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Bethesda weren't sure if they wanted Dishonored 3, and so we got Deathloop instead

It was supposed to be a small project!

Dishonored was Arkane’s breakout hit, the assassination sandbox that elevated the studio to the top table of immersive sim makers. Its success validated Bethesda’s decision to buy Arkane a couple of years earlier, and left the publisher with a promising new series. But despite critical acclaim, Dishonored 2 failed to bring the series to a wider audience. And after 2017’s standalone expansion, Death Of The Outsider, Bethesda decided to put the series on pause in favour of a shorter, more experimental project - according to Arkane founder Raphaël Colantonio, who spoke to me in an interview about their cancelled project The Crossing.

As Colantonio explains it, Deathloop was initially conceived as a “small game” to keep Arkane occupied and learning before it jumped into another big project. “Bethesda wanted us to do something,” he says. “They didn’t quite know where we were going after Dishonored. ‘Do we want Dishonored 3? I don’t know, let’s make something simple and short before, and let’s see.’”

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“And then [Deathloop] became a big thing, over the years,” he says. “That was the funny thing: ‘Nah, we don’t wanna do Dishonored 3, but if you can pitch us a small game, something that maybe has multiplayer so we can learn multiplayer, something that maybe has microtransactions, maybe something with a lot of recycling, like a roguelike.’”

At that time, Arkane’s Austin division had just made Mooncrash, the roguelike expansion for Prey. “And the roguelike thing was a little bit in the air,” Colantonio says. “Almost everybody in the world was into some sort of roguelike. So it felt like, ‘Yeah, maybe it’s the way to go, you recycle gameplay, you take some of the elements of the world and remix content constantly.’”

As a result, Deathloop became a game about a single repeating day on an island, in which four familiar levels were kept fresh by reshuffled loadouts, objectives, enemy placements and multiplayer invasions. And by the end, it was no longer a small project. “It would probably cost just as much to make Dishonored 3,” Colantonio says. “But back then it was not meant to be.”

Colantonio was no longer working at Arkane by the time Deathloop came out - instead, he’d left the developer to work on the wonderful Weird West as an indie. Arkane Lyon, meanwhile, remains committed to Dishonored in its own way: studio director Dinga Bakaba recently confirmed that Deathloop and Dishonored take place in the same universe.

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