Bethesda surprised everyone at E3 by launching a stealthy new first-person IP, called Dishonored.
When an announcement was planned earlier this year, Bethesda had Elder Scrolls fans expecting the company to reveal the first set of DLC for Skyrim.
Dishonored must've been kept well under wraps, because it's far enough along in its development cycle that Bethesda was able to show us not one but two complete missions. One of those missions was hands-off, and one hands-on. Both of them seemed extremely cool, and both could be played in markedly different ways.
Developers Arkane Studios were emphatic that Dishonored could be played in different ways. If you want to go for maximum stealth, you can find ways to go through a level undetected, killing only those that the mission requires. Don't feel like the hassle? No problem - you can murder everyone if you want to, although your endgame will change depending on your kill count.
In Dishonored you play a character called Corvo Otano, who worked as a bodyguard for an Empress until she was mysteriously assassinated. Corvo was blamed for the crime, and in Dishonored he seeks redemption and revenge in the steampunk city he calls home. In the hands-off session, Corvo has to infiltrate a brothel in order to assassinate two men.
Corvo can use both magic and weaponry, which creates a dual system similar to that of Skyrim's battle system. The right hand always wielded a dagger in the two levels we saw of the game, while the left hand could carry a second weapon such as a pistol or a crossbow, and also be used to cast spells. In another similarity to Skyrim, bringing up the menu that allowed you to change abilities on the fly would pause the game. However, it's a weapon wheel more similar to Mass Effect's than Elder Scrolls'.
In our hands-on time, all of the abilities were unlocked. The developers stressed that players won't unlock all the skills, but the company wanted to demonstrate exactly how much Corvo can do. For the record, Corvo can do a lot. His spells include Blink, which allows him to teleport from place to place, and Dark Eye, which allows him to see through walls to find enemies and other things that might be useful. He can also slow time, wind blast people off of buildings, and summon a swarm of rats to attack his enemies.
The complexity of the game was difficult to manage in a very brief hands-on session, as there wasn't much time to familiarise ourselves with the use of the controls and the battle system. However, the final game will almost certainly have a tutorial mode to guide the player through and make the learning curve a lot shallower.
Aside from combat, Corvo's abilities can also be used for some other neat tricks. Many of them aid in stealth and allow him to creep up on enemies, but the ways in which you can be stealthy are pretty awesome. For example, Corvo has the ability to possess animals, and later on in the game, even people. In the hands-off mission, we watched someone guide Corvo into the body of a fish, then swim into a drain in order to infiltrate his objective. Then, later on, Corvo jumped off of a very tall building and possessed a person below before he hit the ground, so he didn't die.
There are also some non-stealth uses for his abilities, like his Dark Eye. Not only can Corvo see people through walls, but he can also see objects that might be relevant to his interests. At one point there was a door I couldn't get through, as it was electrified. I turned on my Dark Eye ability, figured out where the source of the electricity was, and shut it down so I could plod on through.
For those who are interested in Dishonored because of the game's steampunk style, Arkane Studios isn't new to the genre. The company worked on BioShock 2, and Dishonored has managed to capture a similar feel to the BioShock series. Even the brief part we got to see was full of fun gadgets to use and simultaneously seething with righteous anger and slow-burning melancholy.
New intellectual properties haven't been doing great lately, but Dishonored is amongst the handful at E3 2012 that could beat the odds and become a hit, if executed properly. I sincerely hope that Dishonored can keep up the level of quality evident in the demo sections throughout the whole game.