I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the pitch meeting for Dishonored. “Well, it’s Deus Ex meets BioShock,” someone undoubtedly said. “Oh hey, and let’s throw in some Half-Life 2 ’cause why not?”
It’s a bizarre, eclectic blend, the type of combination that might seem too ambitious to work. But the resulting game is nothing short of a masterpiece.
The challenge for a developer creating a role-playing game is to build a bond with the player, the kind of bond where the player as protagonist not only believes in the mission of his alter ego, but cares about the characters in the game on an emotional level. The story is the essence of any good RPG, and the developer must allow the player to feel the character's anger, frustration, joy or any of the myriad emotions through that story. A great RPG builds a trust with the player and demands that role-playing be the game.
And for that reason, Arkane Studios' Dishonored is a great RPG. My emotions drove my style of game play as the bodyguard Corvo, falsely accused of killing a beloved Empress and my friend. I started with the mindset that clearing my name was secondary to finding those that killed her and kidnapped her daughter, the future monarch that I had watched grow up in my time as their bodyguard. I began play in a non-lethal fashion, fully unaware that what I was about to experience went well beyond the traditional point-and-click RPGs.
So, reaching a mark may involve overhearing a conversation about their location, blinking (teleporting) from rooftop to rooftop onto a window ledge, using dark vision to observe enemies through the wall and choosing just the right moment to enter. Then, once inside, possessing a rat in the house, scurrying through a vent (possession in Dishonored is a full transference of body) and finally blinking into the target's room. That's just one stealth approach. Should you choose, you can also just walk through the front door and cut down everybody in your way, summoning rats to gnaw on anyone who gets too close.
Dishonored’s nine missions are all very distinct. You’ll attend a society gala in disguise, scale a bridge, escape from prison, wander through flooded slums and stalk across rooftops. You'll take part in a duel, carry an unconscious man through a gauntlet of enemies and decide whether or not to become a torturer. Each mission is designed as a sandbox, allowing players to utilise whatever approach they want, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll take your time, getting the lay of the land, discovering alternate routes, listening in on conversations, taking on optional objectives, looking for secrets and treasure, and generally just playing.
Players who really take the time to enjoy the experience are rewarded too. The more runes, bone charms and money you find, the more you can augment and upgrade your character, and the more bad-ass you’ll become. In fact, by the last couple of missions I was almost too powerful; able to stalk, choke and kill with ease. Good thing there are hard and extra hard difficulty settings to move on to, which ramp up the perceptiveness of enemies and increase the general challenge.