The Heart Is A Tool.

Dishonored is a interesting game, of which I am two minds.

First, for those who don't know what Dishonored is: its a stealth game (or not) where you play as Corvo Attano, Lord Protector to the Empress and Princess. The Empress has dispatched Corvo on a diplomatic mission to seek aid from neighboring cities in dealing with a plague which has descended upon your home town Dunwall.


Upon his (your) return, the empress is assainated, the princess kidnapped, Corvo wounded and framed for the murder and disappearance of the princess, thrown in jail where he is visited by "The Outsider" and given powers with which he may seek revenge.

That lays out the games story, but we're not here to talk about that. I want to break down a really interesting mechanic in the game, that I think is being largely ignored, but changed the way I approached the game at a basic level: The Heart


At the most basic level, the heart in dishonored acts as a compass for finding Runes and Bone Fragments to both the purchase of skills and buff Corvo as he adventures through Dunwall, but the added benefit of using the heart , is that when you alt fire (right click for me) it whispers secrets either about the area you are in, or if you aim it at someone, secrets about them. 

This might seem like a silly addition, I certainly thought it was at first. Just a little added flavor while I sought my way through the sewers and traversing my way to my next assasination, but later in the game, the heart became a serious burden as I started to aim it at ambient characters, and learn what dirty little secrets they were hiding. 

 You see... they set up the world of Dunwall and very specifically Corvo to be a vessel that the player fills with intention. They set the stage: a totalitarian government. They set the motive: you were wrongly accused for the murder of your empires empress and you must find who did, and clear your name, find the princess (again?) and restore her to the throne. But they leave the details of how you go about doing it, to you the player. They practically give you permission to be an absolute bastard to the citizens and authority of Dunwall. They even give you a mask. A mask the player only sees when he accepts and embarks on a mission mind you, but they give you anonymity in the games world, totally allowing you to fill the avatar Corvo with your will and intent.

 This is interesting because you know very little about Corvo. Given the games narrative, you are merely thrown into a scenario, and with just a taste of the games world, you are framed for your inability to protect the empress, and given power to make things right, whatever right is.

Given no other direction, you set out to right the wrongs laid before you. Your missions gain the attention of "The Outsider", a bored god who grants you power just to see what you do with it. You are his plaything. After that, the stage is set, and you are off to Save, or Destroy Dunwall.


Taking all of this into account, I'm trying to weigh the intention of the author who penned the story of which we now take part. If I look at the tools at Corvo's finger tips, I'd say at first glance, that this is a revenge plot. I'd say that Corvo's job would be to reap a bloody purge of the rot in Dunwalls heart. But sitting back and thinking about it all, the tools you use might paint a certain picture, but they are what they are, tools. The true intent is the heart. 

The heart speaks truth about place, person and intent. It tells you where to go. Where to find your next runic upgrades. Point it at the barmaid, and it tells you that the others whisper in secret about her.  Or at a seemingly innocent man in the sewer's trying to survive  the plague of rats in the city and you find out "He eats well night after night while his wife and daughter suffer..." and the heart becomes the lens you see the world through. That world, is pushing you further and further down the spiral. 

Spoilers are head, but this is much later than statue of limitation on spoilers so I proceed without abandon. 

If you take into account the entire story arc of Dishonored, you'd see Corvo as a tool. The resistance see's him as a tool to restore the princess to the crown, a fall-guy, or a patsy if you will. The Outsider sees him a play-thing. The empress see's him as an employee, a body guard, and oddly enough, a father figure, and perhaps something a bit closer, but definitely as a tool for revenge against the wrong doing of taking her life. Doud, see's him as an in consequential obstacle, Granny Rags see's his ability as a tool to further her own agenda. Everyone uses Corvo in this way.

Then, reading a bit further into the story, you'd see that the aforementioned heart is the empresses heart. The same empress who tells you to get revenge for her death. 

Up to this point, if taken at face value, the heart is showing you what you need to be successful at Dishonored. Powerups. A helpful compass. Flavor to keep you entertained while being stealthy through the quiet parts of gameplay, and it is all of that. But narrative wise, the heart is poison, and a burden. The heart fills Corvo's head with a  haunting voice that tells him what he already knows he has the power, and permission to do. The guy who "eats well while his wife and daughter waste away"? I killed him. I made a point of it.  Before pointing the heart at him, and revealing this truth about him, he was just making due with life's circumstances. I think I felt some pity that he had to live that way. I think thats what made me turn on him.

That damn heart turned me into a monster set upon the citizens of a fictional city. At some point  after this realization, I realized that there is very little good in Dunwall. Its corrupt government, its callous citizens. The policing force is enforcing the corruption and somehow Corvo was assumingly unaware of the current beneath his feet. That seems a bit hard to believe, even if we take this as a straight video game plot. I submit that the heart is lying to you. It tells what what it needs to to make you the tool of its desires. And regardless of how you play, good or bad, savior or destroyer, you are the tool of the heart.

Officially, I finished Dishonored with the good ending, the princess thought highly of me, and she was happy to know I was coming for her. I don't understand how, because the last couple of levels in that game, my Corvo became a force of reckoning. I murdered everyone who came upon my path, and some who didn't.  I became the tool I fought hard to not become.

Thats why I loved Dishonored.