Game-related ramblings.

Death Before Dishonor, Part 5: Thus Always To Tyrants

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, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 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 attempt to play through Dishonored without reloading saved games, so I’m forced to improvise when things go wrong, has gone surprisingly well so far. I completed the last two missions without dying, and with only a few dead bodies in my wake, with my overall chaos rating still low. In fact, it’s fair to say that protagonist Corvo Attano’s entire rebellion has been astonishingly successful, destabilizing the tyrannical Lord Regent’s government in (I think?) just a few days. Well, there’s no reason to slow down now. It’s time to strike a decisive blow. Read on for massive spoilers.

It’s daylight when Samuel the boatman and I pull in to the mooring at the Hound Pits pub, returning from the Boyles’ party. I’m a bit confused by the passage of time in the game, to be honest. Emily, the young empress to be, acts as if she’s been here for a few weeks at least, doing lessons under the tutelage of Callista Curnow, but when I brought Emily here I left again immediately for Kaldwin’s Bridge, then the next day interrogated the Royal Physician Anton Sokolov and headed out to the Boyles’ party that night. Now it’s daytime again upon my return. Has it really only been two days since I rescued Emily from captivity? Or has it been longer, and I just don’t remember the intervening time? I’ve encountered others who worship the Outsider and they have all been mad. Perhaps I’m losing my mind as well.

I’m supposed to talk with Treavor Pendleton but I decide to look around first. Callista tells me Emily is hiding from her, trying to avoid her lessons. I want to tell Callista that Piero was spying on her while she bathed yesterday, but there’s no option to do so. I vaguely recall that the choice of whether or not to tell her came up in my first playthrough, but was related to Sokolov’s interrogation. This time I guess I short-circuited the process by not putting up with any of Sokolov’s bullshit, and just releasing the rats on hilm. As a side effect, I can’t report Piero’s creepiness. Oh well.

I find Emily across the street, close to the abandoned apartment to which Cecelia gave me the key last time I was here. I was afraid I’d have to insist that Emily go do her lessons, but she heads there of her own accord once I find her. After this, I wander and chat with people, but there’s not much else of note. I spy some river krusts in the sewer tunnels under the Pub, but turn back, assuming one of the others might ask me to clear them out. They don’t, and I forget to return. I do visit Piero’s workshop, however, to buy some more upgrades. I refill my supply of sleep darts, and buy the remaining upgrades for my pistol since I have some extra cash. During the last mission I found a blueprint for sticky grenades, so I purchase that upgrade too, but I don’t actually buy any sticky grenades. I’m hoping to avoid wanton destruction if I can.

That done, I finally go talk to Treavor. I’m once again disappointed by the lack of conversation options. I want to tell him off for getting me into a pistol duel with a random nobleman without telling me first, but there’s no option to do so. He is pleased that I’ve killed the man (I shot him in the leg! Come on!), however, and offers me a rune as a reward. He also tells me he has no sympathy for Lady Boyle, who I’ve just murdered, because she helped the Lord Regent in his plot to assassinate the Empress. This does not make me feel any better.

This conversation triggers another with Havelock and Martin, who have been plotting the final step of our rebellion: infiltrating the Tower of Dunwall and killing the Lord Regent himself. He’s as vulnerable as he’s going to be, they explain, since I’ve severed his support from the religious order of the Overseers, from Parliament, and from his mistress and secret aristocrat ally, Lady Boyle. With dwindling funds, the City Watch is deserting him, and it’s the perfect time to strike. Once again, I’m to depart immediately. No rest for the wicked, unless what actually happened was I blacked out for several days or something.

I haven’t been to Dunwall Tower since the opening scene of the game, when the Empress was killed. The Lord Regent was merely the Royal Spymaster then, but he admitted he was the mastermind of it all while torturing me in Coldridge Prison, after framing me for the assassination. Well, now I’m back for my revenge. Samuel takes me into the same waterlock I used back then, which is unguarded. Later, I learn this is because the Lord Regent no longer has enough boats to patrol the entire perimeter, and since the waterlock is broken anyway — and they can’t fix it without Anton Sokolov — they’ve opted to patrol elsewhere. I guess they don’t know that I have supernatural climbing abilities.

