of these magical abilities requires a certain amount of time to recharge. So while there are numerous ways to approach every mission in Dishonored, you need to be smart about what you spend your spiritual energy on.
And while Dishonored appears to give us a ton of different ways to go about playing around in this universe, it’s also keeping tabs on how we’ve been playing — have you been trying to sneak through levels without killing anyone, or have you cruelly left a trail of innocent victims behind you?
“There’s a system in the background that tracks the number of people you’ve killed and side quests you’ve completed with a harsh outcome, versus how surgical you’ve been and how few people you’ve killed,” says Smith when explaining the background metrics of Dishonored. “And there’s consequences to that, to the way characters react to you, like if you’ve been playing violently, there will be more guards on patrol in the next mission. There are branches later here and there — it also drives the endgames that you get.”
It all still sounds incredibly ambitious, but if Smith and Colantoino can truly accomplish all they’re setting out to do, then we should be in for one hell of a treat later this year.
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