How Dishonored 2's Levels Can be a Metaphor for its characters
Dishonored 2, the sequel to the 2011 stealth assassin hit game Dishonored may be about two years old now, but that doesn’t mean it has any less of an impact on the gaming community.
The environments in Dishonored 2 are not only a breathtaking example of level design and art direction but could perhaps be used as metaphors for the characters themselves. From Dunwall to the Dust District, this article breaks down the world of Dishonored 2 into symbolism for it’s primary characters.
The most obvious choice to start with is Dunwall under the rule of abstract artist turned despotic ruler; Delilah Copperspoon. She has turned all of Dunwall tower into chaos which closely matches the chaotic nature of her own mind. It’s not only the tower that has suffered from her rule though, as she has extended her chaotic reach into the streets, destroying buildings, shops and much more, Dunwall has fallen into a decay befitting of a Gothic bitter ruler who views this place as the city that has betrayed her.
As a “young’un” Delilah had a taste of Dunwall Tower, but all memories of the place are filled with hate at the notion that her father lied to her, kept her a secret and seemed to favor her half-sister, Jessamine over all else. Through the traumatic experience of being forced out at such a young age and watching her family fade away from her entirely, the tower remains as a remnant of a former life and all the chances she was never given.
As seen in The Brigmore Witches DLC for Dishonored, Delilah is much more at home in a place covered in vines and with plants growing out of the floors. “Let nature reclaim this place,” she seems to say, as so she wishes, her powers let her bring those dirt-ridden dreams to life. I suppose her coven takes turns with plant related care.
Nothing is more chaotic than Delilah’s own artwork, using harsh shapes and colors to get her point across, and her point is usually that she has an unhealthy obsession with what she seems to believe she lost to Jessamine, a life that was never hers. So strong is her obsession that she wills it forward, hoping that her surroundings match her state of mind.
In a final rude sort of attempt to one-up her former sister, Delilah has turned Jessamine and Emily's legacy into a wasteland of dark magic and corruption.
Next, we move on to discuss Kirin Jindosh, a man who is so enamored with puzzles, he turned his very own mansion into one. Fitting, considering Jindosh is a genius whose mind is always spinning, twisting and turning so very similar to the inner workings of his strange home.
Jindosh is much more comfortable living among the product of his own genius than let's say, a reasonable flat in Karnaca, maybe one facing the harbor. His mansion brings to mind the similar industrial styles of Anton Sokolov’s apartment in the first Dishonored, while in very different locations, both are a clear view of the lifestyle and personality of their occupants.
From the moment you step foot into the mansion, you’re smacked in the face with levers, gears, and cogs; not to mention Jindosh’s pompous display of his own ability and cleverness.
Secluded away from the rest of the district chiefly because of Jindosh's contempt for the rest of society that put's Anton Sokolov's hatred of the aristocracy to shame. His mansion looms in the distance over the Aventa District almost as if Kirin is lording his ingenious inventions over the people he has removed himself from in a way that distinctly states “I’m better than you”
Once a respectable place of business, former solarium turned institution; Addermire Institute became a place of disarray and disrepair. It started it’s descent into ruin during the coup as the chief alchemist Alexandria Hypatia was being used as a pawn in Delilah’s plan to rule over the Isles. Did I mention that she was being brainwashed?
Now Addermire, like Hypatia herself, is a shell of its former glory; dead plants, broken windows and trash lining the halls, it stands in eerie silence replaced with harsh lights and blood flies. Filled with a sad melancholy, it’s become a very quiet place that gives you the feeling of being watched.
Walking through the decrepit halls of Addermire puts you in the mindset of Hypatia as she struggles against the brain conditioning that is being used against her by the Duke. She is breaking, but still fighting against it, similar to the buildings fight against it’s own destruction, though unlike Dunwall tower and Delilah, Hypatia and her Institute represent a different relationship to the nature that threatens to overtake it.
While Delilah is in control of the chaos that surrounds Dunwall Tower, Hypatia is the victim of the chaos around Addermire and is unable to stop it.
