DISHONORED 2: First Mission Reactions (A Long Day in Dunwall)


This is not a review. Well, not exactly.

I’ve had Dishonored 2 for a couple of months — more like four, actually — but I only recently cracked the box and loaded it up. I enjoyed Dishonored‘s worldbuilding, design, and (for the most part) storyline, and I’ve had a weakness for stealth-murder (or stealth-sneaky) games for a very long time.

My main issues with Dishonored were the lack of options with regard to the protagonist’s gender, and its lack of a realistic diversity (everyone was white) given that it took place in a port city.

Dishonored 2?

So far, Dishonored 2 is everything I loved about Dishonored with so very many fewer of the issues I had with it. I am DELIGHTED that one of the protagonist options is Emily Kaldwin, Empress of Dunwall — who apparently spends her limited time away from empress-ing learning the skills of stealth assassin-ing from Corvo Attano, her father and chief bodyguard. (Everybody needs a hobby.) Emily, alas, is not a very fortunate empress: fifteen years to the day after her mother’s assassination, a coup (backed by magic) unseats her from her throne. (At this point, you can choose to play as either Corvo or Emily — Corvo is BORING. Of course I went with Emily.)

With her father transformed into a statue and her friend the guard captain cut down in front of her, you-as-Emily must escape the palace, make your way across the city, and set out on a quest to identify and bring down your enemies. First, though, you need to make your way to the harbour, where there’s a ship whose captain might prove to be an ally…

This first mission is called “A Long Day in Dunwall,” and yes. It is. Especially if you’re trying to get the complete stealth and no-killing achievements. But it’s visually stunning, and Emily comes across, in those occasional moments when she has something to say, as a much more complex and snarkier character than Corvo ever seemed in the course of Dishonored. Creeping up behind soldiers from the shadows, I felt much more intensely invested in Emily’s inner world and her (understandable) desire for revenge. Traitors! I should just stab them.


But then you reach the harbour, where the ship Dreadful Wale [sic] awaits you. Its captain is one Meagan Foster, and I was… really pretty happy to see that the first ally you encounter is a black female ship captain with one arm. She seems like a badass. 

As far as I’m concerned, Dishonored 2 is already doing better on several fronts than its predecessor. It’s prettier! Its characters are more interesting, and have more character! And it’s much better at not being all about the men.

I’m looking forward to starting mission #2…

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Linky has been away playing Mass Effect

Because it was the closest thing I could get to a holiday from this constant cold cold wind and rain. Had we not the ability to import food, we’d be looking towards famine conditions, I suspect. Drowned fields and intermittent frost at this time of year doesn’t bode well for either the grain or the potato harvests.

Sobering thought, that for much of history the vast majority of people were only ever one bad harvest from suffering, and two from catastrophe.

Charlie Stross on The Permanent Revolution:

But it’s important to understand that virtually the entire mainstream of political and social discourse today is radical and revolutionary by historical standards. (Hell, the concept of sociology itself is a construct of the revolutionary philosophers.) This is not an historically normative set of touchstone ideas to run a society on. We’re swimming in the tidal wave set running by an underwater earthquake two centuries ago — and like fish that live their entire lives in water, we are unable to see our circumstances as the anomaly that they are, or to know whether it’s all for the best.

Marie Brennan on Batman had it easy:

It never even occurred to me that Bruce Wayne should have been in danger of sexual abuse. (Spoilers now for The Dark Knight Rises.) As McDougall points out, he’s physically helpless, in a prison full of violent criminals who have no path to sexual release except their hands and one another. We know how that kind of thing turns out in reality; we make jokes about it, because the subject is so uncomfortable. Yet put Bruce Wayne in prison, in a scene that is supposed to represent him reaching absolute rock bottom, and nobody touches him for any reason other than to help him.

Can you imagine how audiences would have reacted if Bruce had to fight off a rapist? Even if the rape weren’t completed. A lot of people were put off just by Silva unbuttoning Bond’s shirt and putting a hand on his thigh, by a few lines of suggestive dialogue. They would have blown a gasket permanently to see Batman treated like, oh, name just about any superheroine you care to. Batman, like Bond, is a Man’s Man, the ultimate in unimpeachable masculinity. You can’t damage that by having somebody try to rape him, whether they succeed or not.

