‘Send Us Food Not Bullets’ are the words scrawled along the brick walls in Dunwall, the city which hosts the story of Dishonored. The fact it’s written on the streets next to elaborate whorehouses and palaces gives a wonderful indication of the class system operating within the game’s story. There are many sides at play in the city of Dunwall, some dark and some light, but the the thing the game manages to do so well is make every element seem like they belong in the world. This blend of Steampunk and Victorian Britain would seem at odds but certain things are explained to make it more cohesive. For example the original question of where they would get all this electricity gives rise to the idea of a whale oil industry in the city. This isn’t just a side line either, the entire city seems build on the practice of hauling in these massive creatures from the sea. The biggest advantage video games have over books and movies is a sense of immersion in the surroundings and in order to achieve this game worlds must feel rounded and solid, not just a collection of scenes put together. Dishonored has everything in place and a reason for it being there.
You are Corvo Attano and, up until you were framed for her brutal murder, you were the bodyguard of the Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. Corvo is given the means to escape prison by a loyalist group who hire him to eliminate the members of the new regime one by one, thus putting Jessamine’s daughter Emily on the throne instead. It’s a dark tale of revenge not only for Corvo himself but for those who wish him to act out their own. Along the way Corvo is visited by The Outsider, a man who somehow feels like God and Satan mixed into one. Through this meeting Corvo is given supernatural powers to back up his combat training. He becomes a hybrid of technology and apparition, almost like a robotic poltergeist. The story of Dishonored is a citywide battle for power and one man’s place in it.
The games industry as a whole seems to be stuck with the idea that such stories can only be told with space marines or current day military soldiers. Whilst Dishonored does share the same first person perspective as games like Modern Warfare or Halo it has a certain style and surroundings that makes it feel unique. With references to pubs and parts of some levels filled with whisky distilleries the game also feels strangely British, like an old BBC TV sci fi show from the 80’s (which I mean in the most complimentary fashion possible).
I could write endlessly on how much I enjoyed Dishonored, how the combat and the stealth elements are linked so well together (both options are fun, neither is the ‘wrong’ way of playing), how there’s contrasts between rich and poor going on, how religion features highly in the symbolism and how gaining power reacts with different members of the cast but instead I’ll talk about my favourite level in the game and my first choice to replay when I load the disc. It’s ‘Lady Boyle’s Last Party’.
SPOILER ALERT BEYOND THIS POINT!
Up until this point in the game you’ve been keeping a low profile. Corvo’s mechanical mask covering his face has given him a second identity, Dunwall’s residents have heard talk of the masked man but have not connected it with the escapee from prison. For the first few missions I played via stealth as much as possible, sticking to the shadows and not letting anybody know of my presence. It’s a turn for the books when Corvo must infiltrate Lady Boyle’s mansion during a costume party. Rather than hide away, this mission encourages you to mingle with Dunwall’s rich and famous. The problem is that whilst the loyalist movement have identified that Lady Boyle is a supporter (and lover) of the current Lord Regent there are actually three Lady Boyles attending the party as her two sisters shall also be there on the evening in question. All three will wear the same costume in a different colour, killing either of the two innocent Boyle sisters will be very bad practice.
The first thing to get past are the guards outside. Those standing sentry alone are nothing much to worry about, it’s the Tall Boys you should be concerned with. Tall Boys are guards who stride with huge, elongated metallic legs. They are armed with and bow and arrow combination and use explosive warheads. Basically, they can see you from fairly far away due to their vantage point and can also detonate your immediate surroundings. The only weakness of a Tall Boy is the sizable canister of whale oil fuel strapped to their back. If you can maneuver around them enough then you can aim for this and watch the pilot burn as the legs tumble. In my playthrough I managed to make my way over the wall with only a couple of stranglings and thankfully no whale oil explosions that would have raised the alarm.
As I enter the side door a couple of partygoers stop me to comment on my costume saying that it’s very ‘current and now’ of me to dress like a known killer. Bless them, the little they know.
Entering the main hall reveals a table filled with vast amounts of food which the guests pick at. Dunwall is currently enduring a plague, people are dead on the streets but the upper class still party. Conversations with those masked revellers gathered around reveals both the general ignorance of the elite and the all round backstabbing as some secretly proclaim it to be a terrible party. The upper levels of the house are still off limits and are being patrolled but I needed to get up there in order to find any evidence as to the full identity of the target. I crept upstairs past the guards and into the room of Esma Boyle and discovered her diary open on the table. Far be it from me to usually pry into the private life of a lady but needs must in this case. According to her latest journal entry she plans to use the party to find a man and any man will fit the bill. At this moment I think I discovered Corvo’s inner James Bond. A small matter of finding Esme and then luring her upstairs to her chamber would surely make the act of eliminating her easy.
It’s important to note at this stage that Dishonored doesn’t insist that you off your targets in a shower of blood and guts. Your employers simply want you to ‘remove’ them from play. This flexibility is a key aspect of the gameplay. As I went back down the stairs I found myself face to face with Lord Brisby, a man who has long desired a life with Esme and wished for my help to bring her to him. If I did this he would be sure to whisk her away to some far flung country. It would seem there would be no blood spilt tonight and Corvo wouldn’t be getting his end away into the bargain.
Esme was wearing the red costume so a few drinks brought over to her soon meant she was giddy with excitement. A quick whisper in her ear meant she was also soon following me to the cellar, thinking games were afoot. Sadly for her the games involved a quick dose of sleep dart and being bundled onto a waiting gondola accompanied by Lord Brisby. as they rowed off into the night I thought about the morals of sending a woman off in the company of a man against her will but weighed this up with the fact she still had a heartbeat and a head on her shoulders. I made a quick exit back out to the street, avoiding the Tall Boys and waiting guards, finding my own boat ride out of there.
But the fact of the matter is I could have gone with my original plan and had Esme slain in her bed chamber. I could have not bothered finding out any information beforehand and just killed all three. Or I could have kicked the door in with all guns blazing leaving a trail of dead bodies before slugging a shot of finest wine upon my exit. Dishonored is one of those games which allows you gain your own experiences and find your own stories within its framework. Some games force you into a linear experience which is fine if done well but others let you off that path every once in a while to find your own way. In these situations one of the greatest parts of gaming is comparing notes with fellow players. For all the recommendations listed above I’d recommend a playthrough (or many) of Dishonored.