As I climb the pipes around the edges of the waterlock, I realize that it’s a completely pointless contraption. Locks are supposed to move boats from waterways at one elevation to waterways at another elevation, so they can continue to carry their cargo along canals or rivers. But this waterlock doesn’t lead anywhere. It takes boats from the Wrenhaven river up to the hill upon which Dunwall Tower stands, but there’s nowhere for the boats to go up there. Passengers just disembark at a dock. Surely it would have been easier to just make an elevator or crane for passengers and cargo, while leaving the boat down at river level? Anyway, it’s even more useless now, since it doesn’t even work.

With judicious use of my blink power, it’s easy to climb to the top, and my stealthy infiltration goes smoothly at first. I track guards’ patrols and choke them out one by one when no one else is looking, stashing their unconscious bodies in the empty control room. As I leave the waterlock, I’m stunned by just how much the place has changed. What had been beautiful gardens are now just muddy terraces, with ugly guard posts installed everywhere and noisy tallboys on patrol. It’s a simple but effective depiction of a nation that has descended into an authoritarian police state, and doubles as insight into the Lord Regent’s paranoia. Even as Spymaster he was paranoid, but now it’s spiraled out of control, made even worse because he knows I’m coming for him. He’s put up every security measure he has, turning the palace grounds into a fortified military entrenchment. But it’s not enough to stop me.

I’m able to sneak past the first tallboy and knock out the next set of guards, but that’s as far as I get before the alarms go off. As I scope out the next terrace, I’m spotted by a tallboy and soon there are rockets exploding around me. I take cover behind a wall, but a pair of guards are charging my position. Fortunately, I’d collected enough runes in my last mission to upgrade my Bend Time power: now it doesn’t just slow time down, it stops it completely. I’m even able to get behind the guards and choke them out while time is frozen. But Bend Time doesn’t last as long as it did before, and I feel it wearing off as I’m neutralizing the second guard, and soon rockets are heading my way again. One of them kills the other guard, who is still lying on the ground after my choke hold. Damn. At least I get the other one out of harms way without killing him.

Only at this point do I realize that I could have made a much stealthier approach by climbing up the other side. Heading that way takes me through some scaffolding and into the barracks, which are mostly deserted since everyone is out on patrol. I’m able to skirt the courtyard and blink across the moat to the Palace itself, perched on a ledge running around the exterior of the building. There’s a vent leading inside here, but instead of going in, I get greedy. I see a few guards and a guard post in the courtyard below, and decide I want to take their stuff. I should be able to choke them out easily, I tell myself. Indeed I can, but a nearby tallboy sees me right away, and soon I’m huddling in the guard post to hide from its explosive arrows. The automated guard tower is alerted as well, throwing its own ordinance into the mix. I’m able to blink up to it and remove the whale oil tank that powers it, but that tallboy is still hounding me. Running back to the moat, I use my Possession power to take control of one of the fish, swimming through a grate into the Palace itself. Not my best performance, but I got inside alive.

Inside the entrance hall, I overhear the Lord Regent speaking with his security detail. All the commotion outside has prompted them to move him to his saferoom at the top of the tower. Oh, I’m sure they think it’s safe. But nothing can stop me, not now. I knock out one guard before they’ve even started to return to their patrols, then head up the grand stairwell to the first proper floor of the palace. There’s a tower in the corner that leads up to the Broadcast Room, where announcements are sent all over the city. I can hear the familiar voice of the announcer up there, but decide not to approach him yet. Maybe I can find evidence of the Lord Regent’s crimes to bring to him.

There are two main floors in the palace, and I decide to explore them thoroughly, starting with the lower floor. Like the grounds outside, the palace has seen better days. Outside everything was dominated by a show of military force, but inside there’s more of a melancholy tone. The ornate marble and regal carpets are marred by boxes and crates piled in corners, excess furniture stacked along corridors and in storerooms, huge floodlights and security devices awkwardly set up in the old halls. Guards are everywhere, even some Overseers and their hounds, but there are only a few servants, and everyone is on edge. It’s a sad echo of what life in the palace must have been like before. The seat of the once great Empire has been reduced to this, a disused palace where a few men desperately cling to the last of their power.

