At this year's QuakeCon, we finally got our first look at Dishonored, the upcoming first-person action game from developer Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis). The hands-off demonstration was hosted by Arkane cofounders Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio. Before loading up the game, the pair explained that in Dishonored, you control a supernatural assassin who has been wrongly accused of killing the empress. Your quest for redemption will take you through a series of missions that you will be able to approach in numerous ways, be it stealth, shooting, or something more exotic.
One of the first things we saw in Dishonored was the massive rotting carcass of a shark being ferried downstream. Right around the corner some guards busied themselves by tossing a pile of corpses into a river. These early scenes of death and decay set the tone for the rest of the demonstration. It was later explained that the city our character was in was suffering a plague that had wiped out half of its population so far. The rest were finding other ways to die, either from the hyperaggressive guards or from the packs of carnivorous rats that roamed the streets. However, despite its miserable living conditions, the city looked impressive. With its cobblestone streets, boarded-up townhouses, and high-tech security checkpoints, it had a unique blend of 16th-century London and Half-Life 2's City 17.
Today's mission was to assassinate a crooked lawyer located in the legal district. Armed with only a knife, our character decided to stay out of sight by climbing over some crates onto an empty street. Mobility and stealth will both play large roles in Dishonored. Your character is more deadly than he is durable, so you'll need to pick your battles wisely or risk drawing attention to yourself and being overwhelmed. One of these choice fights was against three blokes assaulting a young woman. By blocking, parrying, and performing stealth kills, our character gained adrenaline. Once he had enough he could perform a gruesome adrenaline kill--such as severing a man's head from his shoulders. This resource takes time to refill, Colantonio said, so in certain cases you may want to save the kill if you know a particularly hard enemy is nearby.
Watching our character stab his way through three grown men caused the poor woman to panic and take off down a dark alley. However, she didn't get far before a pack of rats descended upon her and devoured her body. Rats are a big deal in Dishonored. In large groups, they will attack you unless you're standing under a light source. But when there's only one or two they can actually help you. When our character arrived at the lawyer's lavish estate, Smith explained that there were many paths we could take to get inside. Hopping across rooftops was one, and kicking in the front door was another, but he decided to use a rat.
This is where we got to see the supernatural half of our supernatural assassin. A large menu of special abilities was called up in the game, and the possession power was selected. Smith explained that this would let our character take over the minds of small animals. After possession was used on a rat, the perspective changed to the rat's point of view as it scurried through a small hole in the manor. Once it found a secluded corner inside, the rat was released and our hero re-formed where it stood. He then made a quick sweep of the house and stole a magical rune and some blueprints--all while avoiding the guards. On the top floor, he found the door to the target's office. Peeking through the keyhole confirmed the lawyer was inside, so our nimble assassin kicked the door down.
Immediately after doing so, he activated another power: bend time. Everyone in the room froze. They were now locked in time and were powerless to stop our hero from walking up and shooting each of them in the face. Time then resumed, the lawyer fell, and the sirens started blaring. Before the other guards in the house could reach the office, our character used yet another power, blink, to teleport himself out the balcony window and onto a nearby rooftop. He then climbed down to the street level and used the blueprints to reprogram one of the security gates. These transparent screens of electricity were designed to let guards through and deep-fry everything else. Our character reprogrammed the gate to let him through instead. Of course, the pursuing guards found this out the hard way.
As our hero made his escape, the developers took a moment to explain how character customization will work in Dishonored. "We don't like games that unlock powers for you at certain points," Smith said. Therefore, the game will feature a power economy where you can exchange runes (like the one stolen earlier) for new powers. Stronger powers require more runes, so you either save up for the big ones or arm yourself with a lot of lesser ones. You can also collect money and trade it in for new items and equipment to use on your missions. Then there are the bone charms. These items will provide small bonuses to your character, such as a slight improvement to movement speed. They are also randomized when you pick one up, so you never know what you're going to get.
Just before he could reach the escape point, our assassin was ambushed by three armed guards. In response, he promptly used another power to summon a swarm of rats from the ground. These rodents promptly devoured the attackers on the spot, and we noticed a little message that said, "Three guards killed, chaos increased." After the demonstration ended, the developers explained that chaos isn't meant to be a simple good or evil scale. Instead, it's being designed to respond to how the player behaves in the game. Everything, from the difficulty of future missions to the way the story unfolds, will be influenced by this rating. Dishonored will be released in 2012 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.