Dishonored, Arkane Studio’s immersive sim released in 2013 has sprawling, intricately planned, and richly detailed levels that are the backbone of the game. They’re the biggest reason the game works as well as it does. They serve as sandboxes that the player can navigate in a manner anywhere between not being seen by a single soul to leaving every person in the level dead. The levels also do some excellent worldbuilding and environmental storytelling should the player seek it out, and generally create an atmosphere that sets the tone of the game perfectly.
For this piece, I’m going to be ranking all the levels that appear in Dishonored from my least to most favourite, and discuss what I think makes them great and the problems I had with some of them. I’m also going to be using ‘level’ and ‘mission’ interchangeably since the reason you’re in the area adds a layer to the game’s atmosphere. Dishonored is one of my favourite games of all time, so I do think (almost) all of these levels are great, but as this piece demonstrates, some are greater than the others.
9. The Loyalists
The Hound Pits Pub as a home base? Easily one of the best hub levels in gaming. It’s the perfect place to be between missions. Eavesdropping on characters, whose dialogue changes depending on how bloodthirsty you’ve been so far, creates a sense of consequence for your choices. You can read and listen to the other character’s diaries that update each time you complete a mission, something that makes them all a little more sympathetic (or in Lord Pendleton’s case more pathetic). And there’s my favourite thing about the level: it gives you a phenomenal view of Dunwall, and specifically some of the other levels of the game. Right across the river is Dunwall Tower and Coldridge prison, there’s Kaldwin’s bridge, and the Clock Tower near Lady Boyle’s estate. Seeing these locations laid out in relation to each other adds nothing to the story, but goes a long way to create a sense of place
The Hound Pits Pub as the game’s penultimate mission, however? I hate to say it, but this level is Not That Great. The area is significantly smaller and narrower than the others in the game, but it has a higher number of enemies than you would usually see in a place of that size. This means that the loop of navigation in earlier levels — finding a safe spot, surveying the area, making a plan to cross the area, and then executing it — simply is not possible here. In all my playthroughs, I’ve made it through either by making a mad dash across or with obscene amounts of save-scumming. To be fair, the game does give you an optional objective to complete which knocks out or kills all the enemies on the map, but in my opinion, accomplishing this is more trouble than it’s worth. From a story point of view, it is gut-wrenching to see the game’s sole place of safety overrun by the enemy and to see that some familiar characters from the area did not survive the upheaval that led to the area being overrun. Sadly, it does not make up for how annoying this level is. On the bright side, I do genuinely like the rest of the levels on this list.
8. Returning Home + Dishonored
As an introduction to the game, these levels do a good job of teaching you the game’s basic mechanics, while also introducing you to many of the key players in the game’s story. You can play a game of hide-and-seek with Emily which teaches you how the game’s stealth mechanic works — especially that it is line-of-sight based, and that shadows do not help (I always say ‘Yes’ to her, but I never let her win). Pretty much every named character you see (Geoff Curnow, Anton Sokolov, High Overseer Campbell, Hiram Burrows, and Daud) will become your targets for neutralization in later missions. This early-bird appearance extends to Dunwall Tower itself. Seeing the Tower the way it appears in Returning Home helps underscore just how bad things have become when you revisit the area in Return To The Tower.
As for Dishonored, I do understand why the player isn’t given their special powers right off the bat. It puts the player in a more vulnerable position, which makes them pay closer attention to details in the level, the guards’ patrol routes, and think carefully about when to take an enemy out and when to simply sneak away. But the lack of powers and the relative smallness of these two levels (another choice that makes perfect sense) is why these missions do have diminishing returns on subsequent playthroughs and why they’re so low on the list.
