This is Death Before Dishonor, a series in which I attempt to play through Dishonored with a self-imposed, semi-permadeath rule designed to make me improvise my way out of trouble, rather than re-loading an earlier save. For some background, read the introduction to the series first, and definitely read Part 1 so you know what’s going on. Also be advised that, unlike most posts on this blog, this series will contain spoilers. For spoiler-free thoughts on Dishonored, read my original posts about the game. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

My second adventure as Corvo Attano, protagonist of Dishonored, continues. Last time, things did not really go to plan. I’d expected to have to fight my way out when my sneaking failed, leading to a decidedly more violent run through the game, but in reality I either got out of trouble by firing a quick sleep dart, or I was surrounded and quickly killed. In the end, I broke my own “no save reloads” rule twice, but managed to get through the first mission having only killed a single person. We’ll see if I can keep that up.

One more warning: the rest of this post is full of spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk.

When I return to the condemned Hound Pits pub, my new allies are impressed with my performance. They weren’t sure I could pull it off, although they didn’t say so to my face; I learned it from sneakily reading and listening to their journals and audio logs. Their opinion of me seems much improved now. I’ve sent a powerful message by branding the High Overseer as a heretic for his role in usurping power in the city, and recovered his black book which holds the location of Emily Kaldwin, the kidnapped daughter of the assassinated Empress.

While my allies set about decoding the book, they ask another favor of me: it seems that some weepers — late-stage plague victims — have found their way into the sewer tunnels under the pub, and they want me to clear them out. This brief section acts as a tutorial for weepers, who will become common adversaries. Zombies in all but name, weepers are supposedly beyond help, yet my allies still point out that I can use sleep darts on them if I don’t want to kill them. It seems the game still tracks dead weepers as kills, even though it’s arguably better for the overall health of the city to kill them rather than let them live and infect others. I also don’t see how putting the weepers underneath the pub to sleep solves our problem. Still, without really knowing why, I decide not to kill them. I’m able to choke out one of them, but the other one sees me and pounces. After fighting it off, I’m forced to shoot it with a sleep dart, cursing under my breath. Not my best performance.

I do like how, after each mission, there’s some new things to explore at the Hound Pits. I’ve already poked around every corner, and found several places I can’t reach yet. It seems the sewer tunnels were the only new location this time, but I do spend some time climbing. Since the last time I was here, I’ve upgraded my Blink ability, and spent some runes on a passive Agility bonus that grants me a supernaturally high jump. Combining these, I’m able to climb up some crumbling walkways along the outside of the Hound Pits building, finding a fancy rewire tool up there, and a nice view of the grounds. I actually used a rewire tool in the last mission to disable an alarm, but they can also be used to turn security devices against their owners. Since I’m generally trying to avoid violence, I may not use these often, but they’re expensive so a free one is always nice.

Speaking of money, I’ve acquired a lot of it by looting rolls of copper wire, medicinal herbs, purses and loose change, and even an expensive painting by Anton Sokolov, the inventor of those security devices I just mentioned. Time to spend it. I visit Piero to stock up on sleep darts and buy some upgrades. In the Overseers’ workshop in the last mission I found a blueprint for some better armor, which I eagerly ask Piero to craft for me. Hopefully it will help me survive a little longer when I’m spotted by guards. I also buy a fancy zooming lens for my mask and, since my sleep darts proved so useful in the last mission, I upgrade them to take effect instantly, even during combat. To round it all off, I order some upgrades to my crossbow, granting it better range, accuracy and reload speed. Firing off sleep darts should be much more effective now.

That done, I get some hard earned rest, and then speak to our leader, the former Admiral Havelock, about what’s next. Along with Treavor Pendleton, a disgraced aristocrat who has joined our resistance movement, he’s decoded the High Overseer’s black book and learned where Emily is being kept. She’s imprisoned at the Golden Cat, a brothel that caters to rich clients, which is also where Treavor’s older brothers, the twins Morgan and Custis Pendleton, are hiding out. My next mission has two objectives: rescue Emily, and eliminate the Pendleton twins, who hold the deciding votes in parliament. Since I’ve been spying on all my new allies, I know that Morgan and Custis are absolutely awful people who literally tortured Treavor when he was a young child (and likely afterwards as well), yet Treavor is still torn about the decision to have them killed. It’s understandable I suppose. But I have no sympathy for men who are complicit in killing the Empress and kidnapping her young daughter.

