There’s been plenty of buzz around Dishonored since it was announced; and rightly so. A Thief-style action game in a steampunk world and the might of Harvey Smith and the design team from Half-Life 2 behind it? What’s not to like? Well, from the three playthroughs of one particular mission we had, it’s clear to see that Dishonored makes you use your brains, and the player benefits from the freedom that this provides.
Arriving by boat into a dock near a prestigious mansion, my companion informs me that the masquerade ball I’m attending is being hosted by one of the Lord Regent’s (the oppressive overlord of the city of Dunwall) trusted compatriots and military funder, Lady Boyle. The only problem is that she is one of three sisters, and all three of them insist on being called Lady Boyle. The biggest snag, however, is that the ball has a competition, where attendees have to gamble on which one is which.
Firstly, however, it’s time to crash the party. As Dishonored prides itself on being an enclosed sandbox of sorts, there are several ways you can choose to infiltrate the mansion in which the Boyles flaunt their debauchery. The three times I played it, I went for the ‘easy’ option; sneaking in past the street-patrolling Tallboys and ‘retrieving’ a party invite which a clumsy guest dropped. After bypassing the doorman, and being called a “sick bastard” for wearing the mask of a wanted psychopath, I’m suddenly aware of another thing. Side quests.
You see, although my main quest is to eliminate Lady Boyle, there are also side-quests and collectibles throughout the game in order to encourage two things; variety and exploration off the beaten path. Like Hitman and the Thief series before it, Dishonored is the latest in a long line of games to encourage you to become the assassin you wish to be. For example, the side quest available in the preview level was to assassinate a member of the nobility under the guise of a challenge from another Lord. As such, when you hand over a seemingly forged letter, and take part in a duel, nobody bats an eyelid when you gun the masked Lord down. In fact, one of the guards makes an off-hand comment about needing a new employer.
Back to the job at hand, though. I stroll past some party guests, overhearing them talking about how my mask is simply divine and how they want one, before arriving at a set of stairs. In all three playthroughs, I do the exact same thing; walk down to the pantry to wait for the guard who is blocking the stairs up to the private quarters to leave, before running up the stairs. Once up the stairs, my playthroughs diverged onto different paths of success and failure.
In one of them, I stroll into a bedroom, notice a letter stating that one of the innocent Boyle sisters is wearing the red costume, thus narrowing my search. Things are going smoothly, until I stumble across the four guards stood on the landing. Queue an alarm, and an all-out fight with guns and crossbow. Smooth, Corvo. Very smooth. After shooting down the guards, and using magic to disorientate with hordes of rats, I find the Boyle sisters cowering in a room. After establishing which is my target, I mercilessly put a bolt into her head. Turning to the others and shooting tranquillizer bolts into them, I head for the exit. However, upon leaving the mansion and jumping into the canal, I fall foul of the Tallboys and don’t manage to make it to my ‘extraction’. Curses.
On my second attempt, I make it into the house and upstairs as before, but decide to throw caution (and grenades) down the hallway towards the guards. With them lying in crumpled heaps on the floor, I panic as I realize the Boyles have fled downstairs and the alarms are sounding once more. Not content with sensing my prey slipping from my fingers, I vault a bannister, land on the floor with a crunch. It hurts, a lot, but Corvo’s a tough guy, he’ll survive. Until a bullet goes into the back of his head, removing the remainder of his health. Clumsy.
The third time, I learn from my mistakes, and manage to eliminate the aristocratic warmonger without raising the alarm. Climbing slowly down the stairs back to the pantry, my cover is blown as I’m spotted by the guard at the bottom of the stairs. Without thinking, I shoot a bolt into his head, and sprint through the crowd, past the magic-blocking overseer in the lobby and out into the garden. From there, it’s a straight sprint to the canal, with the closing gate requiring me to swim underneath it while being bombarded by Tallboys. I make it, and the sense of achievement and adrenaline pumping through me has been unmatched by any game before or since. Dishonored is one hell of a ride, even if you’re the clumsiest Corvo in the land, like me. The curse of Bethesda as a publisher seems to be coming to an end come October, and I personally can’t wait. Put your masks on, ladies and gentlemen, it’s killing time.
Dishonored is due to be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC on October 9th, 2012 in North America, October 11th, 2012 in Australia and October 12th, 2012 in Europe.