Absolutely everything you need to know about Dishonored lore

Last Updated July 5th, 2021

Dishonored weaves a complex world of assassins, strange otherworldly forces, and the shadowy politics of running a country when seemingly every corrupt politician in the land is fighting hand over fist for a shred of control. This all takes place in a fictional steampunk setting, which manages to seamlessly marry contemporary technology with a strong Victorian-era aesthetic.

Let’s talk about Dishonored‘s intricate world, the major players, the events of the past, and who we’re likely to see return when Dishonored 2 hits store shelves come November 11. Even if you haven’t played the original title, we’ll get you ready to go Blinking across rooftops into your enemy’s stronghold with plenty of information in hand.

The World As We Know It

Keeping with the general steampunk theme, the city of Dunwall is loosely based on an alternate Victorian timeline, where whale oil, crude electricity, steam, and gunpowder have come together to create a world of steep class divides and fantastic inventions, each fueled by the rising tide of capitalism and the knife-edge politics that provide the primary conflict in the first game.

This technological theme, along with the steep class division, fuels the architecture of the game as a whole. As the player explores each level, they get a taste of almost every facet of society high and low – from flooded sections of old industrial complexes and plague-ridden urban city centers, to the opulent headquarters of church officials, and the prison-like bastions of civil order where some of the most dangerous villains in the game make their home.

Of course, works of science and technology aren’t the only elements at play. The most dangerous players in Dishonored‘s world often have access to magical powers, given to them by a mysterious force known as the Outsider. His mark gives access to unique abilities – seemingly for the sole reason of satisfying the Outsider’s curiosity – empowering the powerless and occasionally the powerful to see how they rewrite the rules of civil disobedience.

Worshiping the Outsider is considered heresy among members of the Abbey of the Everyman, the ruling religious body in Dishonored. However, many shrines and charms dedicated to him can be found throughout the Empire, showing that his more heavy-handed approach to dealing with the mortal world is occasionally looked on with favor among members of society.

The Empire of the Isles

It’s important to note that Dishonored‘s world is so much more than just the Dunwall we’ve seen in the first game. Dunwall is the capital of the Empire of the Isles, but as the name implies there are several other large islands within the Empire’s control, each with their own set of major cities contributing to the strength of the empire as a whole. Dunwall is a part of the main central island Gristol, but there are also Morley and Tyvia to the north, and the tropical Serkonos to the south, where we’ll find Karnaca, the new city we know we’ll be taking a few leisurely strolls through in Dishonored 2

The Empire of the Isles popped up as the dominant world power after the War of Four Crowns back in 1625, uniting the four islands under a single royal family. About 200 years and a few bloody internal wars later the Kaldwins came into power in 1803, after the island of Morley rebelled and led to the death of the previous royal family.

The Kaldwin’s rule saw the rise of the industrial revolution, and they ruled successfully until Jessamine Kaldwin was assassinated in 1837, an event which marks the beginning of the first game. The main character, Corvo Attano, was blamed for the queen’s death by the spymaster Hiram Burrows, who himself orchestrated the assassination with the help of the supernatural assassin, Daud. After Corvo escapes his incarceration, he works against those who betrayed him to place Emily Kaldwin, the young but rightful queen, on the throne where she successfully rules through the events of Dishonored 2.  

The Pandyssian Continent

Beyond the Empire there’s also the Pandyssian continent, a mysterious and dangerous landmass the Empire has tried unsuccessfully to colonize on multiple occasions, each of which has failed due to the extremely hostile nature of the environment. It’s also reportedly the source of the plague decimating the populace in the first Dishonored.

There have been many expeditions to the continent as of the events of the first game, all of which ended with either a massive loss of life or varying degrees of insanity from members of the expedition. Anton Sokolov, the royal physician and Dunwall’s resident mad scientist, personally made just such an expedition, and Vera Moray, who later became known as Granny Rags, made a similar expedition where she received both the Outsider’s mark and a healthy dose of her own brand of crazy.

The continent itself is covered in both dense jungle and large expanses of desert, but because of the unexplored nature of the area it’s unknown if there are any local hubs of humanity or other intelligent life that explorers have yet to survive long enough to discover. Reportedly, there is evidence of a long lost civilization on the island, with runes and shrines similar to those that can be found in Dunwall worshiping the Outsider.  

