The most striking thing about Dishonored is, initially, its world. Conjured in the mind of Viktor Antonov, the designer of Half-Life 2’s City 17, Dishonored’s whaling city of Dunbar echoes that place’s grim, oppressive atmosphere.
The sky is grey, the oceans glassy and quiet, the architecture at once futuristic and retro. Victorian aesthetics merged with steampunk industrialism. It’s what London would look like today if we’d never harnessed the power of electricity.
You enter this city as Corvo, a speechless protagonist once in the employ of the Empress but imprisoned after being falsely accused of her assassination. Upon your escape, you must use a mix of Corvo’s combat skills and supernatural abilities in order to exact revenge against those who framed him.
The manner in which you do so is the second most striking thing about Dishonored. Games like Deus Ex and BioShock popularised the concept of empowering the player with choice, and Dishonored is taking it to its logical extreme.
Corvo wields a cutlass in one hand, his magical abilities in the other. These can comprise high-jumping, teleportation, the power to pause or bend time, the ability to launch enemies into the air with powerful blasts of concentrated air, the power to possess animals such as the plague-ridden rats that scurry around each level, and much, much more.
The scope for experimentation is huge; place a mine on a rat, possess it, scamper into a group of enemies, then teleport out of there before detonating it, for example.
There are tons of really interesting combinations, even potentially game-breaking ones, but Arkane has employed a very interesting approach to design to address this.
When introducing new mechanics into the game, Arkane wants its designers to attempt to break the game with them. If they do, rather than remove the mechanic altogether, Arkane redesigns the game to work around it.
As such, Dishonored is a game that is open to exploits and creative thinking, not one that limits what the player can do with their imagination.
Stealth is just as important as combat, however, and players will be able to get through the entirety of the game without killing anybody if they so wish. Dishonored is a game all about choice. We’ve already made the most important decision of all, though: to buy this game the moment it’s released later next year.