Dishonored is a world full of corruption, magic, and whales, and like any good story, it has many themes that run throughout the series, in this article I would like to delve deeper into these themes and how they connect with each other and our characters as well as how they affect the world of the game.
The strongest theme and the one that ties the series together is the abuse of power, nothing would happen in the real world without those who have power, and those who want it, this is equally true within the world of Dishonored. Corruption breed corruption, after all.
The Dishonored franchise has always gone a little bit deeper than simply showing a black and white morality. There is much more to it than simply labeling one as good and the other as bad, anyone is capable of becoming corrupt and many characters within both games carry those seeds of corruption within them, whether they are a high status aristocrat or a lowly servant.
Of all the motifs that run throughout these games the obsession of power versus the powerless is one of the most interesting especially when you consider the Outsider, a person who was forced into a ritual that stole his life away over four thousand years ago by people who held power, while he did not, thus making him a powerless individual. It seems like he had developed a bit of an obsession with the abuse of power and the effect it had not only on the individual but on the world around them as well.
Which is why it always kind of floored me when some say the Outsider does not care about the affairs of mortals, he is watching for a "good show" and nothing more, if this were true and he was some kind of high chaos junkie, would he simply not just have let some of the terrible things occur instead of stepping in to change the outcome like he did with Daud, who sought redemption and ended up saving Emily from Delilah? Would he not have let the rats overtake Dunwall and let Emily live as Delilah's evil puppet for the rest of her life and beyond? If it's all for entertainment, why put a stop to the most entertaining of all possible outcomes?
Because the Outsider does care about the world, in a different way than you or I do, but it is still there and it is shown throughout the game that he is not interested in Corvo or Emily's display of high chaos mass murder for they have become the very thing that they set out to destroy and the very thing that destroyed him once before. The powerful against the powerless.
Many believe that the Outsider is evil simply because some of the marked individuals have made their own choices to do bad things, Delilah was a dangerous person who did horrific things with her magic, Daud's powers allowed him the ability to kill Empress Jessamine and set off a chain reaction through Dunwall and beyond.
it isn't as though the Outsider is marking psychopaths and thieves, he is simply marking those who are capable of making a choice, where that choice takes them and what they become is ultimately theirs.
He is neither good nor evil, and his powers depend on the individual's use of said power. But... does he not expect the abuse of power? is he not cynically attached to the idea that no matter what, the tiniest little taste of power will corrupt even the kindest of hearts? He enables those he marks to take their lives into their own hands, and it is clear that consciously or not, the Outsider has a fondness to mark those who are troubled and carry the potential for corruption within them. He also seems to mark those who share similarities with his own sad story which further indicates an obsession with the means in which his life was stolen from him.
Obsession is another prolific theme as it is what drives many of our main characters, villains and heroes alike to do what they do within their own stories. Obsession was what drove Delilah to attempt to possess Emily in Brigmore Witches, obsession was also what drove her to seek a way to come back to life, organize a coup and steal Emily's throne fifteen years later. Obsession was what drove Daud to seek redemption for his actions, obsession was what drove Corvo to stop at nothing to rescue Emily and last but not least, obsession could very well be the thing that has been driving the Outsider to mark the people he has marked.
These obsessions stem from many places, obsessions from a promise, obsessions from a death, and it connects the marked with the Outsider in a way that is much deeper than the tattoo he gives you on your hand.
The Outsider carefully chooses his marked, Delilah who grew up the unwanted child of an Emperor and kicked out, living on the streets with nobody else, her sister had betrayed her and she was completely alone. Daud who had a similar existence, not really having a place to call home and his only means of survival to steal and kill. Vera Moray who felt trapped in a dreadful marriage to a man she did not love and who dreamed of more for herself than this life of aristocratic nonsense. Corvo Attano who grew up knowing the blade and the art of protection but not being able to protect Jessamine from being killed, losing everything and being blamed for the world falling to pieces. And Emily Kaldwin, who watched her mother slain right in front of her eyes, who grew up in a role she never quite felt comfortable in, and who like Vera, always dreamed of more for herself than the courts, the aristocrats and a life lived in a palace.
Does the Outsider mark mad individuals capable of turning into power hungry psychopaths, or does he simply mark those who share something with each other, something that connects each and every one of them to each other and to him, for do they not all carry an obsession, a lust for revenge and a hunger for more?
Though the Outsider is not a being of evil, with so many of his own marked being directly responsible for some of the most horrific acts of violence within the Isles and end up being very harmful and dangerous individuals, I'm kind of in agreement with Daud here, The Outsider may not be responsible for these things, but a deep fascination bordering on a mad obsession with the world's individuals and an abuse of power may be what dooms us all in the end.