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'Dishonored' preview: Assassinate targets in Bethesda's steampunk game

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'Dishonored' screenshot

© Bethesda Softworks


Dishonored, the latest Bethesda-published title, is shaping up to be something potentially special. An immersive first-person stealth action game, players assume control of a framed assassin looking to clear his name and set things right against a corrupt government. The amount of freedom and possible playstyles in the game is alarming, and it's likely that no two people will play it the same way.

Developed by Arkane Studios, Dishonored follows a wrongfully jailed former bodyguard accused of murdering the empress. With a tyrant now running the region, the prisoner escapes and becomes an assassin, intending to restore the rightful heir to the throne.

Much of the game's events take place in the capital city of Dunwell and it has a really neat look between its steampunk setting and its distinct visual style. The developer added that the location was inspired by London and various American cities. But one thing to bear in mind is that this is not an open-world game. It's a relatively linear series of hand-crafted missions, though the missions themselves are rather open allowing for plenty of potential replay value.

'Dishonored' screenshot

© Bethesda Softworks

'Dishonored' screenshot

© Bethesda Softworks



Multiple pathways and powers

One mission tasks the player with eliminating Morgan and Curtis Pendleton, two corrupt members of the government. The twins holed up inside a local posh bathhouse, it became immediately noticeable how much freedom there was in approaching the objective. For instance, the player has several ways to enter the building. Viable options include climbing onto the rooftop, bursting through a window, entering through the front door and even possessing a fish.

The protagonist has a multitude of powers at his disposal, which can be upgraded or obtained through runes, one of the game's currencies. Though with 'Possess' level 1 you can take control of animals such as rats and fish, you possess humans with level 2 - even your targets. So instead of getting embroiled in a rough fight with the target, you could potentially possess them, walk them over to the edge of the balcony - to the amusingly confused looks of everyone else in the room - and throw them off making it look like a suicide.

Stealth characters would most likely benefit from the 'Blink', a short-range teleporting power, and 'Dark Vision', which enables you to see through walls and glimpse at everyone's vision of sight. Meanwhile, combat-focused builds may choose to freeze time to give them the upper hand during violent confrontations.

'Dishonored' screenshot

© Bethesda Softworks



To kill or not to kill

Bonus objectives and side missions add to the numerous ways you can achieve your goals. You can even go through the entire game without killing a single person if you want, thanks to non-lethal takedowns and sleep darts. There are also ways to get around primary objectives without any spilling blood. Instead of taking out the Pendleton twins, you could complete a sidequest after which a gang leader can ensure the duo are forced to endlessly work in a mine.

Of course, there's nothing to stop players from slaughtering everything in their way, and there are also plenty of options in that department too - from swords, shotguns and grenades to incendiary arrows and the power to summon a legion of rats. It can get very violent and bloody, too. It's not uncommon to see enemies' heads sliced off their bodies, while a spring razor trap shreds anyone who steps on it into tiny pieces. It was all visually satisfying.

Killing too many innocents, though, can have interesting consequences, from minor things like more rats scurrying around to slightly more significant events. Part of the story involves an infectious plague spreading particularly in the poorer areas of the region. An adverse consequence to a player's murderous ways could see a family, wanting to leave and find a new home elsewhere, contracting the plague. Allies will also have darker lines of dialogue, and endings may be altered depending on the player's moral compass.

'Dishonored' screenshot

© Bethesda Softworks

'Dishonored' screenshot

© Bethesda Softworks



An immersive experience

Even though Dishonored's flexibility and allowing for a plethora of different playstyles is a massive appeal, there are additional numerous smaller things that really help to make the time more engrossing. There is an abundance of conversations between characters that you can eavesdrop on, many of which provides insight into the game's world and even provide clues for your current objective. And if you're possessing a rat, anyone you annoy may attempt to stomp on you.

From what we've seen, everything is culminating into a very slick and polished title, and there is nothing quite like it out now at present. If the rest of the game is as promising as the level Arkane Studios showed, Dishonored could be very much worth getting excited over when it hits store shelves later this year.

Dishonored will be released for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC sometime in 2012.

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