Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a good, but flawed, game. It kept so much of what made the original Deus Ex a classic. Human Revolution was a romp through a dystopian future filled with flying cars, sentry drones and squalor. It was an exploration of body modification and technology taken to their extremes, a place where the player could and should be super-human. Perhaps most importantly, its non-linear approach to mission objectives was and remains a breath of fresh air in the action-shooter genre. Yet for all of that, the game failed to make a last mark on the gamer-consciousness. Enter Dishonored. Featuring the lead designer from the original Deus Ex, this steampunk assassin’s tale may just be the remedy to Human Revolution’s ills. While it brings with it the hallmarks of that storied franchise, it does so with panache and a sense of self that Human Revolution lacked. Is Dishonored Deus Ex done right for the modern generation?
If there is one thing that makes the Deus Ex series stand out in my memory, it’s the freedom of choice every mission gave the player. Going through Human Revolution was exciting not just because the missions were fun in their own right (they were), but because talking about them was just as deep and varied. Every mission gave you choices on how you wanted to tackle your objective. Do you go stealth and non-lethal, quietly creeping through ventilation ducts, or do you go in guns blazing? Those were questions the player was free to answer without feeling gimped or shoe-horned into a particular choice. There was no right path, just your path.
Dishonored seeks to do the same thing. In a recent developer diary, the team at Arkane Studios shared that every path the player sees should be available to them. Footage of the player running over rooftops, teleporting between balconies, and hiding on ceiling fans all lend credence to this idea. With the lead developer from Deus Ex, it only makes sense that such a popular gameplay element would feature prominently.
The cyberpunk future is a neat idea, but in 2011-2012 it is common place to the point of cliche. While Deus Ex did its best with the content available, the game tended to feel a bit generic and played out. Dishonored solves that problem by moving us into a Victorian-era steampunk setting. An intricately tweaked London lookalike filled with masked balls and steam-powered machinery provides a unique backdrop to the mayhem of being an assassin. Dishonored’s steampunk is pseudo-fantasy with a special attentiveness to disparity and injustice between social classes. Dunwall is a world of haves and have-nots where privilege reigns supreme. It is a place where magic features prominently but not everyone wields it.
Underlying everything in both Deus Ex and Dishonored is the theme of freedom. Abilities are no different and give players unprecedented control over how battles unfold. The above example is only one of many. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you were given a limited number of Praxis Points you could use to unlock new skill tiers. These tiers unlocked your ability to interact with the game and really shaped the larger experience: your Deus Ex may not be my Deus Ex.
Dishonored is taking the same approach. Throughout the game, players will be able to utilize a number of abilities, natural and super-natural, that dictate how the game plays out. Possession, dual wielding, time bending, sneaking, teleportation, eavesdropping, pairing up with a psychic heart that speaks into your mind. These are all things at your disposal. And you can possess whales. True story.
No Boss Fights
While Human Revolution was widely regarded as a great game, it also suffered at the hands of pigeon-holed and hackneyed boss fights. They often abruptly and uncharacteristically removed the player from the style of game they were playing and transported the to the age of the Nintendo 64 with ominous “boss music” and a “shoot it in the head!” mentality that ran counter to the rest of the game. Dishonored is eschewing this design in favor of player freedom throughout.
Without true hands-on time with the game, much is still yet to be seen. From the outset, however, Dishonored has shown us that it wants to be something special, that it wants to earn the place Human Revolution has not. The approach the developers have taked is a good one. Some of the best video game experiences in history have been built on the backs of great games that came before. Player freedom and non-linearity are buzz words for good reason, yet while most games are only dipping their toes and testing the water, very few are diving right in. Dishonored is one of those games, just as Deus Ex was before it. Will it solve the problems of its predecessor? Only time will tell. Either way, I can’t wait to do some roof-running against the backdrop of Victorian industry, steam clouds a’rising… all before dropping down on a robotic sentry guard, summoning a horde of rats to keep the police busy, and then freezing time to move the one who just fired at me in front of his own bullet.
Dishonored releases to PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on Tuesday, October 9th.