Disclaimer: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by the various authors (including me) do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Neoseeker. SPOILER ALERT IS ACTIVE!
Dishonored is a game about choice, and we tend to like those sorts of games. No, it's not just the illusion of choice; players really do get to shape the game as they see fit, based on everything from who you help to how many people you kill.
The developers at Arkane Studios had already established that, despite being an assassination game, killing is 100 percent optional in Dishonored. That is the sort of freedom players have. No, not just how you kill a target, but whether you even want to. Of course the game rewards pacifists with hefty points and a shiny Achievement (or Trophy), but you know, given a little patience, going through Dishonored without directly taking anyone's life is entirely possible. After all, so many players naturally gravitate toward the stealth path, and the whole point of stealthing is to not get caught. Don't get caught, and you won't have to kill anyone.
But that's completely based on your skills as a player, or how often you save. The other question is whether pacifism makes sense for Corvo from a story perspective. Here is a man who had everything ripped away from him. When his Empress was killed (I presume he loved her to some extent, and not necessarily in the romantic sense.) and he wound up framed for her murder, Corvo's life took a dramatic downturn. Imprisoned for months, he was subjected to brutal torture at the hands of those responsible for her death. Oh, he knew exactly who had killed the Empress, taken her daughter, and screwed him over. It's also established pretty early on through NPC dialogue that Corvo has a frightening reputation as a trained killer.
So does pacifism make sense for our man?
I happen to be a pacifist in most games, circumstances willing -- barring the one time at E3 I accidentally stabbed a maid in Dishonored thinking I'd triggered the chokehold instead. Yet as I progressed and saw more of Dunwall, I became less and less convinced that Corvo, after all he had been through, would let the morally handicapped nobility and guards get away with their inhumanity.
The Madam, for instance, marked my deviation from the no-kill path. After listening to some of the dialogue and snooping through her things, I decided, "Hey, she's a terrible human being. Let me throw her against the wall. Oops!"
And thus began my downward spiral toward vigilantism.
In the very next mission, I stumbled upon an aristocrat talking about his first world problems with a guard. After the two parted ways, I hopped down, rummaged through the rich dude's house, and promptly stabbed him in the neck when he came upon me. There, the city of Dunwall is a slightly less miserable place now.
Further down the road, you'll come across guards discussing Sokolov's experiments, an officer instructs his subordinate to disregard the wellbeing of healthy test subjects, likening them to pigs. Really? Does this seem like a guy who deserves to live? Would Corvo seriously think this scumbag should be allowed to walk away? Off the top of my head, I'd go with "no." By my reasoning, Corvo is in this whole secret loyalist party not only to clear his name but also restore Dunwall to her former glory. That's the whole reason most of your allies want to save Emily.
And really, this is part of why the game is so brilliant, the way it gauges your morality. Rather than force players into that stark "good vs. evil" system so many RPGs favor, Dishonored utilizes a system pretty vague, which is appropriate because morality tends to be a slippery slope. Sparing Lady Boyle, for instance, condemns her to a life held in captivity with a man she may or may not even know, who even suggests she doesn't actually love him (but that she will in time). The Pendleton brothers, if not killed by Corvo, will spend the rest of their days in a mine, with their tongues cut out.
Not exactly light-side stuff there, but the game doesn't try to convince us that any of these options are good. In the end, Corvo is choosing between lesser evils, and the Chaos system reflects this. By committing murder (no matter how seemingly justifiable), you incite greater disorder and fear, as the in-game world begins to reflect by spawning more enemies. On the other hand, discretely doing away with targets or exposing their crimes is "justice." Okay, so the latter is, but that isn't always an option.
Bottom line is, Dishonored doesn't coddle gamers with some black 'n' white depiction of right or wrong. So many great games fall back on this system, and hey, that's fine for them. Games like Dishonored, on the other hand, work perfectly well without a morality meter. Everything is just varying degrees of gray, and players are the ones who decide where on this spectrum they prefer to sit. So where do you stand in all of this?
Read more about Dishonored in our review, for Xbox 360.