Game-related ramblings.

Death Before Dishonor, Part 3: Public Works

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 and Part 2 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.

I’ve completed two missions as Corvo Attano, protagonist of Dishonored. I’m trying to avoid re-loading saved games so I’ll be forced to improvise when things go wrong, but I broke this rule twice in the first mission. The second mission I managed to complete without cheating, although I did die and restart a couple of times. My eventual success was much less stealthy than I’d intended, but I avoided killing any members of the City Watch through the liberal use of sleep darts. Embarking on my third mission, I was able to complete it without dying once! Does that mean that everything went perfectly, thanks to my flawless performance? No. No, it most certainly does not.

Read on for massive spoilers.

It’s an awkward boat ride back to the Hound Pits after my second mission. Samuel the boatman wants to ask me if I’ve assassinated the Pendleton Twins, without revealing the violent nature of my mission to Emily, the young daughter of the slain Empress who I’d just rescued. Samuel quickly talks himself into a corner and has to let the subject drop as we pull in to the mooring at the condemned pub. Fortunately, Emily is quickly distracted by the meagre welcoming party. Havelock, the leader of our scrappy resistance, is there along with Callista Curnow and the servants to formally welcome the royal daughter, their bows and formal greetings slightly absurd in the overgrown courtyard amidst crumbling buildings. Conspicuously absent is Treavor Pendleton, the younger brother of the twins I’ve just killed. As Emily heads off with Callista to see her new quarters in the half-ruined tower, Havelock tells me to find Treavor and speak with him.

First, I wander around a bit. Last time I praised the way Dishonored makes each visit to the Hound Pits a bit different, with new areas to explore, or other tidbits to find. This time, it doesn’t seem that much has changed, but I am surprised to find a note pinned to the wall in my attic room. It’s from Piero, thanking me for providing him with a live weeper specimen. When dealing with the weepers in the sewer tunnels beneath the pub during my last visit, I questioned why I’d bothered sparing their lives, since they are beyond help and can only spread the plague to others. This is my answer: Piero was able to hand over the weepers to a friend at the Academy of Natural Philosophy for study, and is particularly excited because live specimens are difficult to procure. Piero has left a bunch of sleep darts with the note as a way of thanks, which go a long way towards replenishing my dwindling supply.

This reminds me to pay Piero a visit. I buy a few more sleep darts to top off my stock, and look into the upgrades he has to offer. I’ve already improved my crossbow as much as possible, and I’ve been heavily favoring it over my pistol, so I don’t opt for the pistol upgrades yet. Instead, I upgrade my ammo capacity for bolts and bullets. This won’t let me carry more sleep darts, sadly, but it will let me collect more of the standard ammunition I’ve been seeing lying around in my missions so far, which I can then use in a pinch.

The only other thing to do at the Hound Pits is visit Emily, who’s already settling in to the tower. She seems to be getting along with Callista, who will be her caretaker and tutor, and holding up pretty well given the circumstances. I offer what comfort I can before heading off to look for Treavor. He’s not in his room, and it takes me a while to eventually locate him behind Emily’s tower, looking out over the river. He’s understandably a bit shaken — I’ve just killed his older brothers, and even though Treavor was in on the plot he’s not taken it that well. But it’s not long before he’s planning his first actions as lord of the Pendleton estate. Treavor may be less wicked than his brothers were, but that doesn’t mean he’s a nice man.

I return to Havelock, who is conversing with Martin, an overseer loyal to our cause who I rescued during my first foray. It turns out they need me to head out on my next mission immediately: we must abduct Anton Sokolov, the Royal Physician and inventor of most of the new technology in the city, while he’s still at his residence on Kaldwin’s Bridge. It seems Sokolov knows the identity of the Lord Regent’s mistress, who was a critical ally in his plot to seize the throne, and we need her name. I guess I’m getting right back onto Samuel’s boat tonight. No rest for the wicked.

I had specific praise for the mission on Kaldwin’s Bridge when I first wrote about Dishonored. It’s a mission that, in any other game, would be completely linear. The player starts at one end of the bridge, and must cross to the other end where Sokolov lives. In another game, this traversal would be riddled with scripted set pieces that always play out the same way, making for a dramatic crossing but giving players little reason to return. In Dishonored, however, even the ostensibly linear path of a bridge actually consists of multiple routes, through the multi-story buildings that festoon the bridge, walkways that run underneath and along its sides, piers at its base, and even huge drawbridge towers at the midpoint. It feels like a challenge to other game designers, demonstrating that linear levels need not be so linear after all.

