Dishonored Preview – Magic, Stealth, and Overwhelming Freedom

Just over a year back I (and pretty much the rest of the gaming world) was introduced to Arkane Studios’ Dishonored. Back then it looked like a densely packed game with a touch of morbidity and insanity surrounding it, hence giving a hefty resemblance of some sort to 2K’s BioShock.

After more than a year from that first impression stuff, I can that I wasn’t wrong…entirely. Dishonored is more than just a first-person shooter that puts you in an alien world with visuals that in some odd manners resemble those of Rapture – it’s a game that goes far from the maniacal gameplay that was a core part of BioShock, with party-mask wearers attacking you from every comfortable place you could think of.

To say the least, Dishonored goes so far away from that conventional travel from one corridor-styled location to another new corridor-styled location that it becomes a little overwhelmingly open-world. Mind you, this isn’t the ‘sandbox’ open-world, nor the Elder Scrolls type of open-world; instead, this is sort of the original Crysis-like open-world, except much, much harsher.

If you recall the 2007 award-winning science-fiction FPS game, it gave you the option of travelling to a place and carrying out your objectives in multiple possible ways – you could swim through the waters, infiltrate the enemy territory, and ultimately disable jammers without even alerting a chicken, or you could just shoot and sprint your way through everything, leaving a set of lifeless Korean soldiers in your trail.

Dishonored gives you this kind of option, but once again, it does it in a much harsher manner. You aren’t equipped with a stylish Nano-suit, and neither do you have the advanced weaponry to shoot baddies from afar. All you have is your environment, a handful of abilities, a melee weapon, the environment, and the objective. What you do with this set of variables is entirely up to you, and so is your method (or set of methods) of achieving your objective.

The source and nature of these objectives is directly related to the story. You’re a world-class, badass bodyguard for the Empress of a strange steam-punkish city called Durnwall, till things fall apart and you’re framed for her murder. Your job: to kill the bastards that set you up, one by one. Somehow, according to the game, the bodyguard profession also makes you one hell of an assassin.

And that’s exactly what your objectives will be; assassinate key individuals that may have had a hand in making you look like a back-stabbing, double-crossing jerk. It sounds very ‘I’ve-heard-that-before’ type, but it really isn’t, because of the insane amount of freedom the game offers. ‘So does Assassin’s Creed’ you might argue, but no, AC comes nowhere near Dishonored when it comes to heavily demanding gameplay and intimidating freedom.

Perhaps the best analogical example for Dishonored is that one amazingly well-designed boss battle (which many actually claim as one of the most irritating) against The End, in the classy Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Spanning over three (or was it four?) different areas, the battle gave players so much freedom in an otherwise tension-filled and ever-busy game that it was overwhelming for the majority, and they were forced to take aid from the cheat-codes that Kojima’s team had generously incorporated in the battle.

Well, Dishonored is like that, except that there are no cheat codes that would really help you get to your objectives in easier manners. Even if there are during the retail version, I’d have to say that this immense freedom is actually the brilliance of this FPS game, because rarely any game before has carried out the feat.

Now, for the part that resembles BioShock. Yes, Dishonored does look somewhat similar to BioShock, mainly because it’s using the same Unreal Engine 3, which has arguably been the most reliable and efficient graphics engine around for quite a while now. The graphics are safe, good, and quite acceptable, though one does get the feeling in some places that the full potential of this versatile engine has not been availed. Some places do tend to be a bit bland, and it seems Arkane Studios hasn’t quite learnt from Batman: Arkham City on how to utilize the UE3 in the best possible ways (though I wasn’t quite a fan of the initial DX11 lag problem).

But the engine and visuals isn’t the only thing that shows resemblance to BioShock. What really makes this game feel Rapture-inspired is the set of magical abilities you have that resemble oh-so-much to the ADAM and EVE driven ones you had during your underwater journeys. Like BoShock, you can choose to equip these abilities to your off-hand, and use a melee weapon (it seems Durnwall hasn’t fully recognized the use of projectile weapons) in your main hand. But things go a bit further than just creating lightning and fireballs from your fists; the abilities in Dishonored, and their amount, are also overwhelming, and add to the already bulky factor of over-freedom.

You could choose to teleport to some place to assassinate your objective, or maybe unleash some rats to poison and chew up guards that may be blocking your way. You could also consider possessing an intimidating individual that may be blocking your path to your objective, leading him/her somewhere else.

Though the superpowers may seem overpowered initially, their essentiality and situational-based importance becomes evident with the harsh experience of failure, which most people are bound to receive a few times before fulfilling their objective. The amount of choices of the superpowers can also be deluging for many gamers, especially those who have grown accustomed to the corridor-ish scheme of things.

Though Dishonored is a first-person shooter, it really doesn’t play as a conventional one. You’ll see resemblances to BioShock, Crysis, Thief, the The End boss battle in MGS3, and much more, but if you have Eleutherophobia, you might not want to try this game out.

For the rest of the people, I would highly recommend Dishonored. Personally, I can’t wait for it.

See it on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on October 9 (North America) or October 12 (Europe) this year.