Since the dawn of the RPG, I have always been fascinated by the concept of “stealth”. The characters you chose that were the thieves or assassins—these are the characters that since my early upbringing have been a fascination to almost anyone in my generation. I mean, it makes sense. A straight-up warrior isn’t as exciting as an assassin. A warrior, gladiator, knight, solider—these people can kill. They will, more often than not, kill you when they are right in front of your face. However, an assassin will do it when no one is looking. Something that exists outside the senses is something to truly be feared.
However, the execution wasn’t always that easy. In the video games I played, there were always issues with how stealth was incorporated or executed. Most of the time, it had a good deal to do with camera perspective. In a third-person perspective, you were given a scenario something like this: you knew the limitations of your own body and your environment, but you never knew exactly what your enemies were aware of. A good example of this is something that would take place in the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series: you could be very well hidden from enemies, but for some reason they would detect you regardless of your location. Or rather, you would abuse your enemy’s “intelligence” and try to get away with hiding in places where you clearly shouldn’t. Games using this system typically resulted in a sweaty nervousness that made for a good stealth game, but never made you exactly certain of your skills as an assassin. Multiple retries were practically mandatory.
The other option was a first-person experience. This was a somewhat better system, as you viewed your character’s world through their eyes, and as such awareness of your environment and your enemies was determined by how much attention you yourself paid attention. However, controlling your character in first person often felt like you had no body—there were no limitations as to where you could or should move. Games like the original Deus Ex or Fallout were notorious for this—the stealth customization would become a useless character trait, as you had no idea where you existed in your enemy’s field of vision half of the time. Multiple retries not as mandatory, but still a common occurrence.
Gamescom has provided D&D Assassin players like me something to be excited for after all of this time. The new footage of Bethesda’s Dishonored takes the awareness of a first-person perspective and blends it with the limitations of a third-person game. How do they do this, you ask?
They incorporate a HUD. (see: thegamershub)
Before you all get uppity about this, let me explain. I know very well that the HUD has been used in stealth games of the past. However, this HUD is very limited in its presentation. It only appears when you crouch: it explains whether you are still hidden or detectable at the present moment. Yes, yes, I know this is similar to the Elder Scrolls. However, if you thought that the Elder Scrolls had an impressive stealth engine, you might need to go get your eyes tested yourself.
If there’s been a game that has previously had this feature, feel free to correct me. I consider myself no slouch when it comes to the stealth game experience, though. Dishonored, however, is the first game I know to be dedicated entirely to its stealth mechanic, while using an open world narrative. With Skyrim behind them, I think Arkane is going to have to deliver something close to perfection.
With any luck, it will end up having the flair and confidence of a game like Mirror’s Edge, and the deadliness and versatility of Skyrim. If not, we’ll be forever stuck imagining what it could be like to live out the life of an assassin. On the other hand, Rock Steady has their own ideas about this…