Critical Intel

Critical Intel
The Devil and Corvo Attano

Robert Rath | 16 Jan 2014 12:00
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dishonored 5

But those that accept the Outsider's "assistance" have even worse fates. Daud ends the game an emotional wreck having sacrificed his principles for money. Piero's brilliant visions (of weapons that worsen the plague, note, not a permanent cure) poison his mind with fever dreams. Granny Rags, once an aristocrat who wanted knowledge, wanders the streets as a homeless cannibal, her mental faculties long gone. People who bear the Outsider's Mark, it seems, don't meet a good end, and they always seem to contribute toward destabilizing Dunwall. For what purpose is open to debate-the Outsider may simply like chaos, or else he may be the giant Leviathan we see in the void, wrecking Dunwall so its fishing industry doesn't wipe out his kin. In any case, it's undeniable that the Outsider has some unspoken agenda and tries to guide these "interesting" people into serving him. Look closely enough and you'll see the proof tattooed on Corvo's hand. The Outsider's Mark is in the shape of a compass. A device for finding your way, true, but also a device that only ever points one way.

So let's take stock here. The Outsider is a cosmic being that picks favorites and tests them. In the case of Corvo he, through Daud, destroys everything he holds dear and puts him in a bad situation. Once there, he appears to Corvo and gives him the tools that can destroy the city if used improperly, and the Heart which makes Corvo feel like killing is normal or justified. Given these circumstances, the player either gets the "good" or "bad" ending depending on whether they can resist temptation or not. In the High Chaos endings, Corvo gives into the city's righteous violence, joining gleefully in the dance of destruction. In contrast, the Low Chaos narrative isn't so much a redemption story as it is the story of a good man who holds onto his morals as the world beats him down. Like Job, Corvo refuses to give into his baser instincts even as his family dies, plagues infect his city, and the heart of his lover feeds him justifications for why he should join the chaos. Now, am I suggesting that Dishonored is re-telling the Book of Job? Not exactly, but I think that it borrows from the narrative, consciously or not.

Dishonored is a complex game with a lot of layers. I've praised it in the past for effectively invoking British honor culture, a visually impressive magic system, and mature depiction of 19th century whaling, but the way it manipulates and tempts the player is by far its most impressive deceit. Rather than show Corvo's internal struggle over whether to use violence, the designers use the Outsider's gifts to nudge the player to commit violent acts, fully informing them they're trading long-term prosperity for short-term pleasure and power. This temptation creates an internal narrative as the player tries to resist giving in and becoming one with the city's violence-a situation that ads layers to what otherwise would be a cut-and-dried moral choice system. The fact that it echoes depictions of Satan isn't necessarily making a religious statement as much as it's tapping into older stories guaranteed to resonate with an audience. It's a sly technique, and the fact that I only noticed it after a year away from Dunwall only makes me admire it more.

After all, the devil with obvious tricks is no devil at all.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher currently based in Hong Kong. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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