As part of my gradual rehabilitation after getting stuck in a games hole last year, I took the recommendation of my Electronic Wireless Show podcast mates Alice and Matthew last week, and have embarked on a playthrough of the Dishonored series. And, look, this is hardly going to come as a surprise, but… Dishonored is well good, isn’t it? Apart from anything else, I’ve just not played a proper, no-expense-spared-Doctor-Grant action adventure extravaganza in so long, that I had forgotten how much I can enjoy them.
But I suppose the really delicious bit for me, in this particular games burger, is the big pile of juicy lore stacked between its electric buns. Dishonored is a rare example of a game world that interests me so much, I actively read every book, note, poster and fish tin I can get my gristly hands on, just to marinate in it all. Rightly confident in its strength, the game has offered me a few ways to indulge this fascination further. But the best of them has to be the Horrible Haunted Heart.
The Horrible Haunted Heart is gifted to protagonist Corvo “dissapointed-looking robot skeleton” Attano by the Outsider, a bloke who looks like he hasn’t quite gotten over being in a late-2000s pop-punk outfit that narrowly avoided being famous. Ostensibly, this arcane device is for rooting out secret, spooky bones that make you more powerful. The bones are often hidden in bins and the like, and the heart will blup away like the start of an anxiety attack when you’re near one. Very handy, very good.
"This one took a shit on a pigeon, just for a laugh.”
But a Horrible Haunted Heart is for life, not just for Christmas, and it has a secondary, way more interesting function. If you point the heart at any living thing (or even at a particularly characterful warehouse) and give it a lil squeeze, a faintly sexy ghost voice will tell you a fact about that person. A secret of theirs, perhaps, or a habit, that tells you a little about them and their place in the world.
It’s become the basis of a little metagame for me. You probably know that Dishonored, like many stealth-heavy games, makes a big deal of allowing players to take a non-lethal route through the story, to the extent where the story changes depending on how stab-happy you are. Pretty much any encounter in the game, then, can be resolved without anyone having to die, which is nice.
It’s a fun challenge, but I don’t have the patience to stick to non-lethality all the time, and so my solution has been to let the Heart decide people’s fates for me. Say I’m sidling through the piles of chains and sick round the back of an eel-mangling plant, and I encounter some glowering ruffian whose path I must cross. Will I slit his gizzard, or put him gently to sleep like a poorly chimp? The Heart knows. So I give it a honk.
“This one is really horrible,” it might whisper, “but only because of his chronic bollock pain”: poor bloke, I think, let’s give him a bit of naptime. On the other hand, the Heart might pipe up with “this one took a shit on a pigeon, just for a laugh”, and I will instead prescribe him a dose of Vitamin Death.
It’s a fun way to use a feature, and a good method for getting the most out of the game’s enormous library of voice lines, too. And yes, it does give Corvo the sort of all-or-nothing, social media berserker mentality that makes Twitter such a relaxing place to spend time. But I can live with that. At the end of the day, if he’s willing to assassinate people he’s never met because a bloke who lives in an abandoned pub and claims to be an admiral tells him to, I don’t see why he wouldn’t go to a lump of smooth-talking offal for moral guidance.