7. The Light At The End
This level isn’t inconsistent with the other levels in the game. It is similarly-sized, full of alternative pathways, intricately planned, and sufficiently challenging. However, as the final level of the game, it is not as satisfying as one might have hoped. Even when considered outside the context of it being the final level, it does feel comparatively empty. I think this is because of the complete lack of side missions and optional side areas that the game’s missions normally have. To be fair, the High Chaos variant of this mission does have a showdown between Teague Martin and Lord Pendleton (and the sheer number of ways the game allows you to interfere) and there are satisfying optional encounters you can have with both of them later on. The Low Chaos variant of the mission feels especially anticlimactic since it doesn’t have any confrontations in the vein of the High Chaos version.
The Light At The End falls short of expectations primarily because earlier missions set them so high. We know the game is capable of creating levels that feel climactic (Return to the Tower) and with confrontations that have a lot of gravity but can be avoided if the player chooses (The Flooded District). And it feels even more like squandered potential because we’ve spent the entire game getting to know The Loyalists. The level establishes that they have turned on each other, so an option for Corvo to get embroiled in their power-plays, to side with Martin against Pendleton or vice-versa, or betray both of them — the potential was there. The level isn’t badly designed, and is fun to navigate and feels dramatic and climactic enough in the High Chaos version, but it still feels lacking compared to previous levels, especially the Low Chaos version.
6. House Of Pleasure
In my opinion, this is the archetypal Dishonored mission — a mission without any curveballs, gimmicks, or twists. There is a large area at the end of which is the building that the targets are present in. The building can be reached and then infiltrated in any number of ways. There are some optional objectives you can complete on your way. There is a large array of options when it comes to neutralizing the targets lethally, both with weapons and using the features of the level. There is a way to neutralize the targets non-lethally that is poetic justice for the crimes of the target and also arguably a fate worse than death. As the second proper mission in the game, it helps to codify in the player’s mind all the elements of the game that they encountered in the previous mission.
I really have nothing bad to say about this mission, and the only reason I have it this low on the list is that I like the other missions more and have more to say about them. This mission reuses the Clavering Boulevard map from the previous mission but keeps it fresh by adding new enemies and challenges. I especially love the appearance of the Whalers on Bottle Street. I did not spot them my first time playing and got a solid fright when they attacked me out of nowhere. That incident really drove home the importance of taking the high ground in this game. This level establishes the baseline for what to expect from a level in Dishonored, and that baseline is very high.
5. The Flooded District
The Flooded District is easily the longest mission in the game, but can conveniently be divided into two parts: everything that happens before you get the sewer key from Daud and everything after that. If this mission had just been the first part, it would be much higher on this list, and if it had just been the second part, it would be lower. Everything to do with the Whalers and Daud is top-notch. It’s the flip side of the first mission where you had some gear and no powers; here you start with no weapons and only your powers. The level also pits you against the Whalers who are significantly more formidable than the average Dunwall guard. Their patrol routes incorporate the same teleportation ability that you have, and are more unpredictable as a result, making them harder to avoid. They’re also tougher to take down in a fight. The level itself is atmospheric, but where the game outdoes itself is with the confrontation with Daud.
The game’s themes about the use and abuse of power and of revenge and mercy really come to a head with confronting Daud. Through the level, you come to learn that even though he killed the Empress and kicked off the game’s events in doing so, it really was just a job to him. His gang of assassins are children from the streets of the city that he’s trained and shared his power with. By all accounts, he is respected by his people. The kicker is when you finally reach his chamber just as he is recording an audio log expressing grim satisfaction in Hiram Burrow’s downfall and his own regret for killing the Empress. The game lets you handle the confrontation with him any way you like: you can have a straightforward one-on-one duel with him and the end of which Daud will put his fate in your hands; this happens under a giant sculpture of Empress Jessamine, to drive the point home. You can sneak up on him and kill him, sneak up on him and knock him out or simply pickpocket him and leave. Fittingly, he’s the only person whose nonlethal option has you showing true mercy. The remarkable thing is that the outcome feels satisfying regardless of which option you choose. This is Dishonored firing on all cylinders and it creates one of the game’s most iconic moments.
