Rating: M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language
Available for: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Just as a warning, this post will contain spoilers for Dishonored, including the ending of the game. If you are interested in playing Dishonored and don’t want to be spoiled, I suggest coming back after you’ve finished the game.
People who know me would probably describe me as a klutz. When I’m not walking into a wall or hitting a doorknob on my way past a door, I’m tripping over my own feet. Amazingly, this manages to carry over to stealth video games, where I’m probably the least stealthiest person in the game. And as you can imagine, it leads to a lot of restarts.
Still, I decided to try my hand at Arcane Studio’s Dishonored(2012) since it was their Dishonored 2(2016) announcement that first intrigued me to the series.
Dishonored tells the story of Corvo Attano, Royal Protector to the Empress and recently accused party to her murder. While in prison for a crime he did not commit, Corvo is set free by a group called the Loyalists, who are attempting to dethrone the Lord Regent (the true murderer and usurper) and place Emily Kaldwin, the Empress’ young daughter, on the throne. Corvo becomes the Loyalists’ assassin and takes up the tasks of eliminating or neutralizing supporters of the Lord Regent in order to take down his defenses and remove him from the throne. As the title would imply, “Dishonored” is meant to be a descriptor for the game’s protagonist and his disgraced reputation, but as the game progresses, it holds multiple meanings meant to describe many of the game’s main characters and their actions.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives the following definitions of “dishonor”:
1. (Noun) lack or loss of honor or reputation
2. (Noun) the state of one who has lost honor or prestige: shame
3. (Noun) a cause of disgrace
4. (Transitive Verb) to treat in a degrading manner
5. (Transitive Verb) to bring shame upon
Setting aside Corvo’s situation, every single one of these definitions is apparent throughout the game. The majority of the game is spent completing missions by neutralizing enemies of the Loyalists, and in those tasks, you are to decide whether you kill them outright (High Chaos) or if you disgrace them so that they lose all power (Low Chaos).
I played with the goal of Low Chaos and found that many of the aforementioned definitions applied directly to the enemy’s fate. Neutralizing the High Overseer in Corvo’s first real task requires giving him the Heretic’s Brand, causing him to be shamed and ostracized from all society. The Pendleton brothers will be forced to work hard labor in the mines in punishment for the crimes they have committed. Corvo may have been the one initially dishonored, but it will be his enemies that encounter their own disgrace.
At the turning point in the game, however, you find that it is not only the Lord Regent’s supporters and the Lord Regent himself that encounter Corvo’s retribution, but members of the Loyalists themselves. Along with much of the word play of “dishonor,” Dishonored is quick to remind you of other motifs, namely deception and betrayal. Corvo, the Empress, and Emily have all known this from the onset, but Corvo will experience it again when the time comes to put Emily on the throne. Feeling guilty for the crimes they have committed and realizing that the same backlash could fall upon them, the Loyalists plan to do away with any lose ends and possible connections to Corvo’s actions. All of this to maintain their own sense of honor. Their bond of trust does not last long however, because in the final moments of the climax, the rest of the Loyalists are killed by one of their own.
There is very little trust to be found in this game, as Dishonored explores to what lengths people close to power will deceive and betray until they reach the top. The Lord Regent is a central focal point in this statement, beginning before the planned assassination of the Empress. As it turns out, the Lord Regent introduced the disease plaguing the city as a way to eliminate the country’s poorest citizens. For fear of being found out, he orders for the Empress to be assassinated, but his deceptions go further than affecting the immediate royal family. Much of Dunwall is seen in distress from results of the quickly spreading plague, and it is obvious that the citizens of Dunwall have been left abandoned for focus on political games. With a High Chaos!Corvo, you can see this accelerate faster, with discarded bodies allowing the plague to propagate. The significance of Corvo’s actions in the extended world seems to suggest that this version of Corvo has little regard for consequence of those surrounding his enemies and its potential catastrophic effects on the world as a whole.
What comes off as a simple story line, Dishonored has the ability to play around and explore their motifs in different ways, all while utilizing the characters they have at hand. The title’s word play is particularly smart as it integrates itself into the rest of the story, releasing its dependency on the game’s central character. Using this method, the game is able to connect all of its characters and motifs into a more centralized theme. I’ll be eager to see if the title has the same significance in the game’s sequel, Dishonored 2, and how it will be utilized in the new plot.