This Week in My Classes: Am I Making Excuses for Gaudy Night?

But are these aspects — my feelings, and what I’ll call my ‘expertise’ — really so unrelated? Don’t I love the novel because of how I interpret it, and don’t I interpret it as I do because of the time and thought I’ve put into reading and rereading it? Or is it that I read and reread it because I love it, and thus I interpret it as I do because of how I feel about it? What does it mean to “love” a novel anyway? And since this particular novel focuses on precisely the challenge of integrating head and heart, can’t I just stop worrying about which came first, the love or the understanding, and be happy that here I find the perfect fusion of the two?

Mentioned in the comments to my SWM column on Dishonored: the Border House Blog on The Treatment of Women in Dishonored:

I think that’s what frustrates me about the depiction of women in Dishonored. The women in Dunwall are oppressed as they are in most ‘violent’ games set in fictional or non-fictional historical places. I just wish that at least once, either the women are given the chance to fight back and improve their situation, or I am given the option as a player to help them and show that I care. I feel like in Dishonored I am made blatantly aware of their inequalities and how unhappy the women of Dunwall are but also I am hobbled and unable to do anything about it, rendering it a cheap trope used to color the setting and add flavor to the plot.

Sleeps With Monsters: Thinking About Dishonored

A new post at Sleeps With Monsters: Thinking About Dishonored:

To me, Dishonored is more an interesting failure, one whose failings annoy me more the more I think on them.

…The second thing I noticed: Dunwall, although explicitly characterised as a port city and the heart of an empire, is populated only by the whitest of white people. Do I have to point out why this is alienating and wrong, or can we all agree that port cities, even plague-ridden ones, can be expected to present a wider palette of humanity?

Which brings us to item the third: presenting and portraying female characters.

Some thoughts on Dishonored

I spent much of the past four days sleeping and playing Dishonored.


It’s an interesting failure, by me: I like stealth games, have ever since I played Metal Gear Solid for the old Playstation, but I like RPGs much better. And at least half my problem with Dishonored is that it would’ve made a very good RPG. A mixed RPG, like ME2. Some of the decisions made by the greater narrative were obvious from very early on. One Big Twist, that your allies are using you for their own ends and will end up betraying you, was pretty obvious from the get-go. But there’s no way to get the drop on them, even if you see it coming, or change the straightforward progression of the narrative.

Choices in-game are limited largely to performing the missions with minimum chaos or maximum bloodshed. This apparently affects endgame outcomes. (Save the child-empress and the city/cause everything to go to hell, it seems: these are the opposing poles of the outcomes.) For me, it would’ve been a far more satisfying experience as an RPG: interesting story-hook, but I’m not interested in playing through a film, y’know?

The other half of my problem is… I found its choices with regard to gender utterly alienating. You never see your own character’s face, and there is no real reason to gender that character. You could write all the incidental dialogue without gendered pronouns.

All of the other characters in the game, with the exception of servants, a dead empress, a child heir, an evil witch, random participants in a masked ball you have to sneak through and a woman who’s mainly important to eliminate because she’s Top Bad Guy’s lover – they’re all men. And all white.

Is it really so much to ask, in a game set explicitly in a port city, that they not be ALL SO WHITE? That some of the chief schemers and powerful movers-and-shakers be not ALL SO MALE?

I was pointed at this article from The Mary Sue when I complained about it on Twitter. Said article points out that there is subtle pointing-out of the unfairness/misery/unpleasantness of discriminatory gender roles.

Which is cool, but. I already know all this shit. (And it doesn’t explain why Dunwall, the port city of the setting, is so bloody white.) I don’t need the social disabilities of my gender (is “social disabilities” too strong? But there do remain bars to success for women that men don’t have to surmount in the same ways) in my face in a gaslamp fantasy stealth-assassination game. And if they are in my face, then I bloody well want more range: noblewomen scheming to control their dead husbands’ fortunes, courtesans getting in and out of the trade, struggling merchants’ widows on the edge of collapse: more women-as-active-participants, less women-as-passive-sufferers.

And the more I think about it, the more it annoys me. It’s a massive failure in a game that’s smart about all kinds of things – but only as long as white men are the whole of the foreground. Only that long.