Game-related ramblings.

Death Before Dishonor, Part 8: The Void Gazes Also Into You

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, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7 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, is coming to a close. Despite forcing myself not to reload saved games when things go wrong (most of the time, anyway), I’ve managed to get all this way while keeping my overall chaos rating low, and it looks like I’m on track for the low chaos finish. Can I pull it off? Read on for massive spoilers.

Last time, I returned to the Hound Pits Pub after being betrayed by our resistance movement’s leader, Havelock, and his conspirators, Overseer Martin and Lord Treavor Pendleton. They’d poisoned me, fearing I could prevent them from influencing the young Empress-to-be, Emily Kaldwin, but I was saved by Samuel the boatman, who only gave me half of the poison dose before setting me adrift. After an adventure in the Flooded District, I found my way back to the Hound Pits only to discover that Havelock’s treachery extended to the others as well. He killed Lydia and Wallace, the senior servants, but spared Callista, and Cecilia escaped. The City Watch were crawling all over, but I managed to rescue Piero Joplin and Anton Sokolov and, with their help, knocked out all of the heavily armed police on the premises.

Now, it’s time to chase down Havelock, Martin and Pendleton, who have taken Emily and fled to the recently constructed lighthouse on Kingsparrow Island, thinking they will be secure there with all its state of the art military technology. But they should know by now that nothing can stop me. Having sent a signal to Samuel, I take a ride on his boat one last time. It’s time to end this.

Strangely, I remembered almost nothing about this mission from the first time I played. I’m not sure why, because it’s actually a really interesting one to play. The lighthouse itself is a towering construction, calling to mind a narrower Eiffel Tower, and it’s actually built on a separate, smaller rock, connected to Kingpsarrow Island only via a narrow and well-defended bridge. And to reach that bridge, I’ll have to make it through the fort on Kingsparrow Island itself, which is heavily guarded. Samuel drops me off at a small and suspiciously empty dock and, after a heartfelt goodbye, I’m on my own.

Right away, there are multiple ways to approach. Directly ahead looms a large lookout post, its modern metallic structure protruding from the older stone walls of the original fort. Many Watchmen are stationed atop it, looking out from its high vantage point, and a few more are patrolling the beach below. To my left, I can see another such lookout post, guarding a second dock which seems to be used for loading supplies. I could blink or swim over there and try to infiltrate the fort that way, provided I can dodge the automated turret tower nearby. I also spy some drain pipes partway up the fort’s walls, which would be out of reach for anyone who didn’t possess the Outsider’s powers as I do. While those are likely the easiest way to get in unseen, I decide to try taking on the first lookout post, hoping I’ll find some supplies in there.

Things start well, as I sneak up and choke out the guards on the beach, and then make my way underneath the lookout post. Here I stop and use my Dark Vision power to watch the guards patrolling above, learning their routes before making my move. But then I’m surprised by a sound behind me. It seems that the distant automated guard tower is not actually too far away to spot me, and it’s started to fire some rockets in my direction. Time to run! I leg it back to the dock, and then creep forward again when the tower has calmed down. But it alerted some of the Watchmen who are now looking around the beach for me. Fortunately I’m able to get the jump on them and knock them all out. Then it’s back to the lookout post, this time making sure the guard tower won’t see me.

This next part is the only thing that stirred a vague memory of the first time I played this mission: there’s a half-height maintenance level underneath the lookout post proper, which I can use to sneak around below the guards. A couple of hatches open up onto the lookout post itself, so once I’ve determined the opportune moment by watching with Dark Vision, I can jump up, grab a guard and then drop his unconscious body below in the maintenance area. It’s not long before other guards hear me, though. Here I run into a limitation of the Dishonored enemy AI, because they come over to investigate but completely ignore the open hatch leading below to my hiding place. Where, exactly, do they think I’m hiding? It should be pretty obvious. But alas, I am able to exploit this over and over, and soon I’ve knocked out all the guards, and looted supplies from the modern-style turrets that ring the raised lookout platform.

There’s a huge wall of light security gate leading into the fort, but its power source is nowhere to be seen, so I can’t get in that way. But from here I can blink to one of the drain pipes along the wall, and soon I’m peering cautiously into the interior courtyard. I love the design of the fort itself, it reminds me of some of the real forts on the islands off of mainland Massachusetts that were used in the American Civil War, like Fort Warren on Georges Island which I visited a few times on school trips as a kid. The Kingsparrow Fort in Dishonored has a similar pentagonal shape, similar stout stone walls, similar viewing slits for gunners on the ramparts to fire at ship-borne landing parties. Within the history of Dishonored, the fort was built in response to the Morley Rebellion, when the Isle of Morley rose up against the Empire. More recently, it’s been augmented with the new technology based on Anton Sokolov’s designs, metal constructions grafted onto the old stone structure and whale oil tanks powering walls of light, lightning pylons, and other security devices. As I explore, I move between the clanking and buzzing of modern machinery and the lonely ocean wind atop the old stone walls, making for an evocative locale for my final mission.