The Outsider

The Outsider is a mysterious figure of power, influence, and otherworldly curiosity, and serves as the primary source of magic in the Dishonored universe. Those given his mark have access to unique abilities and powers that aide them in their adventures, and by all accounts these powers are given without a cost but instead because the Outsider is curious how individuals will react when given nearly limitless power.

It’s important to note that the Outsider is a representative deity of the Void and the line where the Outsider ends and the Void begins is blurry at best.  What we know for sure is that the Outsider we’ve encountered in Dishonored isn’t the first, and about 4,000 years ago he was human, before a cult performed a ritual that partially fused him with the Void, granting him god-like power and the curiosity that motivates the way he doles out power. He appears multiple times in the first Dishonored to both Corvo and Daud, appearing each time as a plain looking young man with short brown hair wearing unremarkable clothing.

The Outsider has only marked a select few in current living memory – Corvo is one, along with the Assassin Daud, Granny Rags (Vera Moray), Delilah Copperspoon, the Lonely Rat Boy, and as of Dishonored 2, Emily Kaldwin.    

Corvo Attano

Corvo Attano is the primary protagonist in Dishonored and one of the optional protagonists in Dishonored 2. Corvo is originally from Karnaca but it’s not clear if he has any familial ties left in the city. Most of his family has either disappeared or died by the time Corvo wins the Blade Verbena, a local dueling competition, which earns him an officer position in the Grand Serkonan Guard. His skills eventually merit the attention of the Duke of Serkonos, who sends him as a gift to Gristol where he serves under Emperor Euhorn Kaldwin, Jessamine Kaldwin’s father.

Euhorn eventually promotes Corvo to be Jessamine’s Royal Protector and personal bodyguard, a position that leads to the two becoming lovers. Emily Kaldwin is eventually born out of this relationship but Corvo is never formally acknowledged as the father, making the relationship one of the best-kept secrets in Dunwall.

Despite living in Dunwall for a significant portion of his life, very few people are close to Corvo, and he’s generally described as mysterious and aloof with an intense and total dedication to his position as Royal Protector. It’s evident throughout the first game that Corvo is driven, pragmatic, and more than willing to get his hands dirty to achieve his goals, despite how far he’s risen from the streets of Karnaca.

After Jessamine is murdered Corvo is blamed for the crime, leading to his six-month imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Spymaster and his allies. After the Loyalists orchestrate his escape and outfit him with his signature mask and gadgets, he’s visited by the Outsider in a dream and given various powers, which he uses to exact his revenge upon Jessamine’s murderers and to eventually save his daughter from the political influences attempting to control her.

One of Corvo’s signature tools is “The Heart” – a gadget given to him personally by the Outsider. The tool is the heart of a real living being, molded by the Outsider’s own hands, and it’s strongly implied by the heart itself and confirmed by the developers that the living being in question is actually Jessamine Kaldwin. The Heart can be used to reveal hidden clues about Corvo’s surroundings as well as the deepest secrets of someone’s heart, and is reportedly invisible to everyone but Corvo.

In Dishonored 2, fifteen years after saving his daughter, Corvo serves as her Royal Protector and Spymaster. And if the player chooses to play as him rather than Emily, he’ll be sent to handle the threat in Karnaca personally.

Emily Kaldwin

The heir and future empress of the Empire of the Isles, Emily Kaldwin is a young girl during the events of Dishonored, and is heavily influenced by the actions her father takes to win back her throne. After the death of her mother Jessamine, Emily is captured by Hiram Barrows, the Spymaster who orchestrated her mother’s assassination and is now Lord Regent ruling in her stead. She is later rescued by Corvo, and the player can find and interact with her as she goes about her life with the Loyalists.

Despite being born into royalty it’s clear that Emily craves adventure, often complaining about more mundane lessons in favor of learning about the art of war and subterfuge from her father. Even before Corvo came to save her Emily had already attempted two separate escape missions on her own, which contributes to the image of a young girl that’s well on her way to being able to handle herself in a dangerous world. Despite the fact that no one ever officially acknowledges that Emily and Corvo are father and daughter, Emily is well aware of the relationship Corvo had with her mother, and consistently looks to Corvo as a father figure for guidance. 

