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PAX Prime 2012: Dishonored
by Andrew Testerman


It’s the mainstay in most games published by Bethesda, and is one of the biggest, most defining elements of Dishonored. A product of French developer Arcane Studios, Dishonored gives players a deep suite of powers to wreak as much or as little havoc as they like in their quest to restore honour to their name.

The hour-long demo I played at Bethesda’s booth assigned me with infiltrating a party and assassinating one Lady Boyle, a member of the upper crust and financier for my enemies. The representative from Arkane Studios told me that it’s possible to finish the entire game without killing a single person, save for a handful of crucial encounters, and that all of my assassination targets can be dealt with non-lethally. I decided to take him at his word, having heard similar claims about the original Deus Ex, and chose a pacifist approach for the length of the demo.

I began my mission outside the Boyle estate, noting the regular patrols of guards and tripedal robots reminiscent of Half-Life 2’s Striders—no coincidence as both games share Viktor Antonov, art director on Half-Life 2 and design director on Dishonored. Rather than cutting a wide swath through the Boyle manor’s security detail, I possessed the body of a fish in the surrounding moat and swam through a gap in its drainage system, gaining entry via the mansion’s sewer access.

Dishonored allows for multiple approaches to its gameplay challenges.

Once inside, I discovered that the party was a masquerade ball, and that Lady Boyle’s two sisters were also in attendance and wearing similar costumes to my target. Needing more information about which Lady Boyle was my actual target, I chatted up the party attendees, hoping to learn all I could about my hostess and what she might be wearing.

In talking with Lady Boyle's party guests, I started to learn about Dishonored's setting, a sort of alternate universe Europe where the industrial revolution was sparked not by coal, but whale oil. The Arkane rep explained that the non-lethal approach requires players to scour their environment for information related to their target, often revealing more of Dishonored’s extensive world-building. For lore-nuts like me who love learning about a game's world in a natural way, playing Dishonored non-lethally might be the most rewarding way to go.

I eventually came across a gentleman who claimed he knew of my mission to end Lady Boyle's life and pleaded with me to let her live, saying he loved her and would whisk her away to a faraway island and she would be safe and sound. His earnest speech sounded creepy, given that Lady Boyle likely didn’t know of his existence, but it was a bloodless way to dispose of my future victim and I took the unrequited Casanova up on his offer, agreeing to bring Lady Boyle to the basement where he would meet me.

The art in Dishonored is grotesque, exaggerated, and compelling.

From there, I fetched a flirty party-goer a drink and she described the true Lady Boyle’s costume to me. I talked with the Lady and tried to get her to follow me, but she didn’t trust me and shoved me off. Not giving up, I waited until she was near the entrance and tapped into a few of my powers. First, I possessed her the way I had done with the fish earlier, then I froze time for a short period to move even closer, and finally I used an ability called Blink to teleport past security before I ran out of possession time. When I finally had her out of sight, I knocked her out and brought her down to where the would-be lover was supposed to meet me. Unfortunately, by that point I had run out of time, leaving me unable to see what the rest of the demo held.

The grand level of choice offered by games like Skyrim or Fallout 3 often leaves me paralyzed with indecision; when I’m given the ability to do everything, I often shut down and don’t want to do anything. Dishonored is different; it gives me one specific thing to do—get rid of this particular person—and a hundred different ways to do it. Dishonored’s focus on macro-level decisions rather than big ones results in a game that feels manageable while still offering variability of play style that all but guarantees repeated attempts and playthroughs. Dishonored sneaks onto European shelves on 11 October and North America on 9 October.

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- Andrew Testerman

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