This time around, however, I approached the mission with a more critical eye. More than any mission so far, my visit to Kaldwin’s Bridge felt like a sequence of smaller levels to tackle one at a time. I’ve already lamented the small areas separated by loading screens that make up Dishonored’s missions, but in the first two missions I had reason to move between them, to complete side tasks or simply to investigate different paths towards my goal. On Kaldwin’s Bridge, I fully explored each segment of the bridge before moving on, never to return. A few areas feel particularly small, with a handful of nooks to poke around in, a few ways to move forward, and maybe 5-10 guards to dodge. With careful planning I was usually able to choke them all out, giving me free reign to explore every inch of the bridge before moving on to the next section.

Narratively, Kaldwin’s Bridge is more interesting. In the Distillery District I saw the ruins of many bridges that must have once spanned the Wrenhaven river in days long past. Kaldwin’s Bridge is the first bridge I’ve seen that is actively maintained by the city, and it’s clearly an important landmark. Closed to foot traffic due to the Lord Regent’s curfew order, it’s obvious that the bridge is normally a bustling thoroughfare, with residences and warehouses constructed along its length. At one point I spied Pratchett, a man whose name I only know from all the tins of Pratchett Jellied Eels I’ve seen in my explorations. He has a fancy, three-story house on the bridge, and as I approach he is complaining to a guard about the curfew and about Sokolov, who is performing experiments on live plague victims as part of his search for a cure. Pratchett doesn’t seem like a bad person, per se, but his richly furnished house is a stark contrast to the dirty, run down tenements I’ve passed through so far on the bridge, often with the rotting bodies of plague victims still inside. If you’re not part of the solution, Pratchett, you’re part of the problem. I don’t harm him, or even give him any indication I was ever there, but I rob his house of any valuables I can find, and even break into his safe (which contains one of the Outsider’s runes, of all things). Pratchett is clearly doing well while others are dying. Now he will help finance our revolution.

Speaking of runes, one of the apartments I sneak into while crossing the bridge houses a shrine to the Outsider, along with the madman who built it (subdued with a quick sleep dart). His journal is scattered around, telling the tale of a man down on his luck as the plague ravages the city, but who managed to secure passage on a ship to escape before things got really bad. But then he finds one of the Outsider’s runes, and slowly descends into madness. He misses his ship, distracted by the rune and its whisperings, and even kills his own brother for looking at it too closely. Eventually he builds the shrine, trusting that the Outsider will protect him from the plague. I don’t know if that’s true, but I take the rune for myself, triggering another conversation with the Outsider. He rambles about an ancient city that stood on this spot a thousand years ago, where people worshipped him and carved bone runes with his mark, and also reveals that Sokolov has been studying the runes and trying to meet the Outsider himself. He has failed, because the Outsider doesn’t consider Sokolov interesting enough to warrant attention. Unlike me, I guess. My main takeaway from this conversation is that the Outsider is still incredibly creepy and I’m still torn about using his powers to complete my missions. Will I go mad, as the builder of this shrine did? Have I gone mad already?

As I move onwards I reach the massive drawbridge which is the centerpiece of the mission, and this is where things start to go wrong. Actually, the very start of the mission went poorly too, as my attempt to throw a bottle to distract some guards completely backfires and I find myself cornered by four or five of them. I’m able to slow time and leap to safety, before returning and more carefully neutralizing the guards one by one, dropping their unconscious bodies in dumpsters with satisfaction. After that, my stealthy and nonlethal removal of guards goes remarkably smoothly until the drawbridge, with just a few exceptions. In one remote room I find a weeper and am inexplicably unable to use a choke hold on it, cutting it down instead in a panic. One guard spots me just before I can choke him out, and I have to use a sleep dart on him. Aand then there’s the madman with the Outsider’s shrine who I had to tranquilize. But that’s it. I’m feeling confident and capable as I approach the drawbridge.

Security at the drawbridge, however, is tighter. There are a lot of guards, and as I approach I overhear two men who sound like criminals discussing a colleague who tried to scout ahead and got captured. They consider mounting a rescue but decide to wait and let their friend stew for a bit. Later, however, as I’m exploring a nearby building, I hear shouts and gunshots. When I return, the two men are dead, killed by the City Watchmen posted up ahead. The Watchmen also have a new security device, some sort of electrical pylon. As I peer at it from the second floor of a nearby building, it suddenly whirs to life and zaps me with a lightning bolt, taking off about half of my health and alerting the guards. I’m able to duck around a corner to hide and drink a health elixir, but realize I’ll need to find a way around. Fortunately, I’m able to do so, using small walkways along the sides of the bridge to bypass the guard post completely.

