One more job shouldn’t have mattered. I’d killed nobles before. You could float a whaling ship on the high-born blood I’ve spilled. Another nobles steps in to replace the last one. All equally corrupt. Why should an Empress be different?– Daud, Knife Of Dunwall’s opening narration
But she was.
I watched her bodyguard’s face as they took him away. Dead eyes. I knew I’d pay for this one, and maybe I deserved to. A storm was coming that would shake apart everything I’d built.
At the time of Dishonored’s release there was a consensus among many who’d finished it that the story was missing something, and Corvo’s nature as a silent protagonist certainly didn’t help to reduce this impression.
It wasn’t until I had spent time with the well-received Knife Of Dunwall DLC that the game felt anywhere near close to the vision promised by the original release of Dishonored. I didn’t exactly think that DLC would change much beyond adding a few extra hours to the game, padding out the world a little, and tweaking some mechanics, but I was very wrong.
Knife Of Dunwall was a parallel storyline that made the game feel complete. Decisions made by Corvo in the face of the choices presented to him suddenly had the necessary contrast to them that illuminated the intent of the writing. My initially impulsive instinct to spare Daud in the first game was now vindicated as I stood faced against the very blade that I had controlled.
Suddenly, that impulsive choice as Corvo was now Daud’s poetic respite; a man who had accepted his death to atone for his crimes now found himself spared to live in exile. I was thankful for this mercy, one I had unwittingly enacted upon myself as the player. It’s this narrative tool that crops up as an actual gameplay mechanic in Prey’s Mooncrash DLC where the choices you make as one character affects your run as another in the future. And it’s these types of games, that capture the holistic nature of a setting with their intricate narrative approaches that I have a special fondness for. These narratives beautifully flesh out the world, making it feel less like a one-off tale, but part of a larger spider-webbing intersection of events in the world.
Daud was one key part in a much larger plot dedicated to altering the future of Dunwall forever. And yet, despite being a sullen self-aware villain who understands that his time is up, he has an opportunity for one of the more artful redemption arcs I’ve seen in a game.
Knife Of Dunwall had excellent pacing, as did witches of Brigmore, and the gameplay value offered by both was astounding given the original price point. This was one of the few times that DLC lived up to it’s potential as a concept: expanding stories instead of breaking them down into petty episodic installments.
(SPOILERS for the branching narrative of the DLC if you intend to play it yourself.)
Now adrift in the wake of Corvo’s notorious methods of poetic justice, Daud finds himself puppeteered by the Outsider once more. He comes to learn that Delilah, one of the titular Witches Of Brigmore in the follow-up DLC is a major player in this tragedy, and while Daud has accepted his necessary role in the death of the empress, he has an opportunity to set some things right and ensure the safety of her heir, Emily Kaldwin. The empress’ heir’s life hangs by a thread as it’s revealed that Delilah plans to perform an esoteric ritual that gives her possession of the young noble’s consciousness, foisting Emily into limbo while Delilah takes the reigns of an empire.
In Dishonored, the “bad end” felt extremely disjointed and unjustified. What reason did the narrative have for Corvo’s chaotic path to lead to a corruption of Emily Kaldwin’s nature? Some argued that his dark acts would influence her development down that path, but Knife Of Dunwall offers a much less cynical explanation.
And like many Arkane games, most of this side narrative is peppered throughout lore books in every small nook and corner of the environments. It is very easy to miss Arkane’s brilliant writing which mends the flaws of the original, but extremely rewarding for any completionist.
In the mission to right Daud’s wrongs, we’re introduced to his companion Billie Lurk who would later become the star of her own DLC. At a time when there was a noticeable lack of meaningful female characters, Billie was a breath of fresh air. Presented as a professional partner and second in command, only to turn the tables on Daud for his weak leadership in the wake of the Empress’s demise. She then finds herself spared into exile when Daud realizes her betrayal, offering her the very mercy and opportunity for growth that Corvo had offered him. It’s this plot point that helps solidify Lurk’s role in Dishonored 2 in assisting Corvo, by showing Daud mercy he established a foundation for reprisal in Dishonored 2 against Delilah.
I won’t say that Dishonored always has the most nuanced female characters, but at times Billie stole the show for me and I was extremely heartened to find out she was both in Dishonored 2 and also had her own starring role in a later story.
Part of why I enjoy Dishonored 2 despite it’s flaws was that the continuity of the DLC was maintained into the main franchise. Many games often choose to retcon expansions and DLC when it comes to narrative, but here you were rewarded with narrative context. Delilah wasn’t just some odd newcomer to the franchise, she was an established side character now taking center stage as the true villain lurking behind the scenes for the entire franchise.
I’ve been an Arkane fan for a long time, and while Dishonored certainly isn’t my favorite game from their studio, it’s a well loved one. If you haven’t gotten around to giving it a go, definitely pick it up; it’s a rich narrative that managed to keep me deeply invested.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice