Dishonored’s QuakeCon preview was led by co-creative directors Raphael Colantonio – lead designer on Arx Fatalis – and Harvey Smith, lead designer on Deus Ex.
The pair were accompanied by Victor Antonov, art director on Half-Life 2, who reprises this crucial role for Dishonored. The heavyweight trio represent Arkane Studios; yet another collection of talent absorbed into the ever-increasing waistline of Bethesda's parent company ZeniMax Media.
Dishonored puts the player in the shoes of Corvo, a warrior charged with guarding the Empress of an industrial world occupying four islands in a vast ocean. In a coup, the Empress is murdered and Corvo is framed for her death. Imprisoned, and a victim of political machinations, Corvo plots his escape and eventual revenge.
In a rather inauspicious start to the demonstration, the screened content begins at the end of a sewer system. Despite the decidedly minimalistic heads-up display – the revision of which, we're assured, is still a work in progress – there's much to initially take in from Corvo’s first-person perspective. The sewer itself is dark and brooding, but upon exiting, the city of Dunwall explodes into view.
Dunwall’s principle industry quickly reveals itself with the timely appearance of a ship on the coastline, heaving under the weight of an enormous whale. In this “retro-future industrial” dystopia, whale oil is beginning to fuel a large-scale industrial revolution that affects the gameplay as well as the setting. Creeping along the wharf, Harvey Smith elaborates further, explaining the premise of what promises to be an unusually twisted setting.
Dishonored is a first-person action stealth game. Corvo is an immensely powerful character with an array of complex abilities at his disposal. Movement is handled by way of a parkour-inspired system that channels the more positive aspects of Mirror’s Edge; whilst Dishonored does borrow from EA's runner, it leaves behind the motion sickness-inducing effects occasionally cited as detrimental to its style of movement.
When Corvo isn't platforming, he's moving silently towards his next victim. Harvey explains that enemies caught unaware can potentially be dispatched quietly, effectively, and in one press of a button. These words proved fortuitous, as shortly thereafter Corvo plunges his knife through a guard’s collarbone and straight into his heart. The untimely demise of this enemy leaves Corvo with another problem; an electrified gate must be deactivated or otherwise circumvented, and it's here that Dishonored begins to reveal the multitude of tactical options available to players.
The gate itself presents a formidable obstacle. Harvey explains that had Corvo possessed the requisite skill, he could have deactivated the gate or even turned it against its masters. Since Corvo is lacking in lock-picking abilities, it's necessary to climb over some nearby boxes and vault over the gate instead.
Now in Dunwall proper, the dire condition of the city begins to reveal itself. Environments are drawn heavily from a grey-blue palette, and the architectural styling features a decidedly Victorian theme.
By moving through wide cobblestone streets hemmed in by imposing buildings, it's evident that the city and its story are one, each intertwined to form the overarching structure of the game. Though the path looked fairly straightforward, Harvey assuredly states that movement is non-linear, and Corvo's route is one of many ways to the destination.
Rats scatter as Corvo turns a corner and stumbles upon three guards assaulting a woman on the street. Here, even in a strictly combative sense, the breadth of Corvo’s abilities leaves many options available. Opting for a less-than-subtle approach, Corvo leaps into combat, immediately killing one with his knife.
Next, by using the Bend Time ability and a well-aimed handgun, two bullets are suspended in the air at once. The cessation of this ability allows both to find their targets instantly, causing the understandably distressed woman to scream and duck around a nearby corner.
Before Corvo can act, another scream pierces the air, and by locating the source he is confronted with the sight of the hapless woman covered from head to toe in rats, the sheer number and weight of which have her pinned to the ground. In a gruesome spectacle, the woman is devoured in seconds, prompting Harvey to drolly state, “We are against the procedural, we want to deliver powerful emotions in compact experiences.”
Truly a striking scene, then, as the bright red blood explodes around the drab, repressive streets. A palpable sense of shock prevails.