In Play: 'Dishonored' & 'God of Blades'
Two new games from local developers
Reviewed by James Renovitch and James Renovitch, Fri., Oct. 12, 2012
DishonoredBethesda Softworks (publisher), Arkane Studios (developer)
Playstation3, Xbox 360, PC, $59.99
God of BladesWhite Whale Games (developer)
App Store, $2.99
Two disparate worlds have been forged from two local development teams. One is the whale-oil powered land of Dunwall where class warfare and revenge reign; the other proffers a world of fantasy tropes that take their inspiration from uniquely strange and obscure novels of decades past.
Dishonored is a big-budget experience in every sense. But instead of spending all of the development man-hours creating an ever-expanding map to explore, the team at Arkane opted for a compact land that is so fully realized as to demand detailed exploration and multiple replays. It's far from the first game to give players agency in deciding a character's fate, but instead of option A or B, Dishonored offers a continuum of seemingly countless choices. The lack of barriers making sure the player doesn't get "off track" will be revelatory to open-world game fans. You may blast through the front door with guns blazing, swords flying, grenades exploding, supernatural whirlwinds blowing, and rat armies overwhelming your foes, but know that killing everything in sight has consequences not only in the plot but in future missions. Rat populations and the ensuant plague-infected humans will be out in greater numbers the more corpses pile up. This tack can be messy fun, but it'll make for a quick campaign and doesn't do the dense steampunk world of Dunwall justice. A true assassin knows stealth is key. Dishonored doesn't guide players conveniently to a back door, but instead rewards patient exploration with myriad clandestine options for access and maneuvering within an environment. Possess a fish and swim through an otherwise inaccessible pipe or teleport to an upper balcony and take the enemy from above. The story that unveils as your enemies fall isn't anything special, but you won't need encouragement to revisit the impressive craftsmanship behind the game's grim industrial slums and ornate palaces.
For the smaller screens of your iPad or iPhone is White Whale Games' God of Blades, a love song to psychedelic fantasy fiction. From the font used for the title screen you know that you will be traveling to a distant and exotic land.
It could be the story to a King Crimson rock opera that never was. (The soundtrack itself mimics the organ and Moog intros to so many prog rock tracks.) The visuals could be Frank Frazetta fantasy paperback covers come to life, while plot points – consider "In the phantasmagoric cataract of the Emissary's bowels, you must confront yourself" – feel right at home in the pulp-novel inspired worlds. Through these worlds a hellbent and nameless king uses a sword from his arsenal to obliterate a constantly charging army of wizards, cultists, and giants. The king automatically runs into the horde, leaving the player to dispatch foes as they approach. Watching the body of a slain foe go flying into the next enemy in line is visually rewarding and can help you progress through a level more easily, but it can also throw off your momentum. The trick is to choose the right slash for the right enemy and maximize its effect with precision timing. While not a traditional rhythm game, timing is crucial to the gameplay and getting into a kind of rhythmic zone is required to net a braggable score in Eternal mode. The impeccable landscapes and tweet-worthy chunks of sci-fi lore may be what catches the eye first, but it's in the mastering of cadence – recognizing an enemy, choosing the optimal slash, factoring in the occasional projectile – that the gameplay becomes a transcendent experience.
Not only drawing inspiration from forgotten fantasy books, God of Blades rewards actual trips into the real world with bonus swords given to those who use the game's Loreseeker function and check in at local libraries. Seriously, what was the last video game that encouraged you to read?
Developers White Whale Games and Arkane Studios will both showcase these games at The Austin Chronicle and SXSW Gaming Expo's Game On Austin event on Thursday, Oct. 25, 6-9pm, at Beauty Ballroom. See austinchronicle.com/gameon for more info.