Critical Intel

Critical Intel
The Devil and Corvo Attano

Robert Rath | 16 Jan 2014 12:00
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Pacifism limited my options. Foreswearing lethal tools meant that Blink, Dark Vision, Bend Time and sleep darts became my best friends. I gave up the sword-it became nothing but a tool to parry attacks. Devouring Swarm only produced rats for me to possess. Blood Thirsty and Shadow Kill served no purpose. My pistol, incendiary bolts, explosive bolts, grenades and Spring Razors only appeared when I equipped them by accident. It was terrible game design. Why give the player two paths if you're going to make one less interesting than the other? Choosing a different tactical approach should be about giving the player more gameplay, not less. The thought continually infuriated me as the game progressed. I'd see a Watch Officer standing on a balcony and think: I could blow him over the edge with Windblast, if I wanted. Picking my way past a group of enemies, I'd pause and fantasize about attaching Spring Razors to their faces, or summoning a rat horde to pick their bones clean. They deserve it, don't they? And God, I thought, this would be so much easier. I'd be so much more powerful. Killing them would be so much fun.

That, my friends, is called temptation. And that's why I don't believe the Outsider wants Corvo to reach the good ending.

Sure, the Outsider gives Corvo the tools to rescue Emily, clear his name and stop the plague-but those only exist at the dusty bottom of the toolbox. All the abilities that are the most effective, visually striking and fun to use lead Corvo down the path of chaos and worsen the plague. While the Outsider never advocates Corvo ripping every jugular vein in his path, the equipment and powers he provides run decidedly pro-murder. Corvo ultimately decides whether to use lethal force, but it's by no means an impartial decision-the Outsider sets him up for failure by making the lethal option more effective and satisfying. Of course, in choosing the easier and more pleasurable path, Corvo damns both the city and himself.

But that's not the only tool that tempts you-the Heart plays a role too. Point it at any enemy and it reveals their inner secrets. Most of the time, the revelation makes you hate them, and seems to justify their murder. This City Watchman beats his son. That one is a drunk. Another will kill twice more before he takes his own life-unless he dies tonight. Not only does the Outsider hand you the weapons, he spoons-feeds the justification as well. These are bad people. You're doing the city a favor. Taking their lives may save others.

But that path is a whirling drain. You may start killing selectively, using the Heart to find the worst men. But after you find so many bad Watchmen, you start assuming there are no good ones. You stop using the Heart, meaning that along with the child abusers and murderers you kill men who are mentally handicapped, in love, or searching for their family. Righteousness makes you feel like the city's avenger, removing the human filth-and in your moral certitude, you keep spilling blood until it clots in the gutters and floods the street. But of course, it's not only Corvo who can fall into thinking this way-almost every character in Dishonored suffers the corrosive effects of righteousness. Lord Pendleton orders his brothers executed for political reasons, but underneath that is simmering personal resentment. The Loyalists wrap themselves in the flag to justify their ambition. Overseers torture the populace because it suspects their sins brought the rat plague. And in the end, that self-justification does nothing to assuage the guilt. Pendleton resents Corvo for dealing with his brothers. The Loyalists destroy themselves through infighting or are poisoned to hide their shame. Rather than curing the plague, the Overseers cause the city to fall further into darkness. The overriding message is that violence may be useful in the short term but leads to misery down the road-and no self-serving moral justification can change that.

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