Dishonored 2's clockwork soldiers are terrifying. You run into them in the clockwork mansion, the work of a deranged inventor, looking to rescue an old friend. All names have been removed to protect the innocent from spoilers.
You can't really talk about a hands-on demo for Arkane Studios' sequel without mentioning these giant behemoths. I learnt that you can take them out by attacking them from behind, but trying to take them head-on leads to disaster. They can kill you in a single hit, and their long legs mean they can easily catch up with you. I found out that if you shoot them in the head, it destroys their ability to see you, setting up easier sneak attacks.
This is a lot of work for something I'm told only appears in a single level. If this amount of detail is found in each part of Dishonored 2, that will probably be its greatest legacy.
I marvelled at the little details. The way players can clamber their way up the shifting walls of this clockwork mansion to gain access to the ceiling, or toss themselves into small spaces as furniture moves around, to get into the walls or the floor. These are the areas that would be inaccessible in 99% of games, but here have a purpose and use.
Kidnapped as a child in the first game, Emily Kaldwin is now a playable character. She has a fearsome set of powers to rival returning protagonist Corvo. I'm told her powers are geared more towards stealthy play, but the Domino power that links characters' fates together can be a powerful tool to kill an entire room. In the demo I linked two people together, able to take out both with a shot to the chest or a sleeping dart to the head of just one of them. Likewise, Far Reach can be used to grab far away enemies and drag them to you, or you could use it to grab spare ammo or an item from across the room.
I played Dishonored 2 for only 30 minutes. Within a day of the game's release this November, we're going to see all of these powers used in ways never considered before on YouTube. I can't wait, because I feel like Kaldwin has an incredible toolkit both for skulking in shadows and for waging war.
The reason Dishonored 2 is so exciting is partly down to the elegance and attention to detail that is clear within every room of the demo. This is shaping up to be an incredible game, and Arkane is clearly eager to show it off.
Following my hands-on time I sat down with level design director Christophe Carrier ("Carrier like an aircraft carrier", he says with a grin), to ask him about his work with Arkane (he's a co-founder), 2013's Dishonored and Dishonored 2.
IBT: With two playable characters with two sets of powers, what impact did that have on the game design?
Carrier: We had to take into account the different possibilities that the powers give to the player, but they are more or less achieving the same thing. Emily is maybe a little bit more about stealth. The guidelines that we have for levels are it has to be fun in combat, and it has to fun in stealth – and it is. We have many, many more difficulties to face than having two characters. What's tougher to design for is no-power play, the new option that you can play without any powers in the game. So, yeah, that's it.
What challenges did that present?
It's fun to design it because we love games with stealth like Thief, right? All the games with stealth don't have that many powers so we love these games, and I think to work on levels with no powers at all brings us back to this time where you have to crouch, to sneak, be silent, choose the right moment. It's like going back to the roots of the stealth games, and we love it. Of course, design-wise it's more difficult because you have to find ways that are not too obvious for the people who have powers because otherwise they would say, "Well, what's the point?"
How did you make sure Karnaca (the new setting in Dishonored 2) felt different to Dunwall from the original game?
You have more verticality. The buildings are higher. We also have more levels that are themed. By themed I'm talking about like, a level we have with a time travel mechanic: a level where you can remove the power from the player and you only have something to travel back and forth in time whenever you want. That's a totally different mechanic, and it's refreshing because suddenly you have a new power, but that's the only one you got, and you have to figure out by using it how to go through the level.
This kind of thing we didn't do much in Dishonored. It's not linked to the new city, but it's a novelty that we didn't have in design. We had this level where you have some kind of a social stealth (Lady Boyle's Last Party), but here I think we have more themed levels.
Where do you take inspiration from for these themed levels?
For the first one where we travel back in time, I worked on Bioshock 2. In Bioshock 2 there were ... I don't remember if they kept it but, you had this ability. It was scripted. Suddenly you could hop into the past. I thought to myself, "Wow that would be really cool if you could do this" because technically it was like two levels on top of each. Technically it wouldn't be that difficult to do. But I was wrong. [He laughs] It's difficult to do.
At this moment I thought it would be really cool if the player has this ability to trigger this whenever they wanted, and I thought about it as an entire game, by the way. But we decided against it and I forgot about it. Then Dishonored 2 came around and I thought "Why not have this crazy thing to be able to travel back and forth in time?" Everybody was like, "Yeah," because it's a challenge. It's making two levels in one, basically. It's a challenge for everyone, for the artists and for the level designers.
What was your favourite element of the original Dishonored that you've tried to bring into 2?
The fact that no player will have the same experience. That's one of the things that we really tried to achieve. No player will have the same experience. If you play Dishonored with a friend and you talk about it the next day you probably won't have done the same thing.
Dishonored 2 will be released on 11 November for PS4, Xbox One and PC.