Next stop is Duke Luca Abele’s residence, The Grand Palace. The Duke is quite a selfish man, as you may be able to tell by the fact that he built his palace on the ruins of what stood before it simply because he didn’t like the way it looked.
As with all palaces, Luca’s is a display of wealth and power in a world where not a lot of people have that. The extravagant palace serves as a testament to Abele's selfish nature and it shows how highly he thinks of himself. A very modern design overlooking a beautiful view of the sea. The palace is somehow both pretentious in its design, yet subtle and understated in many of its smaller intricacies.
There is an uncertainty in the design, at times it feels as though it is trying too hard, and other times it feels as though it is not trying hard enough. Which could speak to the Duke's innermost views of his father and his family legacy.
Royal curator and follower-slash-girlfriend of Delilah Copperspoon; Breanna Ashworth resides in The Royal Conservatory. A partnership between Gristol and Serkokos, the conservatory showcases studies of the Academy of Natural Philosophy and the history of Karnaca.
Breanna's personality is similar to the conservatory, a jumbled collection of things that don't seem to fit together, and don't seem to belong anywhere else, seeing as much of her persona is that she lives and thrives to please Delilah, this seems fitting.
Breanna was born of a wealthy family but felt no connection with them, her love of freedom and being away from the life her family had planned for her is shown through the grand display that the conservatory holds. The Conservatory is a testament to the weird and worldly things found throughout the isles. Evidence of Delilah's coven is shown throughout the establishment, candles and magic symbols, plants and vines making their way through the walls and floors.
The Conservatory, like Breanna, exists separately to its original purpose, both seem to serve Delilah, Breanna carries out her actions, and the Conservatory houses her followers and her obsession with pleasing Delilah and adhering to her plans leave the Royal Conservatory under lockdown, where it falls into disrepair due to the actions of Delilah's coven's magic.
Beautiful and strange, there is a sadness to this building as it has lost its original purpose to fit with Delilah's plans, though Breanna would have been unhappy with a life as an aristocrat. Her life became meaningless without Delilah and her magic, as did the Royal Conservatory become a mere shadow of what it once was.
The Dust District is a harsh place filled with dust storms, depressed workers, and derelict buildings, one such building is the old mansion of Aramis Stilton which like many of the places on this list, has fallen into a state of disrepair. Rats flee into the halls and vegetation takes over the once pristine Stilton Manor.
Stepping into the courtyard feels as though you are walking through a ghost town, the entirety of the outside is overgrown foliage and remnants of the grounds. The inside doesn’t offer much of a change as nature has found its way through walls and floors. The state of the mansion makes it difficult to traverse through the level, giving us a good frame of reference to understanding poor Aramis Stilton’s broken and fragmented mind as he struggles to exist between two worlds, what he remembers and what he shouldn’t remember.
This level is the most architecturally complex and one of my personal favorites, as you switch between both versions of the manor you are able to grasp Aramis and his view of himself, his life and where he stands. He feels as though he does not fit among the high society and he strives to help the less fortunate, all the while fearing those of the high society are mocking him.
He exists in two worlds, and he is not sure he's welcome in either of them. This, unfortunately, becomes more literal as Stilton’s mind became fragmented after he has a glimpse of The Void during a seance that Delilah’s followers put together to try to contact her from the afterlife.
Three years of abandon has turned a beautiful manor into a collection of dust and overgrown plants as Aramis fights his own mind and the memories of a horrific seance to bring Delilah back from the Void. Stilton sits alone in the ruined manor, he is near a piano mulling over rambling thoughts. Once you travel to the past you are able to find Stilton again, alone and separate from those around him with doubts about his own actions and worries for what is happening.
Both the past and present show us a glimpse into the broken mind of Aramis Stilton, and they both tell us that he is a lonely man who was unwelcome even in his own mind.
There you have it, Dishonored 2's wonderfully complex and beautiful level design catches the eye and makes you consider more about what these surroundings mean for the characters in the world.
What was your favorite level in Dishonored 2? Discuss below!