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How Arkane Studios is mixing up the morality of Dishonored 2

It turns out that player behavior in the first Dishonored inspired Arkane Studios to rethink how they're approaching the morality of random killing in the game's sequel.

"People were replaying [Dishonored] with the Heart out, deciding who to kill based on what the Heart said. Which shocked us, so we made that mechanically relevant.”

- Arkane Studios co-creative director Harvey Smith

Morality in video games can be a difficult subject. So many games profess to examine the thin line between good and evil, yet won’t hesitate to ask players to murder every single person in their path. But what if a mainstream action game could make players think about whether their foes deserved to live or die?

In making Dishonored 2, Arkane Studios co-creative director Harvey Smith says they stumbled on some surprising player behavior that is changing how they design the sequel's chaos system, which acts as a measurement of the player’s moral choices throughout the game. 

Speaking with Glixel’s Jake Muncy, Smith explains that in the first Dishonored, players would play through the game with an item called the Heart always in hand as it told them stories about the various guards and NPCs they encountered in various missions. 

To Arkane Studios’ surprise, players would choose to kill or not kill various characters based on what the Heart said about their lives. This was despite the fact that the victim’s identity wouldn’t affect the results of the chaos system.

As a result, Smith says that in Dishonored 2, they’ve tweaked the chaos system to account for who the player kills, not just whether they die or not. As he describes it, killing a guard who lives a more virtuous life as opposed to a more villainous one will impact the chaos system, and can affect the final ending of the game. 

Smith says this whole process is “really difficult,” but helps Arkane work towards finding a balance between a game that is improvisational, but still able to have a meaningful narrative. 

For more thoughts from Smith about building Dishonored 2’s story, you can read the full interview with him over at The Rolling Stones’ gaming vertical Glixel. 

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