In case it was not obvious from the title, I have a tattoo of the Mark of the Outsider from Dishonored on my right arm. I know that, according to game lore, it should be on my hand, but I would like to remain hireable by more white-collar companies, so instead I got it somewhere a T-shirt would be able to cover.
I find myself, as every tattoo owner I assume does, having to frequently explain why I got this tattoo in particular. This happens pretty frequently, so sometimes I just lie, and say it’s an owl. If you take the two middle circles as eyes, it sorta looks like an owl.
Of course, that’s not the truth. The reason I got a Dishonored tattoo is because Dishonored is my favorite game of all time. Hypothetically, that satisfies the title of this post, so I can just pack it up here, but, y’know, I should probably elaborate a little bit.
I would not call Dishonored a perfect game by any measure. The Chaos system is extremely uninteresting for a “morality” mechanic, and the game seems to actively reward you for ignoring its game mechanics, by rewarding no-kill runs (locking yourself out of the game’s interesting combat and lethal options) as well as having a Blink-only run achievement (locking yourself out of the game’s interesting powers).
What the game does perfectly, though, is establish setting and tone. Dunwall truly feels like a unique world, equal parts Lovecraft, steampunk, and Tim Burton. It feels like a crapsack, dejected world, but it also feels like an alive one, one where people go to work and go out drinking and occasionally pray to a prehistoric god of chaos and entropy. There’s a social hierarchy, a political structure, not one but multiple religions. There’s an empire spanning outside of Dunwall, as mentions to the islands of Tyvia, Morley, and Serkonos are spread across the game.
Also, the cosmology of this game is so interesting to me. The only divine force in all of Dishonored is The Outsider, who is this being best placed as Chaotic Neutral on the classic D&D morality scale. He Marks those he finds interesting, just to sort of see what happens. He’s the opposite of a Lovecraftian Old One: his only interest is meddling in the affairs of mortals. He served as the (very obvious) inspiration for the King of Rats in my tabletop RPG Blackmarked.
On top of this, there’s the fact that Dishonored is basically a gothic superhero game. If I told you there was a guy who could teleport, control animals, possess people, and stop time, you’d be wondering when his paperwork with the Justice League was gonna go through. Tell me that that same guy, however, is wanted for murder, and has to assassinate his way back to the top of a grand political conspiracy, though, and now we’ve got something a bit more interesting. Corvo’s powers don’t make him feel like a superhero, they make him feel like a monster, a sort of nightmare monster that emerges from the shadows.
Not that Corvo necessarily has to kill. Dishonored at its best has you using your abilities to develop “non-lethal” solutions, which interpret these hits less as combat scenarios and more as puzzles. The best of these is by far is the assassination attempt at Lady Boyle. The level has you using investigative skills to determine which of three masked sisters is the particular Lady Boyle you’re hunting down, and then you just need to get her by herself to knock her out, before delivering her limp body to some creep, who promises to take Lady Boyle away with him forever. Eew.
But that’s not the only way that could go. You could just kill Lady Boyle once you learn who she is, leading her down to the cellar in order to “protect her” from an assailant before sliding your sword between her ribcage. Or, actually, fuck it. Kill all three Boyle sisters with grenades in the middle of their costume party. Bound to be one of ’em. Dishonored lets you take multiple, interesting paths to the same goal, without ever making you feel like you aren’t some dirty dweller of the night.
Also, the premise that everyone at this costume party is cool with you, because they don’t think you’re the wanted serial killer Corvo Attano, they think you’re a tasteless party guest wearing a politically-charged costume, is a stroke of genius.
And the last level, OH MAN the last level. Whatever particular route you’ve been playing up to the last level of Dishonored, the final venture to Kingsparrow Isle lets you just flaunt that skill. At this point in the game I was a marauding god of death, so when it came to killing the three targets on the island, I found myself stopping time, rigging all of the guards I could find with various death traps, and stabbing each before they even were able to perceive my existence.
I have a Dishonored tattoo because Dishonored takes a bunch of aspects from different games and shoves them all together. While most games would form a Frankenstein’s Monster out of such a thing, Dishonored takes care to ensure these pieces are compatible, like a surgeon transplanting new organs into the dying first-person stealth genre, ensuring none are so foreign as to be rejected. As it turns out, “Murder Superhero’s Romp Through An R-Rated Tim Burton Steampunk London” is a mishmash of a Mad-Lib that actually completely works, and feels like a single whole, greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s why I have a Dishonored tattoo, to remind me of what I want to make. There is nothing new under the sun, but there are billions of novel ways to organize those things that do exist, and if the process is done with enough care for the parts used, the combination feels so natural, it does a pretty good job of pretending to be a new thing.