I’ve been finding journals and overhearing conversations about the torturer in the basement, who is suspected of conspiring with the Outsider. Sure enough, there’s an Outsider shrine down there, along with the torturer himself, who has a flayed corpse hanging from a hook and is beating it over and over with a red hot iron. Charming. I blink behind him and choke him out, but only then notice his snarling hound. My first sleep dart misses as it pounces, but once I’ve shaken it off I knock it out with a second. Then I get to have another chat with the Outsider when I take the rune from the shrine. It’s more of the same, really: he ponders whether I’ll try reveal the truth, or just pursue violent revenge against the man responsible for so much death. I’m already bored as I listen to him, and wonder if the Outsider is disappointed that I keep choosing the less violent route. If so, he doesn’t show it. When he’s done rambling, I’m able to head back upstairs.

If my goal was for guards to see me often, then I’m very successful. In fact, this ends up working in my favor, because the open central stairway is too heavily guarded to approach. Once the guards see me, however, I can use Bend Time to escape, and then they will leave their posts to search for me. They never suspect that I’m hiding in the hallway rafters, waiting to get the drop on them. Eventually, I’ve dumped an absurd number of unconscious guards in the servants’ quarters, and am able to explore the second floor. The main danger here is an overseer with a hound patrolling the hallways. I’ve run out of sleep darts by this point, so there’s no way I can dispatch the hound nonlethally. Sighing, I load a standard bolt in my crossbow and shoot the hound from behind. The Overseer freaks out, but can’t see me, and when his back is turned I choke him out.

Most of the other guards on this floor came downstairs to look for me earlier, so I can move freely. The Heart indicates that there’s a bone charm hidden in a space where no room seems to exist. I poke around a little and find a secret door leading to a small hideaway. Inside, there’s a voice recording from the late Empress, to her daughter Emily. In it, she hints that Emily — and by extension, the Empress herself — also possess the Outsider’s powers. I guess it’s no accident that the Heart, a gift to me from the Outsider, speaks with the Empress’s voice.

The other point of interest on this floor is the Lord Regent’s chambers, meticulously clean and with stark white decor. He has a wall safe, but I don’t know the combination and can’t find it anywhere. The only other place to go is up to his saferoom, but I decide to return to the Broadcast Room first. Maybe the announcer knows something? Indeed, he does. He begs me not to kill him, telling me that the Lord Regent has a recorded audio confession to his crimes in his safe, and tells me the combination, which he saw over Lord Regent’s shoulder. If I can grab that recording, we can broadcast it to the entire city. Intriguing. I head back to the safe and grab the recording along with some valuables, but when I return to the Broadcast Room, the announcer has beaten a hasty retreat. I guess I can’t blame him. I insert the audio card into the reader and listen — along with the rest of the city — to the Lord Regent’s confession.

The first time I played, I found this confession absurd, the wicked plans of a pantomime villain. It turns out that the Lord Regent is responsible for the entire plague, introducing plague rats from the continent of Pandyssia into the Dunwall slums to kill all the poor people. Yes, really. He views the poor as ingrates who live off the charity of others instead of earning their meals through hard work, layabouts whose poverty is their own fault. But when the Empress suspected the plague might have been introduced intentionally by a foreign power, he arranged to have her killed lest he be discovered. Then he failed to contain the plague, but only because all those stupid city residents kept breaking quarantine instead of doing what they were told. Can’t everyone see how his plan should have worked perfectly?

It’s depressing that I find this plot more believable now. Recent years have shown us just how many of the rich elite truly don’t care whether poorer people live or die, and just how common is the belief that those in poverty are to blame for their own predicament. The truth — that our capitalist system constantly works to benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else — is vehemently denied, because the rich need to believe that the wealth they hoard is just. In the last year, the global COVID-19 pandemic revealed this truth clearly, as people were forced to choose between starvation and their homes, or working and risking their lives from exposure to the disease. We watched as the wealthy blocked measures that would suspend rent, or provide a basic income so people could stay safe. We watched as lockdown measures were lifted too early out of fear for damage to the economy, which is clearly more important than workers’ lives. We saw that our “essential workers” are treated like they are expendable. And we saw how all these things are intertwined with systemic racism. Is it really a stretch to think that someone like the Lord Regent would want to simply kill all the poor people?