Unfortunately, this is only the halfway mark. Compared to the laser-like focus of the previous part, the second part, traveling back to the Hound Pits Pub through the sewer network feels bloated and aimless. First is the large lovely area where a train comes by to dump bodies every few minutes. There are some people here that you can help out, or skip by jumping onto the corpse train. Then there are the sewers which are extensive, labyrinthine and where halfway through you encounter a locked gate. If you’ve done any missions for Granny Rags earlier on, you compulsorily have to navigate through more sewers, packed with the deeply annoying river-krusts, and then either help Granny Rags kill and eat Slackjaw or engage her in combat, with the arena so foggy you cannot see a thing, You can only neutralize her by finding her Horcrux tucked away in a little shack and burning it in a furnace. After the gate is unlocked, there is still more river-krust-infested sewer to get through, although the end is mercifully near. The bad news is, the next mission is The Loyalists.
4. The Royal Physician
This mission is unique in that the target isn’t meant to be killed or ‘neutralized’, but kidnapped, and maybe this is just me, but it feels like that distinction trickles down to the rest of the mission, making it feel just a little low-stakes which makes for a nice change of pace. This mission is also a little more linear (as linear as a Dishonored game can be), composed of a higher number of shorter segments. The area’s central feature is Kaldwin’s Bridge, a giant suspension bridge that spans Wrenhaven river and occupies a prominent position on the skyline. The game’s Half-Life 2 influence is really apparent here and reminds me of the part in Highway 17 where a large similar-looking bridge is crossed. But where Half-Life 2’s crossing is more action-packed and urgent, Dishonored gives you a lot of room and verticality if you need it.
This is the game's prettiest and most atmospheric level, taking place in the hour before sunset, which gives everything a warm golden tinge. I’m deeply appreciative that the game gives you as much room to breathe as it does, allowing you to climb to the very top of the bridge and take in the view if you like. Quiet, peaceful moments such as this one in the middle of missions really deepened my love for this game, especially the very first time it happened. I’m glad the game gives you an achievement for reaching the top of the bridge because it incentivizes people to make this climb at least once and maybe get them to experience that moment, without forcing it on them.
Sokolov’s house is another standout for me, as a modern-looking building made of metal and glass that sticks out like a sore thumb among the other more era-appropriate constructions. It helps underscore the differences between this world’s 1800s and ours, and the strange, steampunky anachronistic technology that Anton Sokolov has designed. The area’s side missions are also enjoyable; they all involve helping out trapped people, with one of them very stupidly betraying you for all your troubles. The lower stakes, gorgeous visuals, and interesting architectural features really make this level stand out in a game full of interesting levels.
3. High Overseer Campbell
This is the game’s first ‘proper’ mission with your Outsider-bestowed powers, large levels to make your way through, and a target you have a good personal reason to hurt. The level does an excellent job letting the player know what to expect from this game. It tells you the jobs are really not going to be simple, and that infiltration and exfiltration are going to be pretty significant parts of the job too. It shows you that there are plenty of side-areas (the Distillery, Dr. Galvani’s House) that you don’t need to go to, but are worth your while to visit. But for me, the game’s highlight is in Holger Square, where the target, the corrupt hypocrite High Overseer Campbell is meeting Geoff Curnow, the head of the City Watch and uncle of one of your allies, with the intent of poisoning him.
No matter how much you dawdle, you will never be late for the meeting. The game gives you a little time in the dining room where you meet, with the two glasses, one with poison and one without already laid out on the table. You can switch the glasses, poison both glasses, spill the glasses, or do nothing. Each one of these leads to different events playing out, with the nonlethal option being the trickier route to take, but in my opinion is the most narratively rewarding. This level also has the most elaborate exfiltration of all the missions, introducing a completely new area to traverse. In my opinion, this adds complexity but is laid out well enough that the level doesn’t overstay its welcome. Dishonored couldn’t have done better for an introduction.
