Dank water laps at the filthy concrete shores of the city's harbour district. Giant rusty pipes frame cracked paving and filthy brickwork buildings, patched with grimy, half-torn posters. Move a little uptown and you encounter starkly contrasting opulence in the form of extravagant bathhouses, lined with gold and reeking of corruption. Welcome to Bethesda's London-inspired steampunk vision of a Neo-Victorian city, populated with shady political types and plague beleaguered slum-dwellers alike.
It's home to Corvo Atano, a supernaturally gifted assassin hungry for vengeance after being wrongly convicted of killing the city's Empress. And this is Dunwall, the fantastically realised central location of hugely exciting new first-person action title Dishonored.
It's not just the immaculately detailed city that demands your rapt attention. Two videogame innovators, Deus Ex's Harvey Smith and Half-Life 2's Viktor Antonov, have helped shape the game. 'Quality over quantity' is the phrase they mention most. What they refer to is the sharp focus of narrative conveyed through dense self-contained stages, rather than procedurally generated open-worlds. Though from what we've seen there's an awful lot for Corvo to busy himself with.
As Corvo languishes in his cell he's approached by The Outsider, a being described by Smith as a mix of both God and the Devil. In the world of Dishonored there's no such thing as Heaven and Hell, only a mysterious place called The Void. It's from this otherworldly arena that The Outsider hails, and presumably from whence he filters Corvo's endowed powers. These powers enable our rugged hero's escape and set him on the path to vengeance.
Much like Deus Ex the emphasis here is on player choice. Will you slink your way through a building and make the death of your mark look like an unfortunate steam room accident? Or will you steamroller your way through the front door, using your most brutish powers to overwhelm the alerted guards? We get to see two such approaches in a stage set in the Golden Cat Bathhouse, a jade-tinged building of ill repute ornamented with flamboyant brass plating. Corvo's targets, the politically crooked twins Morgan and Curtis Pendleton, lewdly liaise with ladies of the night within.
"There are around eight or nine ways into the bathhouse," explains co-creative director Smith as Corvo scans his surroundings in our first demonstration. One effective infiltration method involves bodily possessing animals. Corvo takes the form of a fish in a nearby canal, using its body to swim through an underwater grate and into the bathhouse proper. We're told that as this skill levels up Corvo is given the ability to possess human forms too. So far, so awesome.
Thinking With Powers
Once inside Corvo utilises a number of your standard stealth skills, leaning around corners, pickpocketing guards, peeping through keyholes, eavesdropping on conversations and hiding in the shadows. But throw in Corvo's fantastical set of powers and stealth becomes an entirely new proposition. A guard leans against a partition chatting saucily with a scantily clad lady friend. Corvo's Blink ability lets him teleport a short distance, behind the partition. From there he can climb up into the shadowy recesses of the ceiling rafters, unseen.