*This article will contain spoilers for Dishonored 1 and 2*
Beyond the Gameplay
I have been a fan of Arkane’s Dishonored since its release in 2012. After playing it multiple times over the years, it has become one of my favorite games of all time. I had always loved Dishonored because I enjoyed the sense of freedom the game offered me. It was compelling to see such a vast field of choices within each moment of gameplay. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I decided to play the game once again, that I noticed a shift in my opinion. I no longer cherished Dishonored primarily for its gameplay, but for its lore and characters. I fell in love with the bleak and broken city of Dunwall, with all of its complex and fascinating inhabitants. One of those inhabitants, in particular, got my undivided attention this time around.
Fate of the Empress
It was none other than Daud, the physical catalyst for the game’s primary conflict. Hired by the corrupt Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows, Daud drove a knife through Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, and kidnapped her daughter, Emily. The player experiences these events in the main game from the perspective of its protagonist, Corvo Attano, the former Royal Protector and father to Emily Kaldwin. Corvo’s life is completely shattered after that point; he is framed for the murder of the Empress and is imprisoned and tortured for months.
He is eventually rescued and embarks on an incredible journey throughout the dark streets and high offices of Dunwall -seeking resolution that takes on different forms depending on the actions of the player. Corvo eventually comes face to face with Daud, and their confrontation is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in a game. The mysterious Outsider had chosen these two men to bear his mark. They were bound together by that elusive observer of the Void, and the supernatural gifts that he bestowed upon them. Armed with those powers, standing on top of the flooded corner of a city on the edge of collapse, with the presence of the Empress still lingering in the air, the two assassins fought the ultimate battle.
To say that it was enjoyable would be an understatement. Corvo eventually manages to overpower Daud, and has the choice to either kill or spare him, as he asks for mercy. I usually chose the option of sparing Daud, primarily because I prefer the non-lethal route when approaching targets, which leads to a more positive ending. I spared Daud this time because I became increasingly interested in seeing his perspective and understanding his motivations, which would be uncovered in the game’s phenomenal DLCs.
The Knife of Dunwall opens with the assassination of the Empress, but this time, we see things from Daud’s perspective. This was a brilliant narrative decision. Not only do we see the same event from the assassin’s point of view, but we also hear Daud’s thoughts on the Empress. We hear about how he lived his life, spilling the blood of nobles and being paid to do so. We hear how he always internally justified his actions. He saw his victims as corrupt examples of a flawed system. He asks, “why should an Empress be different?” as he approaches the convergence of two destinies.
Daud contemplates the dark future ahead of him, as he accepts the bitter truth: she truly was different. He knew that his actions came at a heavy cost, not just for himself, but for the world. We see Daud as a human being within the first few minutes of the DLC- a strong contrast to the cold and distant killer of the main game. After the death of the Empress, he watched as the city drowned in disease, corruption, and violence. The memories of his mistake existed as an inescapable burden that cast its shadow over his broken spirit.
The Outsider gives Daud more answers to look for in his moments of reflection. It began with only a name: Delilah. Daud pursues this vague lead, hoping to find some sense of purpose in another objective.
the man behind the mask
Daud’s character, as I understand it, is a perfect example of repressed humanity. He is a damaged and haunted man, feared by many and respected by few. But his outward expressions as an assassin mask his inward expressions of compassion. The group that serves him, the Whalers, are made up of the lowly and the broken; those who were suffocated by their circumstances. Why did Daud take them in, and arm them with resolve, skills, and purpose? Was it simply to have extra support, so he could carry out his missions more efficiently? Or was it because he recognized people who had been mistreated, marginalized, and misunderstood, and sought to give them something beyond their pasts?
I believe Daud sees reflections of himself in the Whalers. This is beautifully exemplified when Billie Lurk, his second-in-command, betrays him at the end of the first DLC. Working with Delilah in the dark, she sought Daud’s authority, but failed to grasp it. Even with the knowledge that his closest companion and apprentice, whom he had trained and trusted for years, sold him out to his newest adversary, Daud does not choose to kill her. The player is given the decision after she surrenders, but the canon choice is for Daud to spare her.
Not only does he let her live, but he forgives her as well. Daud saw a glimpse of his own mistakes in his young apprentice. His act of forgiving her reflects his own need for forgiveness. In that moment, he was not the leader of a powerful group of killers, but an understanding mentor. A mentor who recognized a decent person brought up in an indecent world – someone who had done painful things to survive.
Messages from the Void
Daud’s complex relationship with the Outsider is another fascinating aspect of his character. He needed the abilities that the Outsider granted him in order to accomplish his goals, but he also expresses his regret when reflecting on their connection. Daud knows that the Outsider was always watching, and always knew every possible outcome. Why then, would he allow Daud to make his greatest mistake and cause the world even more suffering? Why would he allow Daud to fall so deeply into a pit of guilt and misfortune? Questions like these must have filled the mind of the assassin as he pursued Delilah.
Regret and guilt are core pillars of the human experience, and are seeds from which progress and healing can grow. Daud displayed his regret within the very beginning of the first DLC; and I immediately noticed that my sympathy for him began to increase. This feeling only became more prominent as I continued playing as him. I was in the shoes of an assassin, a killer who walked through darkness, guided by gold and gunfire, yet I only saw a broken man longing for redemption.
At the end of The Brigmore Witches DLC, Daud finally confronts Delilah, who is revealed to be a witch who seeks to possess Emily Kaldwin’s body, and to rule the empire in secret. He acts quickly to save the young girl. Finally, a clear path to resolution was laid out in front of him. The haze that obscured his enemy’s intentions, and his own journey towards healing, was fading. Delilah is defeated as the player is given one final choice: seal her away in one of her own paintings, or kill her. Daud’s canon choice is to seal her away, twisting her own cruel ritual against her. Daud’s redemption was born in silence; only a few would know what really happened.
After the dust settles, we then see Corvo and Daud at the end of their duel, but from the latter’s perspective. Daud’s words to Corvo were significantly more impactful this time. I remembered the battle between them in the main game, and the feeling I got as I watched Daud ask for mercy. He recalled many details from his life: the people he had killed, the money, and the Outsider. He mentioned the Outsider whispering to him, telling him he was capable of greatly impacting the world. It is here that Daud displays a beautiful act of vulnerability. He says that the Outsider telling him that “felt good” and made him feel “powerful”. He could have safely assumed these were his last moments alive; here he reveals his need for external validation. For all of his abilities and skills, and despite all of the people who served him, he still felt unworthy.
As he stared into the eyes of the former Royal Protector, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between the two. Walking, running and sneaking through Dunwall, they made their way through the plague and the filth, with closure as a light in the distance. They were two sides of the same coin who both worked to save the empire and its inheritor.
A complete Character
I obviously resonated deeply with Daud. Playing as him was a fulfilling journey through a game that I already loved. After it was over, I recognized Daud as a complete character, with flaws and fears and desires. He was not merely a killer; he was the forgiving mentor, the quiet savior of an empire, and Dishonored’s greatest strength.
*Featured image originally provided by reddit user ronysgames*
I Love all forms of fiction, but have a special passion for games. Character and narrative > everything else.