2. Lady Boyle’s Last Party
This is a lot of people’s favourite mission in Dishonored and it’s easy to see why. The eponymous party is a neutral zone and is a masquerade party that Corvo is appropriately dressed for. The level is a lavish mansion, completely at odds with the rest of the area which is run-down and where citizens are being killed on the street for violating curfew. There’s a number of ways to infiltrate the Boyle Estate: walking through the main gate and stealing an invitation to get past the guard, walking through the main gate with an invitation already obtained from a previous level, sneaking into the party by possessing a rat, sneaking into the cellar by possessing a fish, entering the mansion through a close-by neighbouring apartment building or simply jumping really, really high and then teleporting into the estate.
There’s the party, where you can play along and be the perfect guest, or you can go completely feral and introduce swarm upon swarm of plague rats to Dunwall’s elite. Then there’s the target itself, randomly selected to be one of the three Ladies Boyle. You can figure out who it is by playing the guessing game, or you can kill all three Boyle women. By choosing the right dialogue, you can simply talk the target into accompanying you to an isolated spot where you can then neutralize her. My one quibble with this level is that the nonlethal option, horrific as it is, isn’t poetic justice being served; making the Pendleton twins work in their own slave-labour mines or giving Campbell the heretic’s brand because, yes, he does fit the definition of a heretic, feel appropriate to their crimes, in a way that handing over Lady Boyle to her stalker does not. But compared to the sheer range of player actions this level accounts for (down to eating that one guard’s apple), it’s really only a minor nitpick. Lady Boyle’s Last Party is one of the most memorable immersive sim levels for a very good set of reasons.
1. Return To The Tower
But as good as Lady Boyle’s Last Party is, it has nothing on Return To The Tower. This mission has it all: a familiar level now changed for the worse, a lot of interesting stealth challenges, indoor areas that don’t feel cramped and claustrophobic when traversing them, and a very moody dark feel to it. Dishonored, especially when you consider the nonlethal eliminations, has the feel of a dark, twisted fairy-tale, and nowhere does it feel more like one than here. Hiram Burrows took everything from you, and now you’re back with a monstrous face and powers to exact revenge any way you like.
To add to this sense of climax, you can have an optional but very entertaining and dramatic conversation with Burrows via a video-call that ends with you slowly taking off your mask and saying ‘Remember me, Hiram?’. This leads to you hunting him down to his panic room at the very top of the Tower and neutralizing him in a room that is theoretically impenetrable. Or exposing him as the reason for the outbreak of the plague, leading to his own guards arresting him. If Dishonored is a revenge fantasy, this is the game’s high point.
There’s plenty of quieter moments too. This level has a lot of personal significance for Corvo, as his former place of residence and where the Empress died. You can visit the gazebo where the Empress was killed, and overhear a melancholic conversation between a maid and a guard and later hear a ghostly wind and eerie whispering. The Tower proper also has a secret room where it’s implied that Corvo and Jessamine spent some time together, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars. In my opinion, the lack of a voiced protagonist really helps to sell these moments, as I think putting into words the emotions Corvo presumably felt wouldn’t have done it justice.
As for gameplay, the wider open area outside the Tower contrasts with a more focused indoor space later on. The outdoor area is especially heavily patrolled, and this is the point in the game where it becomes abundantly clear using stealth is going to be easier than choosing combat. There are multiple points of entry into the tower, something that I wish the series as a whole used more. Sneaking around inside the tower is not that difficult as well thanks to plenty of wide ledges and conveniently spaced chandeliers. That makes it possible to see a lot of what the level has to offer while retaining the thrill of playing a stealth game. And that familiarity I had with the level meant that I was really glad to see it again in Dishonored 2. The moody atmosphere, the sheer fun of traversing this level, and the satisfaction of enacting Corvo’s revenge make this my favourite level in Dishonored.
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