I knew this mission was coming but forgot it came so soon. Back in 2012 when Dishonored was released, the trend in big budget games was to be dark and edgy, and many developers felt that including brothels and sex workers was an easy way to do this. Dishonored’s opening scene kills a woman as a cheap way of motivating the player, and it uses the same strategy with its portrayal of oppressed and abused women, forced into sex work as slave labor. Despite hints that the Golden Cat is happy to cater to clients with all manner of tastes, its clients are all men and its sex workers all women. I guess the designers didn’t feel that the plight of male sex workers would effectively motivate the player. Worse, all I saw when infiltrating the Golden Cat were scenes of misogyny and violence against women, tired cliches of an unjust patriarchy. This is lazy and offensive writing, and I like to think that standards have risen in the eight years since. Even contemporary games fared a little better: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, released a year earlier in 2011 (and which I wrote about in some of the earliest posts on this blog), also prominently features sex workers, but the player is able to help them regain control of their business so they can work on their terms. Not so here: the sex workers in the Golden Cat are helpless, obediently serving their cruel clients and cowering in fear if a fight breaks out. A low point.

It’s especially disappointing considering how good the environmental storytelling was in the last mission. Infiltrating the Overseers’ compound provided an excellent opportunity to learn about the Outsider, the Overseers’ witch hunts, and their impacts on the history and societal development of the Isles. But this mission has nothing to say. That Dunwall’s society is patriarchal and oppressive was already clear, the Golden Cat adds nothing in this regard. I’m left to wonder why the developers felt the need to include it at all. We could have had a mission that explores the relationship between the aristocracy (exemplified by the haughty and decadent Pendleton twins) and the working classes, or the intricacies of Dunwall’s parliament and how it has been controlled by the Lord Regent and his allies. Instead, we get a mission based on the abuse of women, for no purpose other than making the player angry.

But this mission is the first example of how Dishonored responds to players’ choices, which is one of its stronger aspects. To get to the Golden Cat, I have to head through the Distillery District again, but things have changed since last time. A huge watchtower that fires rockets at intruders has been installed on Clavering Boulevard, heightened security in response to my earlier escapades. If that didn’t make it clear that the city had gotten my message, I get news of the High Overseer’s fate via the public address system: he is no longer a citizen of Dunwall, and it is a crime to provide him aid. One traitor, at least, has been brought to justice. Heading through Bottle Street to avoid all the extra guards, I see that Granny Rags’ apartment is now boarded up. I guess since I refused to infect the Bottle Street Boys (and all the residents who buy elixir from them) with the plague like she asked, they must have finally kicked her out for not paying the protection money. Speaking of the gang, one of them approaches me and tells me their leader, Slackjaw, wants to talk to me.

I’m not sure why the gang is so friendly all of a sudden. Sure, I didn’t infect their elixir still, but I did knock out three of their thugs who were harassing Granny Rags, as well as two more who were extorting another resident named Griff, and at least one of them saw me before I hit them with a sleep dart. I also snuck into their distillery and stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. Still, they don’t seem to care, and I waltz right into the distillery again like nothing happened. I even poke around a steal a bunch more stuff without anyone getting angry. Finally I meet Slackjaw, who has guessed that I’ve been sent to kill the Pendleton twins. He says he’ll get me a better way into the Golden Cat if I help him first. He’s trying to find out who’s been killing his men (it wasn’t me, I swear) and taking his territory, and needs me to track down one of his spies who’s gone missing. Slackjaw is not a nice man, but I decide to play along for now, because I have a suspicion that the one who’s after him and his gang may be the leader of the assassins who killed the Empress. Maybe Slackjaw being in charge of the criminal underworld is the least terrible option.

Leaving the distillery, I decide to check in on Griff, who was able to sell me supplies last mission after I rescued him from Slackjaw’s thugs. I hope the money he got from my purchases was enough to pay off the gang. Before I get there however, a masked man suddenly appears from thin air some distance from me. It’s one of the assassins who killed the Empress. My actions last mission must have gotten their attention. I hear the whistle of a crossbow bolt, and a small bit of my life bar evaporates. Ha, I have fancy new armor now! It will take more than that to kill me. I pull out my own crossbow and take aim. We’ll see who — oh. I’m dead. I don’t know what happened, but whatever it was, it happened fast. Time to start again.

This time, as I pass Granny Rags’ place, I notice a man on a nearby roof. I blink my way up there, to find that he’s dead, but he has some supplies with him. I take them, and then do a little roof hopping for fun on my way towards the distillery. As I’m about to drop down to street level again, I freeze. Just below me, on the balcony of an abandoned apartment, I see an assassin. He hasn’t noticed me yet. He’s got a vantage point on where I was ambushed last time, so maybe he hit me from behind for the kill? When he turns his back I blink in and choke him out, acting on instinct. I leave him unconscious on the floor and then wonder why I bothered sparing him. I’ve been trying to avoid killing members of the City Watch or the Overseers because I blame their corrupt leaders, not them. But this band of assassins, who wield Outsider’s powers, actually killed the Empress. I do not owe them mercy. After looting the apartment and nabbing a new bone charm, I spy another assassin on a balcony across the street. This time I blink in and slit his throat from behind. That’s one less assassin to do the Lord Regent’s bidding.

