Dishonored and Dishonored 2 – One’s Bigger but the Other’s Better
Well, by a little bit, anyway.
I first started writing this article thinking it was going to be a standard review of Dishonored 2. Really, I wanted to bolster my excitement for the upcoming DLC.
However, it turned out I have a lot to say about both Dishonored and Dishonored 2, so strap yourselves in and wait until the last paragraph or so to light the pitchforks.
IMPORTANT NOTE – Unlike my reviews, this article’s gonna contain major spoilers for both Dishonored and Dishonored 2, so if you haven’t finished either and don’t like spoilers, I’d recommend coming back to this later.
First of all, I’ll go ahead and address elephant in the title – yes, I preferred the first game. Yes, I’m in a slight – really, just slight – minority. Admittedly, Dishonored 2 vastly improved on the first game’s combat system, is much bigger, the graphics are amazing, and players (including me) loved getting to know the now-grown-up Empress Emily.
I still prefer the first game.
But, hey, that’s not saying a lot.
Dishonored 2 is a great game, and I give it a solid 9.
…It’s just that the first Dishonored is a 9.5.
My main issue with Dishonored 2 is, like most opinions, entirely subjective.
See, it’s Corvo’s voice.
I feel your wrath burning through the screen. A so-called fan who doesn’t like the voice of Garrett from Thief?
Just hang on a second.
I genuinely do like Stephen Russell (well, at least his voice; I’ve never met the guy,) and Thief, and Nick Valentine, and all of his Mr. Handys, and probably a lot more stuff I don’t even know he’s in. His voice is gravelly. His voice is commanding. His voice is cool.
But see, when I first played Dishonored, I got very attached to Corvo.
Specifically, my version of Corvo.
And my version of Corvo was so pervasive in my mind that I never considered it might not actually be canon.
I had thought, while playing the silent protagonist that wore a scary mask, that he was actually a big, awkward teddy bear that no one except Empress Jessamine and Princess Emily could see the soft side of.
I thought, as Corvo tenderly held the dying Jessamine in his arms and was falsely accused of her murder, that he had not a friend in the world who would defend his honor or know why Jessamine and Emily had held him in such regard.
I genuinely believed that, similar to our silent protagonist Link in The Legend of Zelda games, that Corvo was canonically selectively mute, perhaps even high-functioning autistic. (By the way, this has nothing to do with PC-ness or lack thereof; I don’t actively attempt to diagnose every MC in every type of media. I really believed that was how he’d been written.)
Think about it – the only person, pre-Loyalists, who seemed to actively like him was Jessamine. Emily loved him like a father, and for good reason. Where are his other friends who care about him, or at least others who might’ve esteemed him enough to raise questions about his incarceration? It seemed simple to me – they don’t exist.
Now, of course, the argument’s easily made that this being a crapsack world that no one would’ve felt courageous enough to speak out on Corvo’s behalf, but I kinda doubt it would’ve been that way during Empress Jessamine’s reign. From everything we’ve seen, she was pretty darn tolerant of those who disagreed with her decisions or even outright opposed her. That’s the kind of rule that the people who might’ve come to Corvo’s aid would’ve been used to, no matter what later happened under the Lord Regent’s reign.
In fact, everyone that did know Corvo in some sense, or had seen him fight, (such as the ill-fated guard you come across in the sewers,) was perfectly happy to believe he’d done it. Those who didn’t believe it – The Loyalists – had never met Corvo.
This really didn’t give me high expectations of his social skills.
Even when it came to the Loyalists, it didn’t matter how peacefully or violently you play Corvo.
Everyone is terrified of him – from Piero, who crafted his freaky mask, to the Loyalists who believe the best solution to their Corvo problem is to kill him before he can act against him.
His lack of friends wasn’t the only indicator of Corvo’s potential impaired skills at social interaction.
I mean, Corvo literally has a talking human organ he carries around that tells him awful secrets about the Loyalists, but he still trusts them enough to accept a poisoned drink from them.
Also, everyone finds it quid pro quo that Corvo just wanders around pointing a grotesquely beating Heart at them. Nobody asks questions.
And yeah, I know in the second game it clarified that to everyone else the Heart is invisible. I’m not sure why that makes it better – he’s still wandering around and pointing his open hand in their direction and standing there for at least a full minute (if he cycles through all the statements the way I did.)