Emily is extremely impressionable in Dishonored, and Corvo’s actions – whether they be low-chaos or high – define how Emily eventually goes on to rule, and thereby the fate of the empire as a whole. It’s been established at this point that Arkane went with the low-chaos ending in canon, where Emily becomes Emily the Wise and eventually leads the Empire of the Isles into a golden age, although it’s not clear how this ending will fit in with the events of Dishonored 2.

In Dishonored 2, Emily has ruled with Corvo at her side for fifteen years, during which time she has reestablished trade to Dunwall, distributed the cure for and thereby eradicated the Rat Plague, and in general ruled as a good empress should – all while training with Corvo in everything that goes bump in the night or clashes in the heat of battle. Despite this, Emily isn’t satisfied with ruling from on high and frequently explores the city at night, unknowingly watched over by Corvo from the shadows.

It’s not clear when Emily receives the Outsider’s Mark but she references having strange dreams involving someone that resembles the Outsider multiple times throughout the first game, though it’s not clear if this is due to her sleeping with an Outsider’s charm under her pillow or because the Outsider took a special interest in Emily and her mother.

Hiram Burrows

The primary antagonist in Dishonored, Hiram Burrows serves as the Royal Spymaster to Jessamine Kaldwin, a position that allows him a great deal of freedom and power to manipulate events throughout the empire. Burrows is largely dissatisfied with Jessamine’s rule and considers her soft touch in dealing with her people and the politicians of the other Isles a dangerous policy.

Burrows and his allies are the primary cause of the Rat Plague that decimates the city before and after the events of Dishonored. Several years before the events of Dishonored they smuggle in a number of rats infected with the plague from the Pandyssian Continent into the most destitute sections of Dunwall in an attempt to thin out and eradicate the poor. The plague quickly spins out of control, and when Jessamine asks Burrows to look into the issue he begins to plot her assassination with the help of the supernatural murderer-for-hire Daud.

After Jessamine is murdered, Burrows imprisons Corvo for the crime and establishes himself as Lord Regent and ruler of the empire, but his incredibly oppressive and heavy-handed policies dealing with issues large and small lead to civil unrest and the creation of the Loyalist conspiracy to overthrow his rule. As the story in Dishonored progresses Corvo cuts off Burrows’ support from nearly every avenue, eventually forcing him to retreat to the tower of Dunwall where he assumes he’ll be safe from Corvo. Corvo finds him anyway, and can either kill or spare him at this point.

The Loyalist Conspiracy

The Loyalist Conspiracy is a group of high-status Dunwall citizens that create a plot to overthrow Burrows as the Lord Regent and reinstate Emily Kaldwin as empress of the Isles. To do so they orchestrate Corvo’s escape from prison and do their best to give him everything he needs to remove Burrows from office.

Once Corvo eliminates Burrows, several members of the Loyalists – including Teague Martin, Treavor Pendleton, and their leader Farley Havelock – turn on Corvo, poisoning him and leaving him for dead out of a fear that he might expose the plot and send them to ruin. Corvo survives and hunts down his betrayers as part of the second half of the game.

It’s important to note that not all of the members of the Loyalist Conspiracy betray Corvo. Samuel Beechworth, the faithful boatman that takes Corvo from mission to mission, quietly refuses to poison Corvo outright and secretly administers a nonlethal dose, then sends him floating down the river away from his betrayers. Piero Joplin, the inventor that creates a number of Corvo’s gadgets and gear, and a number of the other members of the conspiracy do nothing wrong to Corvo and as a result are generally left out of the plot once Burrows is taken out of the picture.  

The Rat Plague

The Rat Plague is a deadly disease carried by rats from the Pandyssian Continent, characterized by discolored skin, weight loss, a distinct cough and, in late stages, bleeding eyes and the victims becoming host to parasitic stinging insects. Hiram Burrows introduced the plague to the poorest districts in Dunwall in order to curb the population of the lower class – a plan that quickly spun out of control, leading to the death of nearly half of Dunwall’s population.

When Jessamine Kaldwin requested help with the plague from the other Isles they instead blockaded the ports, a form of brute force quarantine meant to contain the spread of the disease. Anton Sokolov and Piero Joplin created two separate forms of an elixir that could inoculate or at least slow the progression of the plague, but the cost and expense of creating the elixirs kept it out of the hands of the general populace.