Thinking I’ve eliminated the assassins, I head down to the street to look for Griff, but it seems there was one more lying in wait. I hear him blink in and fire his crossbow at me, so I duck around a corner. He rounds it, sword drawn, and we face off. It’s a quick fight. He gets a slash in, but I parry another, and my counterattack takes off his head. I move the body out of the way where I don’t think anyone will look, and then see Griff approaching. It seems he only emerged after the assassins were eliminated. He doesn’t comment on the dead assassin, just offers me supplies as before. His stock is unchanged, and I haven’t used any sleep darts yet, so there’s nothing I need to buy right now. But he may come in handy later.

I decide to investigate Slackjaw’s missing man, which means heading towards the residence on Clavering Boulevard that he was investigating. This takes me back towards that new guard tower, which I’m curious about. I want to see if I can reach it and neutralize the operator inside. This does not go well. I’m spotted twice as I try to sneak towards the tower, using my Bend Time ability to slow down time and escape, but not before the tower fires some rockets and kills some City Watchmen with collateral damage. When I do finally reach the tower, I find it’s fully automated, with no operator inside. But I can pull out the tank of whale oil it uses for power, rendering it inert.

That whole ordeal was risky and unnecessary. I resolve to be more careful from now on, and find Slackjaw’s dead man without incident. I bring his final audio recording back to the distillery, where gives me a key to a dilapidated hotel next to the Golden Cat. I can enter the hotel and climb to the roof, then sneak into the Golden Cat along the rooftops. Then Slackjaw offers me another task: He says he’ll take care of the Pendleton twins for me, quietly, without killing them, if I can find an art dealer at the Golden Cat and get him to tell me the combination to his safe. It seems this is the nonlethal option for this mission, but it doesn’t really make any sense. Slackjaw has just finished telling me how many guards there are at the Golden Cat, so how is he going to abduct both twins without anyone knowing? And why would I trust him to uphold his end of the bargain? But I decide to play along, because a safe full of goods sounds enticing. I’ll get that safe combination, but I’ll use it to help myself to whatever is inside.

Getting into the hotel is tricky. The area is crawling with guards and another of those giant guard towers. This time the tower is easy to reach and neutralize, but I spend a long time blinking between rooftops, watching guard patrols, and choosing the right time to blink in and choke one out when no one else will see. With nowhere else to hide the unconscious bodies, I leave them on nearby rooftops. I have to use a few sleep darts but eventually thin out the guards enough to move about without fear. Before entering the hotel, however, I decide to check a side alley and find two City Watchmen trying to steal a vial of elixir from a woman, claiming they need it more than she does. I hit one of them with a sleep dart, but the second doesn’t turn to fight me like I expect. Instead, to my horror, he cuts the woman down in cold blood before I can fire off my second dart. The woman was carrying a key to the art dealer’s apartment. Hmm, maybe it’s worth checking that before moving on to the Golden Cat. It’s located next to Griff’s makeshift shop, where the assassins attacked me.

The apartment is full of Slackjaw’s thugs, looking for loot. I completely flub my attempt to stealthily neutralize them, and soon a whole pack of them are rushing me. I get out my sleep darts, but one of them charges me out of nowhere and cuts me down before I can fire. Time to start over again.

This time, my fight with the assassins is more exciting. I blink in behind the first one, planning to slit his throat, but he turns around and sees me. Without saying a word, he draws his sword, and we circle each other. When his back is to the balcony, I lunge, and a decisive slash of my own blade sends his body arcing over the railing onto the street below. Luckily, the assasin across the street wasn’t looking and hasn’t noticed anything. Rather than risk a close encounter again, I simply fire a crossbow bolt at him, which somehow severs his head. I guess my crossbow upgrades really work! I lock blades again with the final assassin on street level, leading to a frantic duel on a cramped stairway. When he blinks past me, I turn and kill him with another crossbow bolt rather than risk his sword again. He’s carrying crossbow bolts of his own so I’m able to top off my own supply anyway.

I ignore the guard tower this time, but waste a sleep dart finding Slackjaw’s missing man, and a bunch more at the entrance to the hotel when the nearby guards spot me. This time, however, I’m able to save the woman being harassed by the City Watchmen, and she gives me the key to the art dealer’s apartment as thanks. I head back there, buying more sleep darts from Griff outside. I barely do any better with Slackjaw’s thugs, however, only choking out one of them before the rest see me. I manage to hit them all with sleep darts and loot the place, before sheepishly buying even more sleep darts from Griff. I think I made a profit on the whole endeavor, but I’m not sure.

