After playing through a new demo level of Dishonored titled Lady Boyle's Last Party, I had an opportunity to interview Arkane Studios' Harvey Smith about the game. Amongst other things, he mentioned that--because the game affords players so much freedom--players are still able to surprise him with some of the ways that they approach situations. He also noted that watching other people play the game sometimes makes him question whether or not they're enjoying it, not because they have glum faces, but because for an observer the moment-to-moment gameplay is rarely as compelling as it is for the player. This definitely rang true for me because I can only imagine how dull I might've managed to make Dishonored look during my own playthrough of the new demo, even though I was having a great time with it.
Despite having access to all of the paranormal abilities that you have to choose between for protagonist Corvo, the only ones I actually used on this occasion were his short-range teleport and the "dark vision" that makes it possible to look through walls and see the vision cones of characters you might want to avoid. This wasn't a goal that I set for myself or anything like that, but after my first few attempts at the level failed miserably, I happened upon what must surely be the least spectator-friendly route through the level possible.
The first goal of the level was to infiltrate a masquerade ball. Early attempts saw me failing in just about every way imaginable. I was devoured by rats; gunned down by a patrolling tall boy; and even killed by a fish. I was trying to be far more creative with Corvo's impressive repertoire of abilities than I needed to be, as it turned out. When I eventually made it into the estate, I did so simply by sneaking past the patrolling tall boy and guards, and then teleporting up and over a gate at the entrance. (I found an even easier way in that I could've used later.) At this point I was convinced that the party attendees loitering outside or the guard at the door would raise the alarm, but since Corvo wears a mask at all times, this was perhaps the one place in the city where he could hide in plain sight. The guard asked for my ticket, I found a discarded one close by, and shortly thereafter I was mingling with my high society target and her guests--some of whom commented on my risque mask.
I don't plan to spoil this level for you by giving a blow-by-blow account of my entire playthrough, but aside from an optional side quest in which I won a pistol duel, I can honestly say that I never even thought about drawing my weapons. In fact, the closest I came to any sort of confrontation was when a guard cautioned me after I accidentally smashed a drinking glass. The rest of my time at the party was spent conversing with guests to get clues, fetching someone a drink, and--mostly just because I could--picking the pockets of guests like my life depended on it. Rather than assassinate my target I chose to deliver her, unconscious, to a guy who was very much in love with her and who promised she would never be seen again. I don't know that she felt the same way about him, and on reflection I can't help but wonder how we was planning to keep her out of sight for the rest of her life; this outcome was surely better for her than dying at my hands though. Right?
Playing Dishonored, I wasn't just walking around at a party; I was searching for clues. I was wondering how to circumvent the security system so that I could see what was upstairs and seeking out hidden items called bone charms that I could equip to augment certain abilities. The whole time I was keenly aware that any wrong move on my part could send the sword and gun-wielding guards into a frenzy. (Simply zooming in on a character and his bodyguards to see if I could overhear their conversation using the mask's audio capabilities was enough to start a firefight on one occasion.) In short, I was on edge the entire time and, as such, was enjoying every minute of it.
After playing through Lady Boyle's Last Party I'm even more excited for Dishonored than I was after E3. I'm also curious to see if and how the team at Arkane manages to keep the game from getting dull for those of us who are excited at the idea of completing the game without ever killing anyone.