Strangely, despite all the new security systems in the fort, there are no tallboys. It seems I bade farewell to the scary stilt-walkers back at the Hound Pits, when Piero and Sokolov’s new and improved lightning pylon knocked them all out. Good riddance, I say. Here in the fort I only have regular guards to deal with, although there are a few Overseers also. I quickly find an interior route leading up to the bridge connecting the fort to the lighthouse, bypassing most of the security, but I’m curious and want to explore more thoroughly. So I make my way around the walls, sneaking up and choking out guards when I get a chance. My first serious mishap occurs as I’m using Dark Vision to watch some guards inside the modern guard post that’s been installed atop the wall looking out over the docks. The distorted colors of Dark Vision prevent me from realizing that the guard I’m watching can also see me through the window slit. Before I have a chance to react, he’s drawn his pistol and shot me. My fancy armor absorbs much of the damage, but I’m knocked backwards and plummet off the wall, landing just outside the drain pipe again with just a sliver of my health remaining. That was close. I guzzle a couple of elixirs to heal, and then make my way back into the fort, vowing to be more careful this time.

I must report, however, that my stealth failed many times more. On multiple occasions I froze time to escape, then hid in a turret and watched as guards sprinted along the walls, looking for me. They always returned to their patrols eventually, muttering about how there’s a prowler about, but still never seeming to notify the guards up in the lighthouse. Presumably, Havelock and the others are afraid that I’m coming, and would have instructed guards to raise some sort of alarm if they saw me. But they just revert to normal operations, with word of my sighting never spreading too far. Eventually I’ve explored most of the fort: I check out the other entry point, at the loading dock by the automated guard tower, as well as the lifeboat berths. I’ve even figure out how to disable the wall of light at the main entrance, despite it no longer being necessary.

Throughout it all, I’ve still not killed anyone, until I try entering the courtyard itself. I’ve now circled the walls and eliminated the guards patrolling the ramparts, but there are still a bunch of them in the courtyard, including an Overseer carrying one of their strange music box devices which will disrupt my magical powers. I plot a means to knock him out first, but as I blink down behind him and get him in a choke hold, I worry that another guard will see me. So instead of picking him up once he’s unconscious, I let his body drop to the floor so I can quickly check for other guards. This proves to be a big mistake. Instead of crumpling to the floor, he topples forward and falls off of the raised platform he was patrolling. It’s about fifteen or twenty feet off the ground, and the fall proves fatal. Curses. The other guards weren’t even looking, and now that I have a closer look at the courtyard I see there’s nothing here to loot anyway. It was a waste of time. Cowed, I retrace my steps and return to the tower which connects to the lighthouse. Let’s get on with it.

The bridge connecting the fort to the lighthouse doesn’t look much like a bridge. It reminds me of a cable car, a small roofed platform suspended midway between the two structures by metal cables, with only narrow walkways and stairs providing access on either end. These look extremely unsafe, with just thin railings to prevent a precipitous fall to the water and rocks far below. But they are also easy to defend. Or they would be, if the central structure didn’t have a convenient support beam running below it. I blink there and sneak right underneath the guards, then blink up the stairs to knock out the guard on the lighthouse end of the bridge. There’s just on more guard patrolling the base of the lighthouse tower, and I’ve soon choked him out, leaving me free to ride the elevator up to the top.

If I thought the bridge was frightening, the top of the lighthouse is downright terrifying. I’m really high up now, and the only way to go is to climb higher via more open walkways with panoramic views. In fact, the nearest guard is perched at a railing, peering down at the fort and island which are so far below us that they look tiny. He should have been watching the elevator; it’s child’s play to sneak up behind him and choke him out. Other guards ahead are a bit more attentive, watching the stairway and not getting distracted. When I see they aren’t going to turn their backs, I have to use some sleep darts to take them out. Soon, however, I’m entering the lighthouse proper, glad to have some walls around me again.