After the events of Dishonored, Sokolov and Joplin band together despite their previous rivalry and create a cure for the Rat Plague, which treats the symptoms of the plague and cures the population at large. This leads to open ports and a profitable Dunwall by the time the events of Dishonored 2 come to pass.

Dishonored: The Story So Far

Dishonored opens during a period of intense civil unrest in Dunwall. The Rat Plague is decimating the city with no known cure on the horizon, the other islands are shutting off trade and commerce to the isle in an attempt to contain the plague and, just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, the Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows orchestrates a plot to murder the current Empress, Jessamine Kaldwin.

Our hero Corvo Attano arrives home to Dunwall just in time to watch the plot unfold, and although he fights off a number of the assassins, he watches as Jessamine is murdered by Daud. Hiram Burrows then frames Corvo for her death, imprisons him, and kidnaps Jessamine and Corvo’s daughter Emily Kaldwin, while simultaneously establishing himself as Lord Regent.

Corvo is imprisoned and tortured for six months, but manages to escape with the help of members of the Loyalist Conspiracy, a group of citizens looking to unseat the Lord Regent and place Emily on the throne. Corvo makes his way through the sewers to the rendezvous point where he meets Samual Beechworth, a member of the conspiracy who will serve as Corvo’s guide and ferryman as he makes his way from mission to mission.

Beechworth brings Corvo to the Hound’s Pit Pub in the quarantined Old Port District where Corvo meets the remaining members of the conspiracy, including the inventor Piero Joplin, the leader of the conspiracy Farley Havelock, and the nobleman Treavor Pendleton. The Loyalists reveal their plan to unseat Burrows, and Piero gives Corvo his signature mask and a number of tools to help him along on his missions. That night, Corvo is visited in a dream by the Outsider, who gives him his mark and grants him the supernatural powers that players later grow to know and love.

The next morning Havelock tasks Corvo to rescue their friend and ally Teague Martin who was imprisoned for helping Corvo escape and assassinate one of Burrows’ allies, High Overseer Thadeus Campbell. Havelock also tasks Corvo with retrieving the High Overseer’s book of blackmail, which the loyalists use to clear Martin’s name and insert him as a replacement High Overseer.

The Overseer’s book also reveals where Burrows is keeping Emily captive, which leads directly to the next assassination, where Pendleton tasks Corvo with murdering his brothers, Custis and Morgan Pendleton, and to rescue Emily from the Golden Cat pleasure house where she’s being held captive.  This allows Pendleton to inherit his brothers’ votes in parliament, but despite the fact that Pendleton is the one that suggests the assassinations he despises Corvo for carrying it out, even if Corvo secretly spares their lives.

Corvo is then tasked with finding and abducting the royal physician and local mad scientist Anton Sokolov, who is conducting experiments on unwilling human test subjects in an attempt to find a cure to the plague. After infiltrating the Kaldwin Bridge and retrieving the scientist, Corvo and the Loyalists learn of Burrows’ relationship with Lady Boyle, an extremely wealthy noble who is funding Burrows’ power play.

Corvo is then tasked with finding and removing Lady Boyle in any way he sees fit, which involves attending a costume party at her estate. The task would ordinarily be simple for Corvo, considering at a masquerade ball he can walk about unnoticed, but the mission is complicated by the fact that there are three Lady Boyd’s at the ball and each one is wearing a nearly identical costume. It’s one of the most intriguing levels in the game and one of the better missions in gaming history, especially considering that the correct Lady Boyle is random for each playthrough. Corvo inevitably finds and removes the correct Lady Boyle, either by killing her or carting her off with a stalker that’s more than a little obsessed with her well being.

With Lady Boyle out of the picture the Loyalists turn their sights on Burrows, who is now in political and financial ruin. Corvo infiltrates Dunwall Tower and confronts Burrows, and as usual his fate is up to the player.

When Corvo returns to the Loyalists, he and his allies are quick to celebrate their success, but the celebration is short lived when Havelock, Pendleton, and Martin attempt to poison Corvo so they can set up Emily as a puppet under their control. Samuel, who is tasked with administering the poison, refuses to kill Corvo and secretly administers a non-lethal dose, later setting the unconscious Royal Protector afloat down the river.

