Dishonored Combines Deus Ex Freedom with BioShock Power

“There are eight different ways into the Golden Cat,” Dishonored Co-Creative Director Raphael Colantonio says as we approach the bathhouse, emphasizing all the different options players have for infiltrating the building and assassinating two people inside. “There’s the front door, there are some windows, there are steam vents.”

As we watch, Dishonored protagonist Corvo Atano creeps past two guards — teleporting between piles of boxes to keep out of sight — and continues around behind one of the bathhouse’s prostitutes as she walks down the street outside the building. She’s talking to herself quietly, and it’s clear she’s not fond of her job or her clientele. When she’s out of the way, Corvo approaches the a stone wall and looks over to find a small pond surrounding the base of the Golden Cat.

In that pond is a small, broken drainage duct, too small for Corvo to fit through. So he possesses a nearby fish, swims through the duct, and enters the building unseen by way of an ichythyological submarine.

A Steampunk Deus Ex

At the Bethesda booth at E3 2012, I got to check out two fairly lengthy bits of Dishonored: first, a hands-off demo narrated by Colantonio and Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith, and later, a little hands-on time with the game itself. Smith is a veteran of Ion Storm and worked on Deus Ex, and what’s most striking about Dishonored is the level of influence it takes from that game. As Colantonio mentioned, the Golden Cat has eight different entrances, and Dishonored is putting heavy emphasis on the ability to use one of several paths to solve an objective.

The developers ran through the mission in the Golden Cat twice during the hands-off demo — once to show the stealthy way of doing things, and once to show the full-on murder approach. Throughout, the Deus Ex vibe has hard to shake off, as the Corvo activated the ability to see through walls to avoid enemies, crept through windows and choked out enemies, and moved bodies to avoid them being found by patrolling enemies. Corvo also carries a pistol, a crossbow that can fire sleeping darts (just like JC Denton), and can deploy things like mines and throw grenades; all of them have a steam punk feel.

Shades of Deus Ex are definitely prevalent throughout the game, with a lot of notable improvements. If you opt for a stealthy approach, you’ll need to think about things like the noise you generate, but Arkane Studios says that noise moves naturally through buildings and areas, and you’ll be able to muffle it with things like doors. And of course, while you’ll be able to find multiple paths to each objective, if you’re impatient or brazen, you can always take the direct and violent approach.

A Supernatural Arsenal

Corvo has more than enough means to kill all kinds of people, even though you’re capable of avoiding killing just about anybody except for the assassination target in each mission. During my hands-on, I was given full-run of Corvo’s powers, upgraded to their full potential. That meant I could teleport around, see through walls, possess animals and people, send swarms of rats to do my bidding and use gusts of wind to stagger people and reflect some weapons back at them. I also had all of Corvo’s considerable slate of weapons, including crossbows, grenades and mines.

The level’s objective had me tracking the Imperial physician, who I wasn’t set to kill, but rather to incapacitate and kidnap for my conspirator allies. I opted for the stealthy route — it’s my favorite in every game — and engaged Corvo’s parkour skills to start climbing things to get some height. Ahead were a few guards having a conversation on the balcony of the target’s house; as I climbed above them, I waited for them to separate and prepared to make my move.

Corvo’s primary weapon is the “Blink” power. It allows him to teleport something like 15 or 20 feet in any direction, allowing Corvo to avoid being seen as he moves between hiding places. It’s also handy for scaling walls and looping behind enemies in combat, and here I used it to instantly appear behind the guards, where I stabbed each in the throat with Corvo’s assassination knife.

Climbing higher, I found my way inside, avoiding altercations with the “Dark Sight” power that allowed me to see through walls. Moving in the shadows, I could avoid most enemies. I hopped over a staircase, possessed a maid and moved her toward a guard. When I was kicked out of her head, I quickly possessed the guard and led him into a hallway out of sight of everyone else, popped back out of his body, and choked him out as he wobbled and shook his head in confusion.

Assassinating that guy basically cleared the way for me to sneak on to the target, bouncing from cover to cover with Blink and checking keyholes for enemies. When I finally reached the target, he begged for me to spare him and even tried to bargain with me. And while Dishonored allows for a lot of freedom in how you approach problems, it’s notable that I couldn’t even respond here — I could only choke out my target and sling him over my shoulder. I did release his captive test subject prisoner, however, and that’s something I didn’t have to do, apparently.

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