It’s quite the change in scenery. The interior of the lighthouse is extremely fancy, with marble floors and a grand spiral staircase circling a huge statue of the Lord Regent. Portraits of him adorn the walls, too, just in case I forgot that this lighthouse was his pet project. I suddenly feel like I’m back in Dunwall Tower, where I exposed the Lord Regent’s crimes and took him down. That connection is not accidental. There’s a new Lord Regent now: Havelock. And I can hear him talking in the room above, although I can’t quite make out what he’s saying. I carefully creep up the staircase until I’m at the threshold to the grand meeting room and can eavesdrop without being seen.

Havelock is pacing around, ranting about his plans for the city. I soon realize he’s not talking about what he will do, but what he would have done; he seems convinced that it’s all slipping between his fingers. I see Pendleton and Martin sitting at the table, but Martin isn’t moving, and Pendleton is slumped over unnaturally. It’s not until I see the flies buzzing around them that I realize they’re dead. Havelock has killed them, probably with poison. He’s terrified that his rebellious activities during our coup will be exposed and he’ll be removed from power, so anyone who knows the truth must die. He doesn’t seem to have considered that the deaths of the High Overseer and the most highly placed member of parliament — positions that Havelock himself appointed to Martin and Pendleton — would incriminate him. But Havelock is no longer thinking clearly; the new Lord Regent has followed the same path as the old, seizing power by any means necessary and then falling into a destructive spiral of paranoia. In this lighthouse, which looks like Dunwall Tower in miniature, the first Lord Regent’s story has played out again in miniature. The themes that Sokolov so awkwardly explained back at the Hound Pits are now acted out in this room: power corrupts, and if you are not vigilant, you will become the very thing you fight against. I don’t know if the Outsider ever visited Havelock, or if Havelock has ever gazed into the Outsider’s Void. But the Void sure seems to be gazing back.

Havelock spends much of his rant cursing me. He’s certain that I’m coming for him, that all of his security will be for naught and I’ll slip through just like I have on all of my other missions. This time, he’s correct. As he finally quiets down, I ponder the best way to approach. I’d rather catch him by surprise then walk in openly, so I blink towards a set of stairs along one side of the room and climb up to a mezzanine level. I find Havelock’s journal here, including the old entries which make it clear that we were working together, as well as a more recent audio log. They’re enough evidence to prove that Havelock has been lying about me, but I still think it’s better to have Havelock himself in custody to give a confession. I blink down behind him and quickly choke him out. He’ll be brought to justice, just like the last Lord Regent.

Now, I just have to rescue Emily. I can hear her voice, muffled through a door. She’s been locked in a closet. I can rattle the door, and even peer through the keyhole to see her inside, but strangely can’t talk to her. It seems I must find the key, but it’s not on Havelock’s body. I look around the room but don’t see it. Perhaps upstairs? There is a door to a balcony of sorts up there, and I even saw some stairs leading upwards outside. But this just leads to more windy walkways above the meeting room, culminating in a precarious summit buffeted by strong winds. There’s nothing up here, which makes me wonder why it’s there at all. Then I have a sneaking suspicion. Perhaps if I’d chosen the high chaos route, I would have found an altogether more dire and high stakes final confrontation out here.

Returning to the meeting room, I immediately see the key lying on a side table. Silly me. I open the closet door and a grateful Emily leaps into my arms, asking me if Havelock is gone, and if everything will be OK now.

And… that’s it. The mission is over. I killed one person, the Overseer who I accidentally dropped off of a platform, and I’ve maintained low chaos all the way until the end. All that remains is a cinematic epilogue sequence. The Outsider, who hasn’t appeared since my confrontation with Granny Rags on my way back to the Hound Pits, narrates the conclusion of the story, accompanied by frozen vignettes within his Void. I see Piero and Sokolov concocting a plague cure together, and Emily on the throne with me standing by as protector, as the Outsider explains that my restraint helped guide Dunwall into a golden age after the plague. Emily became known as Emily the Wise, and she ruled long and well. Many years later when I died an old man, she had my body interred with her mother’s, because I was much more than a protector to her (indeed, Havelock’s final journal entry finally voiced a suspicion that many players likely shared: that Corvo may actually be Emily’s father). I also see a few scenes showing what happened to my other friends. Samuel took over the reopened Hound Pits pub, Callista was reunited with her uncle, and Cecelia not only survived, but seems to have found herself a man.

I admit, I was somewhat surprised to find such a happy ending. I may have stopped both Lord Regents’ treachery, and kept Emily relatively safe (she was certainly traumatized, if not physically harmed), but throughout my adventure I found that Dunwall’s problems ran much deeper than that. What of the poorer citizens, who have suffered for generations under aristocratic rule, and who suffered the most from the plague? Was the hubris that saw Dunwall’s wealthy Rudshore district transformed into the derelict Flooded District truly eliminated? Did Dunwall’s technological revolution really help people, or did it create even more inequality? The environmental storytelling in Dishonored did an excellent job highlighting all of these problems, but they are absent in the ending. It’s disappointing, but again I wonder if the writers were afraid of including political messages that might be seen as controversial. Everyone can agree that power corrupts, but anticapitalist sentiments may have raised flags during development. Whatever the reason, the ending is a little toothless, especially for a game that doesn’t shy away from depicting grim situations. I was happy for Emily and my friends though.