Unfortunately, Samuel sends Corvo floating right into the hands of Daud, the supernatural assassin responsible for Jessamine’s death. Daud supposedly plans to turn Corvo in for the price on his head, and his army of fellow supernatural swords-for-hire are willing to back him up. Corvo manages to fight or sneak through the hordes of assassins and removes the guilt-ridden Daud from power, again either killing him or sparing him based off of the player’s choices.

Corvo makes his way back to the Loyalist headquarters in the quarantined district, discovering along the way Granny Rags’ home where she’s attempting to kill and eat SlackJaw, a local crimelord. Corvo saves Slackjaw (or optionally throws him into the cooking pot) and deals with Granny Rags before exiting the sewers to find the Loyalist Headquarters overrun with city guards. Corvo discovers that Havelock has killed a number of the other members of the Loyalist Conspiracy and elected himself Lord Regent until Emily is old enough to take over ruling for herself.

After clearing out the guards Corvo takes a final ferry ride to Kingsparrow Island and confronts his betrayers. Depending on the level of chaos the player and Corvo create throughout the game, Havelock will be either cool and collected or threatening to throw himself and Emily off the edge of the tower. Either way, Corvo saves Emily and deals with Havelock, ending the game and cutting to either a low chaos or high chaos closing cut scene.

Daud and the DLC

Daud is the supernatural assassin responsible for the death of Jessamine Kaldwin, and the main protagonist of two of Dishonored‘s DLCs, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. Daud is also the leader of the Whalers, a group of assassins founded and trained by Daud. One of the powers granted to Daud by the Outsider’s Mark allows him to confer a small amount of his power to his followers, giving them additional physical prowess and the ability to teleport a short distance, similar to the way Corvo and Daud Blink.

This allows Daud and his Whalers to become assassins-for-hire serving the highest bidder, and is also what likely created the rift between Daud and the Outsider, who grew bored with Daud not long after Daud settled into his life leading the Whalers.  

During the events of the DLC, Daud is tasked by the Outsider to find Delilah. Wracked with guilt over murdering the empress and kidnapping Emily he consents, beginning a search that runs alongside the events of Corvo and Dishonored‘s main plot.

Daud’s second in command, Billie Lurk, soon reveals that Delilah refers to a whaling trawler at the nearby Rothwild Slaghterhouse, and subsequently discovers that the trawler is indirectly owned by Delilah Copperspoon, the leader of the Brigmore Witches and one of the few marked by the Outsider. Before Daud can learn much more about why the Outsider wanted him and Delilah to meet, Daud’s hideout is invaded by the Overseers. Once the churchmen are dealt with Daud discovers that Billie Lurk betrayed him, working with Delilah to bring the Overseers to Daud’s front door so that she could take Daud’s place as leader of the Whalers.

Daud then has the option to either kill Billie or spare her, but the methods available to the player at this point come down to the level of chaos displayed throughout the DLC up to this point.

Regardless, Daud moves on to the next DLC where he discovers Delilah’s safe house at Brigmore Manor and enlists Lizzy Stride, the leader of the Dead Eels gang, to help him bypass a Dunwall river blockade. This involves first breaking her out of Coldridge Prison and then assassinating her second-in-command who betrayed her to the city watch just before the events of the DLC. With her help, Daud arrives at the Brigmore Manor relatively unscathed, and once inside discovers Delilah’s plan to use a black magic ritual to swap bodies with Emily Kaldwin so that she can rule as the true empress with no one the wiser.

Daud pursues Delilah into the Void during the ritual and has several options on how to deal with her. The first involves killing her in the midst of the ritual, while the second involves swapping Emily’s hair in the ritual with a painting Delilah created of the Void, which traps her there forever. Despite what you choose, Delilah somehow survives and is now at the epicenter of events in Dishonored 2.

Daud goes on to confront Corvo and whether he lives or dies is dependent on the player’s actions, but developers have confirmed that in the canon Corvo forgives the guilt-ridden assassin and spares Daud’s life, who is last seen laying down his sword beside Jessamine’s tomb. 

Got all that?

There’s more. A lot more. There are a ton of unanswered questions about the world of Dishonored and how the events of the first game evolve into the situation we’ve seen in trailers for a sequel. We got some answers from co-creative director Harvey Smith at a recent preview event, but there’s still more we won’t know until we actually get to play the game

What’s your favorite part of the Dishonored franchise? Let us know in the comments below.