Can you Play as Jesus in Dishonored?
Just like when I asked the same question about Mass Effect, the answer is both yes and no.
Dishonored is one of the rare games that empowers the player to not kill. So, for that obvious fact, it’s a step closer to possibly letting you play “as Jesus.” But the advertising for the game was heavy on revenge – so much so, I almost didn’t want to play it. So we can go a layer deeper into the WWJD question: What does Jesus do when presented with an opportunity for revenge? He forgives them. So let’s focus on this question: can the player forgive his enemies?
That’s how I set out to play the game.
The answer to the question is, unsurprisingly, muddy.
“Forgive” your enemies
All of the people you’re sent to ‘deal with’ are the ones who conspired against you. These aren’t bosses. They’re more like playground obstacles that you have to figure out. There’s usually a wealth of options on how to take them out, but ultimately only one non-lethal way. If we’re trying to play as Jesus, we’ve only really got one main option.
Others have done a great job of summarizing, that the available options don’t often translate into “what Jesus would do.” Especially when that includes getting criminals to rip out their tongues and force them into slavery. Or the part where you have to extort information from a blindfolded guy who ‘enjoys’ torture. Or when it includes putting a woman in the care of a masked man of questionable integrity. These are the things that would get a very strong “no” in the WWJD department. Duh.
Jesus’ only recorded confrontation of his human enemies occurred in the religious showdowns. He would speak against the evils of religious leaders, often being the two ruling groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
So, does Dishonored allow you to expose the evils of your opponents for all to see without doing any harm? In one case, yes. Five points for Dishonored.
Then there’s the two times that you get to actively forgive the men who screwed you over. It’s subtle.
In one case, it says you ‘left a message’, by not killing the mark. It implies that he’ll understand you left him alive so that he’ll change his ways.
Oh, and I would be mistaken if I didn’t mention how you can forgive the chief offender (end boss) by simply not confronting him at all. This is a very quiet option that doesn’t get talked about much. I find it extremely fascinating that there’s not an epic end battle, but a quiet gentle ending if you play this way. You subtly and quietly communicate your forgiveness. From then-on, the game doesn’t even address him. He’s no longer important.
Come to think of it, if you’re playing non-lethally (like Jesus would), the whole world becomes a better place. You fill the dark world of Dunwall with light, literally.
Play more like Jesus, Dunwall gets more heavenly
I wondered why Dishonored’s last mission was all but roses and lollipops. The loading screen showed a sad dark place that looked like it was full of boss battles and bloodshed. But my version of the level was sunny, bright, and kinda easy. Other than just two tricky obstacles, the level was a breeze. There wasn’t even a showdown. I put the final bad guy to sleep and saved the girl. Ending sequence. Credits.
Later, I started a new playthrough where I finally killed some of the bad guys. And man, did the game change.
The world gets polluted by darkness, plague, and difficulty. The enemies know what kind of man you are. And naturally, more violent men need more violent obstacles. The last level became especially darker. More traps and guards showed up. As did random devouring swarms of rats. All the people who betrayed me were there in the end this time, ready for a fight. My good Corvo didn’t have half this trouble.
Varying Degrees of ‘Good” Corvo
There’s a lot of ways you can play the game. Some are more Christlike than others. None of them complete that notion. But some of the options come closer than games have the past.
My first Corvo didn’t kill anybody. Okay, maybe I stabbed some of the assassins who came after my Empress. And maybe somebody accidentally died along the way. In general, I eagerly anticipated the “Didn’t kill anyone” checkmark in the mission summaries. This Corvo knocked-out the end-game bad guy.
My second Corvo wasn’t seen. He didn’t kill anybody, either. I was gonna try killing this time to see how it changed gameplay, but I didn’t want to. Since the game invites you to try each mission multiple ways, it wasn’t hard to get a unique experience out of this similar run. This path was enjoyable but hard. This Corvo completely ignored the end-game bad guy.
I still didn’t get the “no-kill” trophy or the “not-seen” trophy even though I got checkmarks for both. I gave up trying to be suave. Time to try the game as advertised.
My third Corvo didn’t upgrade any of his powers. He did kill people. He was reckless and rolled with the punches. This was definitely my easiest playthrough. And honestly, for your first shot at the game, it’s way better to play. Not going for achievements/trophies is also a better way to experience the game. But I’m apparently a sucker for such things.
Jesus Don’t Do Witchcraft
The powers you get are witchwork. The enemy barks remind you of this almost every time they see you teleport. It’s appropriately dark stuff for the setting. You can ignore these powers past basic obligation (the short-range teleportation ability called Blink). You get a trophy/achievement for completing the game that way. Furthermore, Jesus can teleport. So I have no problem with using this power as a Jesus-like option.
Corvo gets a magic heart. It’s a beating heart that beats in his hands. It’s gross. But when pointed at folks and squeezed, it reveals the desires of their hearts. Jesus is called the King of hearts. So I guess using the heart in the game sorta simulates that expression of Christ, even if it is a darker version.
If you’re trying to be completely like Jesus, you of course would have nothing to do with witchcraft. And you certainly wouldn’t use any of the darker unlockable powers like Devouring Swarm, or Posession, which allows you to disappear into your opponents and control them. That one in particular is really useful, but probably compromised on my goal of playing like Jesus. I Used it a lot, if I’m being honest.
A Missing Power
Dishonored empowers you to play in a ton of different ways. But if they wanted you to truly be powerful, they would have given you a power to cure the weepers (the plague-damned zombie-like folks). The whole city is being destroyed by the plague. A healing power (with a significant mana consumption) would have really balanced-out the gameplay style. Not to mention, it would have given a more Jesus-like play option. Half of the Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus healing diseases: leprosy, dropsy, chronic bleeding, etc. It might not seem like a super pregnant power, but in a city full of plague, it’s a missed opportunity.
Arkane Studios’ worldview seems to be that player choice is king. Their first goal is to honor the ways they think gamers want to play. This doesn’t honor a desire to ‘play like Jesus’ intentionally. However, Arkane’s design does honor a Jesus-like play style more than any stealth game before it.
Unfortunately, the nonlethal ways you “deal with” chief offenders steps into bad-guy territory at least 2/3 of the time. It would seem that Arkane should be commended. Though maybe not celebrated from the rooftops?
You might want to play the game like a sinner before playing something like Jesus. It’s really hard. But it can be done: go for a playthrough without killing or investing in witchcraft. I dare you.