The drawbridge itself isn’t too hard to cross either. I use my Dark Vision power to track the guards who patrol the towers, getting the drop on them and choking them out before climbing up and crossing the raised bridge. On the north side I find the criminals’ accomplice locked in a cell, and he asks for my help. Claiming to be an honest collector of river pearls who was shaken down by the corrupt City Watch, he tells me he’ll share his stash of pearls with me if I let him go. I don’t believe his story, but I do want those pearls, so I play along for now. This turns out to be a mistake.

As soon as he’s freed from his cell, the man starts running along a walkway straight at a pair of guards, who draw their swords. Cursing, I fire two sleep darts at them before following along a side path that takes us down to water level. There, we run into some river krusts, nasty barnacle-like creatures with a habit of spitting acid at anyone who gets too close. The man asks me to eliminate them, so I wait for them to open their shells before firing crossbow bolts at them (I’m afraid the sound of my pistol would alert more guards above us). At least I’m able to collect a few pearls from their corpses. After this, our path is blocked by a locked gate. As I search for the key, I spy two thugs waiting in the apartment where the pearls are hidden, muttering about how they can’t find them. Even with all of these hints, I still walk straight into the trap, as the two thugs join the freed man and attack me as soon as I’ve opened the gate. I’m able to knock out all three men with sleep darts, although I’m nearly killed. A poor showing.

This encounter is indicative of how things will go moving forwards. I’m down to a single sleep dart, and very hesitant to use it, so when I botch my attempts to sneak up on guards on the next segment of the bridge I resort to slowing time and blinking up to rooftops to hide. Soon the whole cohort of guards is looking for me, as I ineptly try and fail to sneak up on them over and over. I do eventually manage to knock them all out, but the whole affair is embarrassing. I feel a little better when I’m able to rescue a woman hiding out in an abandoned industrial basement. She’s been cornered by a ravenous swarm of plague rats, which I disperse with a few well-aimed incendiary bolts from my crossbow. As way of thanks, she points me towards the body of another squatter, recently deceased but still clutching a bone charm. I nab it, finding that it will make my choke holds faster. Honestly, they were already very fast, putting a guard to sleep in just a few seconds, so now they’re just ridiculous. My Corvo will be putting guards to sleep left and right.

At least, that’s the plan. It doesn’t really work out. The north end of the bridge, where Sokolov has his residence, starts similarly to the earlier sections, with tightly-packed tenements along the bridge and a few guards patrolling. I alert them a couple of times but I’m able to evade them or knock them out, and even rescue some civilians they’d detained for violating curfew. My infiltration of Sokolov’s home, however, does not go well at all. The massive structure is built off to the side of the bridge and powered by a giant waterwheel. It’s an unusual building, combining standard masonry with the new, metallic constructions I’ve seen grafted onto the old city everywhere. That makes sense, since they were all Sokolov’s designs. For some reason, there are Overseers patrolling the building along with City Watchmen, presumably sent as extra security in response to my rebellious activities. I’m able to sneak into the building through a shutter, moving along pipes that run where rafters would normally be. The interior resembles a warehouse shell placed around a house, where the walls that divide rooms don’t reach all the way to the ceiling, and open walkways and stairs abound. It must be a nightmare to keep warm. It’s also crawling with guards.

A smarter person would have stuck to the high ground to bypass all the security, but I was determined to loot the place. I’ve got fancy new ultra-fast choke holds now, surely I can pick off these guards? But there are also servants, who I don’t wish to harm. My attempts to sneak past one of them fails, and her cries of alarm bring two guards running. They have me cornered in the kitchen. I fire my final sleep dart, and miss. Cursing, I pull out my pistol and manage to shoot the guards, before retreating to the high ground again. The whole place is alerted now, but I wait patiently for the guards to calm down a little so I can move in to neutralize them. But there are so many, and with the open floor plan it’s hard approach one without another seeing me. Soon I’ve alerted them all again, and again. And again. I escape by using my magic to slow time, and blink back up to overhead pipes or the tops of walls. I’m shot several times, guzzling health elixir to recover.

