One game that comes to mind when I think of great level design is Dishonored. The game allows you to take different approaches on how you tackle an objective, so you can sneak through quietly, or go guns blazing and kill everyone. In fact, you can complete the game without killing anyone. What this all means is that the level design is extremely important. If there is only one avenue to approach the object and a guards stood there not moving, you do not really get a choice but to kill him. So multiple approaches and intelligent A.I that move realistically to the world around them is crucial.
As you can see from this short gameplay clip, the verticality in this game is unparalleled. One reason for this is because of the ability you have access to early on in the game called blink. This allows you to teleport short distances, so you can blink from the ground to the floor in an instant and then to another place in the matter of a few seconds. This sounds overpowered but the game has a mechanic in place in order to balance this called mana, every time you use an ability such as blink you use mana which will deplete a considerably chunk when used. However, if you wait you will see a cool down on the on mana hud which will rise to where it was if you don’t use an ability again which means that it can be persevered. If you blink again straight after it will deplete without preserving.
Mana represented by the blue shard on the hud.
One of the best aspects to this games level design is the amount of freedom you have. Whether you want to take to the roofs and avoid people, or take to the roofs and drop down to kill it is the players choice. One player could – such as on this video drop down take out a guard, blink up and then back down in order to get behind them before they can realise. This gives the player the feeling of outsmarting the enemy, which in turn motivates them to carry on playing the game. You are not just restricted to the sky though, you also have the ability to swim if you decide to take that approach or go underground depending on the level. Back alleys can also be utilised, but there is a plague within the game leaving many of the games poor inhabitants infected meaning that you may be avoiding your enemy’s, but going down the quiet route is not always safe forcing the player to stay vigilant. The infected known as “Weepers” will become more prevalent the more chaos you have, this means that the more you kill and destroy, the more of these you will see making it more dangerous for yourself. This is another mechanic in itself, how your gameplay style affects the game and story is an interesting aspect seeing how it effects the world around you. If you play more evil you will get a bad ending, whereas stealth and being good rewards you with a good ending.
A power station on a guard tower which can ripped out.
The levels also offer a level on interactivity within them. As you can see from the image above you can take out power cells which powers the light on the guard tower. No light better stealth. With elements like this in the level, it encourages the player to think strategically about how they can tackle certain scenarios using the level to there advantage. Other times throughout the levels there will be an electric barriers which can halt your movement and make you consider alternative routes to the objective, as these are generally heavily gauged areas. Though you do have the option to disable it if you find the power station, these are often mini puzzles in order to find out where it is and usually requires a bit of thought on tracking it down.
Scouting is a big part of the game
Due to the different playing styles and the size of the levels it means that no two people will play the game the same way, which is a huge advantage to a game. You create what happens within the gameplay, which allows for unique events to occur that may not have happened to another player. This then allows players to converge and share what happened to them within the game on how they tackled the objective differently on how one intelligently poisoned the target, where as the other went guns blazing causing destruction in there wake. This is only possible by the level design and how everything has intelligently been put where it is in order for a certain action to occur, or to change the pace and have the player consider another approach instead. All of this in turn increases replay value, not only with the player wanting to see the other ending but on how they could play the level differently, allowing them to experiment with different play styles.
Another thing to mention is the aesthetics of the game. They set the tone perfectly for the dark, gothic world that it is set in. The world seems to be inspired by 18th century London but with a futuristic elements in place, such as the electrical barriers and exoskeleton suits.
Even when set in a gritty industrial area the lighting can greatly change the perception of the look of the place.
This piece of concept art perfectly captures the different elements of the game, from the stealth of the character, to him being hunted down by the overreaching enemy. Then you have the industrial look with smoke being coughed out, dark and tall ominous buildings looming and seemingly the target unaware through the window.
Image credit –
Youtube video made by StealthgamerBR
mana on hud –
Concept art – https://www.pinterest.com/leslieberg0423/dishonored/