This week, 9th-12th October, Dishonored celebrates its fifth birthday. Today marks the anniversary of its European release so what better time to fawn about my favourite moments of the game.
Whilst I’m not denying its sequel set the standard gameplay-wise, the original Dishonored’s nine story missions still provide a tremendous amount of entertainment and replayability. Bolstered by the arguably stronger DLC missions and the addictive Dunwall City Trials, Dishonored still retains a deserved place on my list of Favourite Games Ever. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. Its lore is deep, its characters well fleshed out. The world is one of ruin and decay, with the rat plague eating Dunwall and its inhabitants into nonexistence and gangs running rampant. The Empress murdered, her bodyguard falsely accused of the crime and the rightful heir to the throne kidnapped, the story is not a happy one, but it’s engrossing and gut-wrenching and emotive. In short, it’s a masterpiece.
As with any listicle, the content of this one is purely subjective, and these points aren’t in any kind of order. I did decide to include the downloadable content for consideration, even though I’m aware it was all released after the vanilla game (plus, they’re too good NOT to include).
1 – The Surge
The final mission of The Knife of Dunwall, Daud returns to his hideout in the Flooded District to discover he’s been betrayed by his second-in-command, and the base has been stormed by a group of zealous Overseers.
This mission is a bit of a pig to complete regardless of how you go about it, but the sudden spike in difficulty hits nonlethal players the hardest. Stealth players rely heavily on the use of Daud’s powers, both to track enemy movement but also traverse around obstacles. In this mission, not only are there heavy patrols on every floor, many Overseers carry the dreaded Music Boxes, meaning Daud becomes powerless when in their vicinity. This, combined with the sheer number of enemies, makes it exceedingly difficult to traverse the dilapidated ruins of the district.
It’s precisely this difficulty that makes the level so satisfying to complete from a gameplay standpoint, especially without harming a soul or once being spotted. Imagining the horrifying realisation in an Overseer’s mind that Daud has managed to evade the tool built specifically to repel him is the best part for me. But what truly makes this mission stand out is the story, especially as we now know the canonical outcome. I’m a sucker for any kind of villain redemption arc, which is why I always played Daud in low chaos. Being a paid killer, Daud has always just shoved his blade into his target without a second thought, but when faced with the prospect of it being Billie Lurk, the lieutenant he’s raised from childhood, he’s put in a unique position. It speaks volumes to his character development, and humanity, given that we know he spares her. He can choose to do this regardless of chaos level, but I like to think the low chaos outcome is the canonical one: instead of tranquilising Lurk in combat, she gives herself up and kneels before him for beheading, only to be gently dismissed and exiled. I do not doubt that from the moment she departs Daud hopes he will encounter her again, and I’m super glad that he does (even if it is for all of five minutes before he DIES, GODDAMMIT).
2 – Bend Time Massacre
Sometimes all a person wants to do is kick back, relax and simply kill a shedload of people. (Note: this website DOES NOT condone real-life mass murder; remember the lack of Netflix behind bars). Whilst total annihilation is possible in the main campaign, this particular Dunwall City Trial allows one to do just that without consequence; no extra rat swarms, no extra Weepers, no terribly bleak ending. Just murder, and lots of it. Delicious.
Across the six rounds, players face an increasing number of enemies to eliminate, different time limits and a larger number of kills required to pass the level. From the moment the glass is smashed, Bend Time II is activated, giving a set amount of time to unleash a massacre before time resumes. Points are awarded for creativity (or ‘flair’), clearing out a level in its entirety and skills such as headshots. At the beginning of each round, a small supply of equipment and ammunition is available, along with a few powers. Each successful win also triggers a bonus round, a one-chance round to gain points by completing a specific objective such as using only one weapon or killing a particular target.
What makes this challenge immensely enjoyable isn’t the ability to massacre everyone before you, watching limbs scatter and nobles cower as they stare at the grenade at their feet in horror. It’s the satisfaction of plotting out a strategy and then watching it come to life. Having an infinite amount of time and a full view of everyone in each room means one can be meticulous about where to shoot this crossbow bolt, or to whom to attach that springrazor. Watching time start and all hell break loose is a pleasure, and with that I have established myself as an utter masochist. Excellent.
3 – Dishonored
Dishonored as a game effectively begins when Corvo Attano escapes from Coldridge Prison. Given the key to his cell by a bribed officer of the City Watch – he can be rescued from his own execution by Daud in The Brigmore Witches – Corvo’s only instructions are to escape the prison and find a hidden cache of equipment, which he does with relative ease. This is a man who, despite being brutally tortured and presumably starved for six months, still manages to overpower the guards, blow up the blast door and disappear into the sewers, either leaving a trail of blood or loud snores dependent on playstyle.