The writing in Dishonored is often clunky, but despite its obvious symbolism and clumsy metaphors, it speaks to the plight of the downtrodden. Dunwall was clearly a feudal society until recently, with aristocratic families like the Pendletons lording over the peasant classes. Its recent industrial revolution, led in no small part by Anton Sokolov and our own Piero Joplin, hasn’t really improved things. Capitalists like Pratchett are no better than the Boyles. The common folk’s work is no less grueling, but now it’s done for whaling companies instead of noble masters. Part of me wonders if the writers made the villains almost unbelievably cruel so they could avoid accusations of revolutionary political messages in the game. When someone introduces a deadly plague into his own city just because he hates the poor that much, everyone can agree that he’s evil, even if they aren’t ready to admit to the injustice of wealth inequality in our society. But look past the exaggerated characters, and its not hard to see a reflection of our own world in Dunwall.

As I descend from the Broadcast Room, I spy the Lord Regent being arrested by two guards. I’m not sure how this happened, he was supposed to be hiding in his saferoom at the top of the palace. But this is the nonlethal solution to the mission, ending with the Lord Regent in custody for treason, with no need to kill him. I’m a little disappointed, because I wanted to kill him anyway. But I wanted to clear my name even more. Oh well. I still head to the rooftops, where the entrance to the saferoom is, because there’s a rune in there. There are a lot of guards patrolling outside but I’m able to choke them out one at a time. I realize with surprise that one of them is General Tobias, the head of the Lord Regent’s security, whose office I visited and pilfered earlier. He succumbed just as easily as any other guard.

The saferoom itself is harder to breach, mostly because there’s a tallboy inside. It’s nearly impossible to avoid its gaze, so I spend a lot of time comically dashing between bookshelves to hide from its weapons. Eventually I circumvent the wall of light security device that protects the rear chamber, presumably where I would have found the Lord Regent if I hadn’t exposed him. Now there’s just a rune, which I nab, before heading back downstairs. It’s easy to bypass the remaining security on the grounds and return to Samuel’s boat, outside the waterlock.

Once again, I’ve finished the mission without dying once, and the final statistics screen claims I also didn’t kill a single person. Apparently it doesn’t count the unconscious guard who was killed by a tallboy’s explosive arrow, or the hound I killed with my crossbow. That makes me feel a little foolish for using up my sleep darts on hounds, but I’m also glad I didn’t have to kill them. The hounds aren’t to blame for their masters’ deeds. Anyway, it’s technically my most successful mission yet, and my total chaos rating is still low. And the Lord Regent has been removed from power, his treachery revealed to all. Our revolution is a success. We still have the plague to deal with, but now that we know its source, maybe we’ll have a breakthrough. Maybe we can get Piero and Anton, old rivals, to work together on it. At least we know we’ll have better leadership for the city, and we can return Emily to her rightful place on the throne.

Yes, everything is looking up. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong now.

Next time: after me, the flood.

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5 Comments

  1. Seyda Neen

    “As I climb the pipes around the edges of the waterlock, I realize that it’s a completely pointless contraption.”

    You’ve just turned my hold world upside down! This is so true and I never thought about it. There’s a character in Dishonored 2 that would be more likely to overdesign this sort of thing for the purpose of flair, but Anton Sokolov seems more like a function-first kind of inventor to me.

    • Seyda Neen

      *whole world. Oops. Always proofread your comments!

    • Yeah, I never noticed this the first time I played the game either. The only reason I can think of is if it’s more of a prototype, installed at the Tower so as to impress visitors, who can then be told how these locks will soon be installed all over the city to expand the canal network.

      I haven’t played Dishonored 2 yet, but I’m looking forward to it! First I need to finish writing the epilogue to this series, then I’m going to play the story DLCs (which I’ve also never played). At that point I might take a break from Dishonored before diving into the sequel, but it’s definitely on my list to play soon.

      • Seyda Neen

        Good idea to play the DLCs. They’re really a crucial piece of the puzzle if one is trying to approach the series as a whole. Hope you enjoy them, I’ll be interested to see what you think of the writing/story compared to the main game, if you write about them.

        • Oh I’ll definitely write about them. Probably not in a full diary format though.

          By the way, the epilogue to Death Before Dishonor has finally appeared! So I can start actually playing the DLCs soon.

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