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Dieselpunk Dovakiin – Hands on With Dishonored

When Fallout 3 arrived, many of Bethesda’s fans called it “Oblivion with guns”. Even though one was set in a fantasy world while the other was post-apocalyptic, the two games ran on the same engine, had similar mechanics and each let players craft a custom character to explore a vast free-roam world. With Bethesda’s latest game, Dishonored due out just a year after the release of Skyrim, gamers might suspect that it’s just “Skyrim with guns” too.  Based on our hands-on play with it at PAX Prime last week, Dishonored occasionally comes across as something of a dieselpunk dovakiin, but it mostly feels like a mash-up of Bioshock, Half-Life and Deux Ex.

Dishonored follows the Bethesda formula of giving players a wide variety of abilities then leaving them to complete missions anyway they see fit, and that style of play was clear in the PAX Prime demo.  However the development team Arkane Studios is a veteran of shooters like Bioshock 2 and Half-Life 2.  That, combined with the use of the Unreal 3 engine (Rather than Skyrim’s Creation Engine), makes it play like a faster, more liner action game that just happens to give the Player the option of slowing down to weigh their many options.

In the PAX demo, players were sent on a mission to infiltrate an aristocratic party then assassinate one of the guests.  The party could be crashed by sneaking past enemies, outright killing them, or trying to use conversation to talk your way through tricky situations.

In my playthrough, I couldn’t resist the chance to take on one of the game’s stilt-walking “Tall Boy” enemies.  The high-powered character that Bethesda had set up for the demo managed to bring down one of these elite cybernetic guards after a heated battle that involved a few well-placed exploding crossbow bolts, but I also had the option of just sneaking by the Tall Boy using a handy gutter.

Or I could have probably have avoided the whole fight by just not shooting the giant cyborg guy in the face with an exploding arrow…

Once admitted to the party, side quests and branching paths began to pop up.  The playable character in Dishonored is an assassin, so there was always someone nearby who was a target of opportunity.  I challenged one such fellow to a duel of honor, but quickly realized that in Dishonored, assassins don’t have to play by the rules – as long as there are no witnesses!  I proceeded to shoot my opponent in the face before he was ready to fire.

The guns in this game take a long time to reload, but they pack a serious punch, and a well-aimed shot can kill two enemies if their heads are lined up just right.  That firepower combined with the various magic powers at my disposal allowed me to end this side quest in an acceptable, albeit messy, manner with no witnesses to alert the nearby guards.

Aside from guns, knives, and crossbows, there are numerous supernatural abilities.  The standard “Bullet Time” mode is there, but in Dishonored it’s even more deadly due to the quick deaths that come from a well-placed dagger after crossing to melee range while enemies are in slow-motion.

Although brutal slaughter is fun, stealth is supported too.  Some handy abilities available at PAX included a form of x-ray vision to see guards on patrol, and a short-range teleport to simply “Blink” past particularly alert enemies.

Players who don’t want to rely on either brute force, or fancy sneaking could also accomplish most of the mission by simply talking to NPCs and unraveling clues.  Conversations have multiple paths, and there are a few special powers that can help the Player analyze the environment or people for extra hints.

The game doesn’t use a traditional morality system, but there is a “Chaos” system that will result in consequences for violent behavior.  In my playthrough of the demo, this system actually worked in my favor by driving my target right to me after I’d killed too many people, thereby sending the party into a state of lockdown.  While avoiding the guards, I managed to sneak in the very bedroom where my potential targets soon ran for cover, allowing me an easy kill.

Dishonored arrives for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on October 9th.  However, players who just can’t wait to enter this world can download the free tie-in game Rat Assassin for mobile devices right now.  Although Rat Assassin in only tenuously related to Dishonored, it is a bloodier take on the Fruit Ninja style of gameplay where players can brutally murder plague-carying rodents.

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