Before heading through the hotel to the Golden Cat, I realize there’s one more bone charm somewhere that I haven’t found yet. The Heart indicates it’s below the hotel, but there’s no basement entrance I can find. I head to the lower alleyways, which I’d avoided since they’re full of weepers, and realize there’s a passage there I hadn’t noticed before. Blinking in, I find a basement area and hear the familiar voice of Granny Rags! It seems she’s moved in here now, with a few meager possessions. There’s also a door to the Golden Cat here, but it’s locked. Oh well, back to the hotel I guess. At least I got that bone charm.

I’ve already discussed my disappointment with the narrative design in the Golden Cat, but the act of infiltrating it is far more enjoyable. I approached from nearby rooftops, but could have used the streets below instead, if I didn’t mind a few more guards to contend with. The building itself is fond of circular layouts, adorned with numerous balconies which provide many different points of entry. Security is high, however, with guards manning many of the balconies and even patrolling some of the roofs. Still, it was easy to knock out a few Watchmen unawares, and enter the upper floors of the establishment. From there, I quickly locate Emily in the sex workers’ quarters on the top floor. It’s an emotional reunion, but she seems to be holding up surprisingly well given the circumstances, and even knows the best means of escape, through the VIP entrance in the basement. A much easier rescue than expected, even if it’s odd to send Emily off alone through Granny Rags’ hideout and back to Samuel’s boat. In reality I would have escorted her and then returned, but Dishonored skips this uninteresting step so players can get to their second task.

Eliminating the Pendletons is much trickier than rescuing Emily. I’m immediately spotted by some guards and forced to use more tranquilizer darts. But the rest of the Golden Cat’s residents are remarkably inattentive, and I sneak past them easily. I find the art dealer, strapped to an electric chair in one of the private rooms. It seems he likes the staff to punish him with a few jolts of electricity. I take advantage of the situation to get him to tell me the combination to his safe before moving on to the Pendletons. They’re in separate rooms, each accompanied by one of the Golden Cat’s workers, so there’s no way to get them alone. I go after Custis Pendleton first, sneaking around the outside of the building by blinking between balconies, and entering his room with him unawares. A quick crossbow bolt to the back of his head is all it takes. The sex worker with him is understandably horrified, and I’m afraid she’ll alert some guards, so I knock her out. And then immediately feel terrible about it. I leave her on the bed, hoping it will provide some comfort, but all too aware that she will be traumatized by the experience nonetheless. On an impulse, I grab Custis’s body and hurl it off the balcony into the river far below, then watch as the fish show up for a meal.

It seems no one outside the room was alerted, but a couple of new guards show up to investigate a vague report of trouble. One sees me as I’m choking the other one out, and my cover is completely blown. I knock out the second guard with a sleep dart, but now all the sex workers in the large atrium area are freaking out. They don’t run, they just cower in fear, so I leave them be. The guards upstairs somehow haven’t heard all the commotion, but I soon alert them anyway when I completely fail to sneak past them. I almost exhaust my supply of sleep darts knocking them all out, wondering if any conscious guards remain in the whole building. Fortunately, Morgan Pendleton didn’t hear anything in his private room. I sneak around using balconies again, and find that one of the windows to the room is broken and partially boarded up. I’m able to take aim through the opening and kill him with a crossbow bolt. For completeness, I enter his room, loot it, and toss his body over the balcony as well. But in my haste I don’t aim carefully, and instead of landing in the river he lands on the street below, to the horror of nearby onlookers. Oops. I guess all of Dunwall will know about the assassination now.

After all that, my escape is easy. I head through the VIP entrance as Emily had done, and stop by the art dealer’s apartment on the way to rob his safe. There’s a rune inside, as well as a valuable painting and other loot. Leaving the apartment, I pass the corpse of the assassin who I’d sent flying over the railing earlier. It’s been partially devoured by rats, but the pouch of crossbow bolts is still there, so I take a couple to replace the ones I used on the Pendleton twins. From there, I have a clear path back to Samuel’s boat, where Emily is waiting for me.

I made it through this mission without bending any of my own rules, and while I bungled my sneaking as often as not, I managed to stay mostly nonviolent through liberal use of sleep darts from my upgraded crossbow. The final mission stats inform me that I’ve killed five hostiles, the two Pendletons and the three assassins. I have not killed a single member of the City Watch or Slackjaw’s gang, although I may have angered the latter by taking all of the art dealer’s valuables for myself. But hey, these sleep darts aren’t cheap. Our revolution needs financing.

My overall chaos is still low, and I remain impressed that I’ve managed to keep it that way. We’ll see whether I can make it last! I have a feeling things will only get darker from here.

Next time: public works.