The Heart tells Corvo –
‘Lord Pendleton’s a coward who is madly jealous of his brothers.’
‘Overseer Martin is actually a former murdering highwayman disguising himself as a holy man.’
And, ‘Admiral Havelock really enjoyed killing whales when he was at sea, and he also really enjoys doing the same thing to people. Like, a lot.’
(Well, maybe not word-for-word, but you get the idea.)
Havelock himself even directly tells Corvo that he was stripped of his admiralcy due to his own involvement in piracy. He practically admitted he’s a bad guy.
And yet, Corvo thinks these people are his friends.
He thinks they’re legitimately happy for him when he takes out the Lord Protector and want to celebrate with him. He drinks from a poisoned glass, and as his world is tipping around and flashing white, he simply goes up to his room to go to bed rather than accuse the blatant villains in front of him.
To me, these were not the actions of a socially gifted individual.
Okay, okay – so the depth of the betrayal in the first game actually did surprise me, too. I was really upset about it – more so than I’d ever been about any event in a game (I’m usually pretty good at emotionally separating myself from what’s on the screen.)
But, I never really trusted the Loyalists. I thought, at best, these are bad people, but we’re working with what we have. At worst, we’ll end up disagreeing on something and have to have a throw-down ending in their deaths.
But I never would’ve taken a drink from any of them, or even if I had, I wouldn’t’ve just… gone to bed.
That’s our Corvo for ya.
So when I picked up the second game and heard Corvo talking about his past and his friends and his partying days, it really came as a shock. Was this always how the developers imagined him?
(As an aside, I also just… adore how hideous almost everyone is in these games. Like, even Overseer Martin, who I’ve seen called Sex Priest on forums and is generally considered the slickest of the Loyalists, still looks like he lost a fight with a lawnmower.)
My major point is, Dishonored gave us a blank slate to fill in Corvo’s personality with. And now it’s gone.
I hafta argue; my awkward version of Corvo makes so much more sense than Dishonored 2’s almost-suave, antihero Corvo.
Plus, it makes a GREAT foil for Daud, the actual murderer of the Empress, and the one you get to play in Dishonored’s DLCs. (If you haven’t played Knife of Dunwall or Brigmore Witches, do yourself a MASSIVE favor and get them now. They’re just as good as the main game.)
Unlike Corvo, Daud has no problem giving us his opinion on whatever is happening around him (or because of him.) Corvo’s big; Daud is short. Corvo hides his face; Daud lets everyone see him because he likes the ego boost of being recognized as the most famous assassin in Dunwall. Corvo has no charm and no friends. Daud has literally hundreds of young assassins who follow him around like lost puppies, willing to die for him rather than spill his secrets. Corvo did nothing wrong. Daud did everything wrong.
It’s honestly fantastic storytelling, having the accused murderer and the actual murderer be so drastically different from one another, yet bound by fate and the Outsider’s whims.
When I played as Corvo, I mostly just felt sad that he was so unable to connect with the people around him. I felt such a sting of betrayal on his behalf when he thought he’d finally made friends and then they tried to off him. I preferred a ‘Clean Hands’ playthrough for him, because to me, he was like a terrifying birthday clown – he just wants to make life better for everyone, but everyone runs away screaming because he’s, well… terrifying.
But as Daud, I actually had a hard time not killing people. This guy was a talkative, sneering assassin who enjoyed what he did – I had to play ‘Knife of Dunwall’ twice, because the first time, I just couldn’t let the morons who would insult him to his face get away with that.
I mean, this is Daud.
This is the Knife of Dunwall.
This is the man who refers to himself as ‘Ego Homini Lupus‘ – ‘I am a wolf among man.’
This is the man who shoved a sword through the Empress.
There’s no way he’d let some snot-nosed Hatter kid refer to him as ‘old man.’
So, yeah… I played Knife of Dunwall on High Chaos. And got a bad ending. …Which didn’t fit in with his little redemption story, so I fixed that in my second playthrough, and in The Brigmore Witches.
After Corvo, Daud is honestly a delight to play. Corvo is quietly scary as he lumbers around awkwardly and looms over everyone while pointing a beating heart in their direction. Daud is scary too, but in a small, squirrelly kinda way; he’s the type of guy who pimp-slaps witches back into paintings.
I get none of this fun dichotomy now that Dishonored 2 is out.