I start to see the edges of Dishonored’s systems — by now, the whole building should be on alert, and guards should be escorting Sokolov to a safe room or something. But while the guards mutter about a prowler skulking around, they return to their same patrol patterns. No one leaves the area to spread the word. If I sneak out onto the walkways near the roof, the guards out there are blissfully unaware that there’s been any security breach. The PA system on the bridge announces that a dangerous individual has been spotted heading to Sokolov’s house, but no one pays any heed. No matter how many times I drop from above and land right in front of a guard, or how many shots they fire at me before I disappear again, they always go back to their same patrol patterns, and eventually I’m able to knock out enough of them that I can explore without fear.

I run into weird behavior with the servants too; they’re cowering in place, but with no conscious guards within earshot I ignore them as I look for loot. One is next to a cabinet, and when I open the cabinet to check what’s inside, the door hits her and she dies. It’s absurd. I’d even saved her life earlier, when, watching from above, I spied a pack of rats entering the kitchen to devour the dead guards. When they’d finished their meal, they turned on the horrified servant, but I quickly loaded an incendiary dart in my crossbow and used it to disperse the swarm. And now she’s been killed by a cabinet door. In the dining room, an even sillier scene plays out, when another servant cries out in fear upon seeing me, promptly falls over, gets up, and then keels over dead without any explanation. I didn’t touch them! I don’t know what’s going on.

It’s hardly the performance of a master assassin, but I get through it alive. At last I’ve looted all the valuables I could find, and snuck past the few guards who are still awake as I move to the greenhouse on the roof, where Sokolov has isolated himself for his experiments. He’s got a woman locked up in there, and has intentionally made her plague even worse as part of his study. I let her go after I’ve knocked out Sokolov, but there’s nothing I can do to cure her. At least the experiments are over. Sokolov had a key on him, so I return to his bedroom to steal his stash of gold bars, before lugging his unconscious form to Samuel’s boat. Samuel was able to get very close to Sokolov’s house since I disabled the giant searchlights on my way across the bridge, so it’s a short trip. As I approach with Sokolov slung over my shoulder, Samuel compliments me on what a good job I’ve made of it. No, Samuel, I did not make a good job of it at all. But I did make it, and without dying once, which is a first.

The final stats screen reports that I’ve killed four hostiles (thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have counted the absurd deaths of the servants). That would be the one weeper near the start, the two guards I shot in the kitchen, and a third guard who I’d knocked out and tried to leave out of sight among the overhead pipes, only to watch in horror as he slipped off and broke his neck landing on the dining room table. After that I learned to move unconscious guards out to the roof instead. While I regret having killed some guards, my overall chaos rating is still low. I’ve managed to support our insurrection without wanton bloodshed so far, but I’m already starting to slip, and it can only get tougher from here. Will I be able to maintain control of the situation? Only time will tell.

Next time: Corvo eats the rich.

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3 Comments

  1. kelvingreen

    I’ve played a little bit of this, and I bought it as a present for a friend, but I don’t think I can bring myself to play it, because I think the chaos rating would make me too anxious!

    I suspect I would try to play so that no one would die and the chaos level would be zero, and I think that would probably lead to me getting stuck somewhere trying to get the “perfect” run through a level.

    I’m enjoying your writeups though!

    • Playing Dishonored nonlethally is actually a lot of fun. This is pretty much how I played it the first time, after messing around a little bit early on. If anything, the Death Before Dishonor series has shown me that it’s even easier to get through without killing anyone than I thought. In the first mission, I only killed one person, and in the second mission I only killed people I actively chose to kill. Now imagine that you allow yourself to re-load a saved game if you do inadvertently kill someone, and it becomes eminently possible to get through with a bodycount of zero. Paradoxically, the hardest part is likely the opening, before Corvo has any of his supernatural powers (and when players are still learning the ropes). But even there, by re-loading saves it shouldn’t be too bad. It’s basically impossible to get stuck, there’s always a way to escape and regroup. I did the second half of this mission after running out of sleep darts and still managed to knock out 95% of the guards I encountered.

      Also, the chaos rating is intentionally vague. The designers wanted to avoid the exact situation you describe: players getting stressed out and trying to achieve absolute zero chaos. There is no “zero” chaos in the game, there’s just “low” and “high”, and you can maintain low chaos even if there are a few deaths, as you’ve seen in Death Before Dishonor so far. The final stats screen at the end of a mission will tell you if you killed anyone, but it won’t tell you the math that goes into its chaos rating. It will only say if you’re low or high. The idea was that players could aim for nonviolence but still be able to kill a few people without suddenly invalidating everything up to that point.

      In short, I recommend trying Dishonored despite your reservations. It’s a great game and well worth it! Especially once you have some upgraded equipment and new magical powers, it’s a ton of fun to be a supernatural nonlethal stealth machine.

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