And so, my experiment in playing Dishonored without using saved games as a crutch is complete. It didn’t go the way I expected. As I wrote in my introduction, “I want to play Corvo as someone who doesn’t intend to kill anyone, but is often forced to when things don’t go according to plan.” But, he wasn’t. Not because things always went to plan; they very much didn’t. But I found that I had a lot of ways to get out of sticky situations without killing people. Early on, it was liberal use of sleep darts. Later, it was freezing time and hiding, waiting for things to calm down. I did kill some people, but only a few were accidents, most were by choice. When I started, I was convinced that I’d end up with the high chaos ending this time, because I thought that without using saved games to get every part of every mission absolutely perfect, everything would devolve into violence and death. Not so! Corvo has enough tools in his arsenal to escape, evade, and otherwise circumvent his adversaries without killing them, even if they find him while he’s trying to sneak around.

But the really surprising thing was how it felt to play without using saved games. It was incredibly liberating. I usually play games with heavy use of quicksaves, so I’m constantly assessing how I’m doing, how long it’s been since the last save, and whether it’s a good idea to save again or reload an earlier save when I had a bit more health or ammo. This mindset came from playing older games, which usually lacked autosave features, and could set players back quite a bit if they died. But after a short time playing Dishonored for this series, my thinking shifted. I stopped worrying about how well I was doing, and started just pondering what I should do next. Soon, I’d completely forgotten about saved games. I was just playing. And it was glorious.

If you’re a quicksave fan, I strongly recommend trying to play without them, just to see what it’s like. You’ll probably have a short adjustment period, but once you get used to it, it’s a ton of fun. And Dishonored is a great game to start with, because there’s so much room for improvisation. I liked to sneak around and knock out as many guards as I could, exploring every corner. But I could have just found sneaky routes to my objectives and bypassed the guards altogether. When I was discovered, I favored sleep darts and manipulating time to run away, but I could have possessed one of my enemies instead, hiding among their very ranks. Or I could have knocked my adversaries down with a magical wind blast (a power I never even used this time), or summoned a rat swarm to distract them. There are always options, and if I’d reloaded a saved game whenever someone saw me, I’d have missed out on all of them. But more importantly, I’d have missed out on my chance to play in the moment, to not constantly worry about what had happened since my last save, and what might happen next. In Death Before Dishonor, all that mattered was what was happening right now. That was a wonderful feeling.

So, I’m happy with how Death Before Dishonor turned out. But due to my unexpectedly nonviolent adventure, I’ve still never seen what happens at high chaos. I wonder if there’s an incredibly dark ending to counterbalance the surprisingly happy one I got this time. What would happen if Corvo Attano gazed too long into the Outsider’s Void? Could he become a worse villain than Havelock? I’ve achieved the ending I wanted, but now I want to see how badly things could have gone. To find out, I’m planning an epilogue of sorts. It will take a little while to put together, but eventually it will appear here on this blog, so stay tuned for that.

For now, however, Death Before Dishonor proper is complete. I hope you’ve enjoyed going on this journey with me. If you haven’t played Dishonored yourself, I highly recommend it. It’s now sold as a Definitive Edition, which includes all of the DLC (which I’ll also be getting to… eventually), from whatever digital storefront is your favorite. It’s very good, in case that wasn’t clear from this series. Dunwall may be a thoroughly unpleasant place to be during Corvo’s adventure, but you’ll still love every minute of it.

Next time: an epilogue?

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3 Comments

  1. kelvingreen

    I very much enjoyed this series, and I look forward to the Chaos Epilogue!

    I did something similar with Skyrim. The first time I played it, I played as a goodie, never stealing, and only killing when I had to. The second time, I went Full Evil, joined both the assassin and thief guilds, and became a vampire. I was surprised to discover that there is a significant difference, albeit only in the assassin plotline.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! And I hope you do give Dishonored a try, it really is a great game. Sorry if this series spoiled the whole thing though…

      • kelvingreen

        Worry not, spoilers don’t concern me too much! The main thing putting me off was anxiety over not being able to get a low chaos ending, but reading this series has shown me it’s not only possible, but potentially not difficult, so it’s all good.

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