It’s not just Corvo’s voice/personality that bothers me, though – Dishonored 2 gave the player no choice in Corvo’s past actions, even though ‘choices’ was entirely what the first game was about.
It didn’t matter that I’d suffered through a ‘Clean Hands’ run or that someone else went out of their way to slaughter everything in their path for the deceptively-difficult ‘High Chaos’ run. No matter how you played, according to Dishonored 2, a Low Chaos playthrough with a few kills is the only canon ending to the first game.
But, this has all been about how Dishonored 2 related to the first game. What about if it stood on its own? If I’d never played the first game, would I have rated it that coveted half-point higher?
I’ve got two words in answer to that question.
I haven’t been this annoyed with a game level since that part in Dragon Age where you stomp around the Fade.
Now, I get it – the mansion level is very technically impressive. Not only visually, but programmatically, design-ally, and many more allys.
Even the glaring bug where you can fall through the world behind the wall makes me laugh, especially when it’s hand-waved by Jindosh -‘the space behind the walls is not meant for humans. Be careful not to fall.’
It’s a feature, not a bug!
Mainly, my problem with this level is it goes on waaay too long. And it’s not fun. It’s like, they spent so much time making sure this level was impressive, they forgot to make it fun.
And Jindosh. Won’t. Shut. Up.
In the case of Jindosh’s chattiness, I think the developers knew exactly how obnoxious he was, especially since his is the only custom crotch-shot-kill animation in the whole game.
Oh, and, for the record, I was going for a ‘Clean Hands’ playthrough on this one, as well, up until that very point. Since by then, I was so frustrated I didn’t care about preserving Jindosh’s life (there’s probably an art-y statement or ‘the nature of man’ point to make out of being annoyed in-game until you kill someone, but again, I don’t care.)
Pro-tip, by the way – if you go in and never talk to him, he won’t know where you are and won’t talk at you, either. Found that out on my third playthrough.
Here’s for some awesome-points, though, what made the game a ‘9’ for me.
I loved playing as Emily and getting to know her. Her powers being different from Corvo’s, but related to her status as Empress of a people, like the Domino effect, was downright brilliant.
Getting to hang out with – *ahem* – Meagan Foster was great, as was learning more about her past, including a connection to the Duke that might’ve explained his penchant for being a weirdo creep (but I doubt the Freudian excuse is entirely why he acts like an idiot. He just… is one.)
And I like him that way. The Duke was friggin’ hilarious.
‘Duke, out.’ (Actual quote.)
I went into fits when I found his self-portrait.
It reminded me of George W. Bush’s painting of Vladimir Putin.
On a somewhat unrelated note, have y’all seen how good W.’s paintings have gotten?
I adored the Jekyll/Hyde storyline with Dr. Hypatia, and heck, all the colors and environments of 2 was like a breath of fresh air after the first game.
The villain of the first game’s DLC’s, Delilah, is the major villain of 2 and –
Outsider; that was perfect.
Delilah’s become one of my favorite villains of all time.
I know she’s either dead or stuck in a happy painting somewhere, but I want more of her. Sooner rather than later, but I bet that doesn’t happen, at least not for another few games.
But the best part? The ability to knock enemies out if they spot you.
Fan-friggin-tastic- not having to totally stealth or run away during a low chaos run is a real boon.
I’m eagerly awaiting the recently-announced DLC, especially as it’s confirmed to have Daud and more ‘Meagan’.
I admittedly have some reservations – the new DLC has a lot to live up to, considering the first game’s.
I really hope they’re not gonna go for a blatant, or even hinted, sexual relationship between ‘Meagan’ and the canonically asexual Daud, not only because of his sexual non-preference but because I’d always thought of their relationship as father/daughter, another mirror to Corvo and Emily.
I really hope Daud’s apparent vendetta against the Outsider is explained, because while the Outsider has his own brand of blue-and-orange morality, he’s never really done anything but help Corvo, Emily, and Daud (at least, on-screen.) Maybe we’ll get some backstory for just why Daud refers to him as ‘the black-eyed bastard.’
Still, DLC’s not out yet – no point in speculating. I think it’s gonna be great, even if it’s not quite Knife of Dunwall/Brigmore Witches great, the way Dishonored 2 isn’t quite Dishonored 1 great.
Seeing Daud again will make everything worth it.
Crossing my fingers for more witch-slapping action.