The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Quarter Muncher: Dishonored is a lesson in video game morality systems

Who are you when the world is at your fingertips?
Who will you be, Corvo? (Photo from Arkane Studios)

Editor’s Note: Quarter Muncher is a new gaming column at The Spectator, named after particularly difficult arcade games.

While video games having morality systems isn’t a new fad, it took some time to develop the idea in the gaming space. 1991’s Streets of Rage is considered to be one of the first games with a morality system, but in reality, there is only one choice to make at the very end.

2004’s Fable had a “real” morality system, but it received criticism for having its “morals” be good or evil with no ambiguity to speak of. Other games in the early 2000s tried morality systems to varying degrees of success, such as 2007’s Bioshock and 2008’s Fallout 3.

Dishonored has a morality system unlike any other game (except maybe Dishonored 2, which I haven’t played, so I don’t know for sure). You play as Corvo Attano, the “Lord Protector” who has been framed for the assassination of the empress he guarded with his life. 

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The fellas who frame you are keen to get rid of you, but the day before your execution, some friends on the outside help you bust out of jail. These people say they’re watching your every move. It’s funny they should say that, because so is the game itself.

Upon exiting your jail cell, you find a guard with his back to you. He will never turn around. You’re already given your first choice: Do you kill this guard for simply standing in your way? Or do you knock him out so he can see another day?

After escaping prison, you are visited by The Outsider, a neutral deity who bestows gifts on mortals he finds “interesting.” He gives you supernatural powers and only asks that you continue on your path. He doesn’t care how you accomplish your goal, so long as you’re fun to watch.

These powers include possession, teleportation and slowing down time, among others. The game truly opens up here, encouraging you to experiment with your powers and be creative with their execution. 

Do you use teleportation to sneak past the blind spots of patrolling guardsmen, or do you use it to land behind them and take them out for good? Do you possess a man into opening an electrified gate for you or do you make him walk right into it? The possibilities go on.

This system of deciding fates expands to high-profile individuals. Every mission in the game has a set target to eliminate. It’s always easiest to just walk up to them and give them the ol’ slice of the blade, but there are alternative options for those who do not want to kill.

Dishonored assigns the player a “chaos” rating, which is mostly determined by body count but can be influenced in other small ways. The game unfolds differently based on Corvo’s chaos rating.

In low chaos, your comrades are friendlier towards you. Patrols stay quiet and small as the game goes on. In high chaos, your comrades express their growing disdain for you. Enemy quantities are much higher as your foes attempt to dispatch you (to no avail).

Each mission plays out differently in decreasingly subtle ways based on chaos rating. The final mission is straight up a different level for the two chaos levels. 

The player is given incentives to go either way. High chaos is generally “easier,” as you don’t have to worry about stealth mechanics and just have to get good at combat. However, low chaos is more rewarding and encourages exploration of all of the game’s mechanics. 

Ultimately, though, the choice is yours. Nobody is truly capable of stopping the magical, gunslinging, sword-swinging, mask-wearing assassin that is Corvo Attano. 

4/5 quarters. For once, I barely touched on the gameplay aspect, and instead focused on the implications of the game. I think it would be doing Dishonored a DIS-service (low-hanging fruit, I know) to focus on gameplay instead of the central question it poses.

Who are you when nobody can stop you?

Tolbert can be contacted at [email protected]. Bestow supernatural powers upon him.

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  • M

    Muhammad Bilal IslamMay 10, 2024 at 9:05 am

    Why haven’t you played Dishonored 2?

    • N

      Noah TolbertMay 12, 2024 at 7:03 pm

      I only got a PC recently and got the whole bundle on sale. I had the first Dishonored when I was younger so I have completed it multiple times. Death of the Outsider and Dishonored 2 are both on my list of games to play!