Dishonored: An Assassination Sandbox That Doesn’t Penalize Sociopaths «

 Remember the Halo Reach sniper rifle shot heard (and bounced) around the world? The one that ricocheted in such a crazy way that it actually went through the head of the very fellow who fired it in the first place? Bizarre as that situation may sound, it can serve as one of many crazy ways to assassinate someone in Dishonored. During the tail end of a recent hands-off demonstration, co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raf Colantonio briefly went quiet as a Bethesda staffer playing showed off a particularly slick method of taking out multiple targets: Having the player character, Corvo, slow down time before laying down a spring razor trap and using his Blink ability to teleport a short distance away just in time to see the trap detonate when time resumes flowing at a normal rate. To get back to Reach’s unintentional suicide, Smith explained, “Sometimes, when you activate Bend Time, you can actually see the bullet in the air; you can actually then Possess the guy who shot it and walk him around to the front. When time resumes, the bullet kills him and he has this very shocked expression on his face.”

Smith has previously described Dishonored as an action-stealth title in terms of its overall genre, but he cites titles like Far Cry 2, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief, and Deus Ex as examples of what he, Colantonio, and the rest of the developers at Arkane are going for with their new creation: An open-ended game driven more by systemic interaction than by scripted spectacle. In other words, they want to simply provide a suite of tools, and objective, and then let players go at it. Corvo has a number of tools — including gear such guns, daggers, traps, grenades and weird steampunk treasure detecting devices as well as more supernatural abilities such as Bend Time, Possession, and Windblast — and his task is simply to find his targets and neutralize them. This can be as simple as stabbing someone in the face; as odd as possessing fish and mice to navigate through the sewers below until you find said target before possessing him to make him jump out a window; or as elaborate and non-lethal as arranging to have his identity stolen in order to condemn him to work in the very same salt mine that he owns.

As expected of any game whose sandbox design is meant to accommodate different players, Bethesda walks through the same mission — to assassinate a pair of twins — with both a stealthy approach and a run-and-gun action one. I was particularly struck by the fact that during the second run (the one where the demo players pulls off that Bend Time/trap/Blink sequence described earlier), the player inflicted a heck of a lot of collateral damage. Pretty much any time someone saw him, he killed that person — whether it was a guard or merely a bathhouse attendant going through her workday. Rather than the stealth approach of locking the target inside a sauna and cranking up the steam, he simply tossed the target out the window with a Windblast and ran out. Hence, an all-out fight between Corvo and the guards full of gunshots, spring razor traps, and Devouring Storms (in which Corvo summons a group of rats to overrun a foe). During these different demos, Smith commented on the ways in which the game actively tracks your play style and shapes the world accordingly.

Curious, I asked, “Is there a penalty for all of the collateral damage in the second playthrough? He sure killed a lot of random people….”

Smith replied, “The game systemically responds. The look of the environment changes, NPC comments and conversations reflect what’s been happening, and it affects which ending you get.”

I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to push Smith on this feature specifically, but the ideas expressed in Game Informer’s interview about the chaos (not that it’s called that rather than “morality”) system gives me confidence to say: It doesn’t look like Dishonored penalizes you for crazy “kill everything around you” acts of collateral damage. Which stands out as unusual for someone like me, who plays like a digital sociopath.


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