There’s nothing especially deep or complex about this mission, either in its gameplay or its story, barring the introduction of the loyalist conspiracy at the end. It’s easy, with fewer and lower-level guards on patrol, plenty of cover to hide behind and no alarms to bring a hundred more guards running. What makes it memorable is the fact that it takes place before Corvo has received his Outsider’s Mark and therefore has a wealth of powers at his disposal. Armed with only a sword, a gun and his wits, Corvo still manages to escape the prison – doubly as satisfying if done with nobody being aware of him leaving his cell until he plants the explosives on the outer door. This mission does its job of establishing the protagonist as a force to be reckoned with, a man not to cross else end up dead (or slumbering beneath a pile of your mates).
4 – The Golden Cat
Tasked with eliminating the twin Lords Pendleton and retrieving Emily, all of whom are holed up at Dunwall’s best brothel, Corvo treads the familiar path through the Distillery District to the bathhouse as it prepares for its grand reopening following an internal plague outbreak.
As with many of the nonlethal punishments for the targets, death is perhaps kinder, and this mission is no exception. Sure Corvo can enter the brothel, find the twins and kill them in cold blood, but what I love about this mission is the ability to eliminate them without even having to go near them. Acquiring the combination of a local art dealer’s safe for Bottle Street Gang leader Slackjaw results in the twins being kidnapped, disfigured, and worked to death in their own family-owned mines, although this is the first time the player is presented with a real plethora of choices in regards to taking out a target. Storm The Golden Cat and slaughter them all? Do it. Have Slackjaw’s lackeys take care of the twins? Sweet. My personal favourite is to gain the safe combination but kill the twins– a bonus is getting to steam one of the twins to death in the Steam Room because it looks like an accident! – and then deliver the combination to Slackjaw anyway, after picking the safe clean.
Some of the best parts of his mission are the little details, such as a drawing of a Golden Cat by Emily that’s visible on Madame Prudence’s desk, the two courtesans in the dressing room talking about how cute they think the girl is, or the audiograph Emily records after her arrival at the Hound Pits Pub safehouse, detailing an exchange between Prudence and Custis Pendleton as he casually strolls into her office stark naked making his demands.
5- The Flooded District
The seventh mission of Dishonored marks a huge turning point in the story. Upon realising just how powerful a man Corvo is, the loyalists betray him, having him poisoned and dumped in the river. Fortunately for Corvo, boatman Samuel is not corruptible like his former allies and, whilst he does accept the payment, he puts only half the poison into Corvo’s drink and leaving him a hair’s breadth from Daud’s hideout.
I have a love-hate relationship with this mission, but ultimately it remains one of the best. It is long and complex, although it’s not the first time Corvo encounters the Whalers: during the Golden Cat, three lie in wait for the bodyguard as he traverses Bottle Street. Taking these three out is no real problem, but when faced with a district crawling with them it becomes exponentially trickier. The Whalers, able to leech some of Daud’s abilities, can Blink from spot to spot, making their patrols more widespread – instead of just one rooftop, they will patrol two or three.
I’ve never attempted to complete the mission without first collecting Corvo’s gear, thrown into a nearby warehouse, although it is possible – Corvo will then be stuck with any sword he picks up rather than his folding blade, and will be without a crossbow for the remainder of the game. I strongly urge everyone to explore the warehouse though, because it’s this mission where I find the game’s continuity is at its finest. If Campbell is branded a heretic in mission two, he can be encountered in the basement of the warehouse as a Weeper. The District is also full of Overseers, the remnants of the zealots’ storm of the Whaler’s hideout in The Knife of Dunwall.
Most importantly, however, this is the mission where Corvo finally gets to face the man who murdered the Empress (and the mother of his daughter). Here Corvo faces a dilemma not dissimilar to the one Daud will have faced in The Surge. Does he kill the assassin and avenge Empress Jessamine’s death? Or does he sneak in, steal his money and then leave, thereby sending him a greater message: look how close I got and you were unaware. Canonically of course, Daud is spared, escaping Dunwall for the sunny heat of Karnaca where he’ll eventually resurface. Perhaps I’m too emotionally invested in this series and its characters, but I could never bring myself to kill Daud, regardless of how high a chaos level I was sporting. Makes me wonder if Corvo can see Daud’s inner turmoil and understand his weariness, or if he simply spared the killer to prove he was still above him.
So there it is, in black and white. My top five missions from Dishonored. Do you agree? Disagree? Have no opinion whatsoever? Feel free to share, and watch this space. After all, the game does have two sequels full of content to rank – I need only the flimsiest excuse to boot up my Xbox and play through this series well into the afterlife.