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The joy of spending five hours cleaning out Dishonored 2's Clockwork Mansion

Time is inconsequential in my quest for a no-kill ghost run

A clockwork soldier from Dishonored 2, with the RPS 100 logo in the top right corner.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

I can almost remember the moment in the original Dishonored when I realised, "Crap. Chaos is coming, and there's nothing I can do to stop it." It was around the halfway point of the game that the world of Dunwall was visibly starting to sour before me, and it was all because I hadn't quite taken the time to truly understand how its chaos system worked. I'd let too many of my mistakes get away from me, killed one too many people in the process, and now its Low Chaos ending seemed permanently out of reach. I thought in vain that if I behaved really nicely for the rest of the game, it might balance out my former transgressions. But alas, it was not to be. I ended the game in High Chaos, and I was furious. For whatever reason, getting a game's 'good' ending really mattered to me back then.

It was this personal failing that drove me to some extreme lengths when Dishonored 2 came out a couple of years later. Not only did I resolve to do a Clean Hands run this time, guaranteeing a Low Chaos ending by refusing to kill anyone, but as I cast my eye down its list of Steam achievements, I also got it into my head that, 'You know what? If we're going no-kill, let's Shadow run it as well and do it completely unseen at the same time.' A great idea at the time, I thought, if a little unusual for me. Cut to my fifth hour trying to clean out Kirin Jindosh's Clockwork Mansion on a review deadline, however, and you might think that decision would have worn a little thin. But you'd also be totally and utterly wrong.

A laboratory scene from Dishonored 2
I spent a long time in the Clockwork Mansion, but figuring out how to do a non-lethal ghost takedown on Jindosh in his circular laboratory (which is also patrolled by a handful of clockwork soldiers on both levels) definitely ate up a considerable portion of my five hours there. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

The Clockwork Mansion is one of Arkane's all-time great locations. You know it. I know it. It's one of those levels that sits completely at ease in the company of Lady Boyle's Last Party and A Crack In The Slab, and you don't need to do a shadow-no-kill-stealth run on it to appreciate that fact. It's just an excellent time full stop, and one of the most intricately designed spaces in the game, if not the entire series.

Stalking its hallways and continually morphing death trap rooms for five hours certainly helped me appreciate this fact, of course, but the real jaw-dropper for me was when I realised you could slip between the scenery and get inside the gears and mechanisms powering this mighty, murder box mansion. It's one of those brilliant moments that radiates down your spine in a tingle of astonished delight. Sure, Portal 2 might have done a similar thing five years earlier with its cheeky peeks behind the Aperture Science curtain, but the feeling of being somewhere you shouldn't, and especially somewhere that Jindosh and his smug mega brain hadn't accounted for, still felt very compelling in the moment.

The interior of a large waiting room with a sentry gun in the middle of it in Dishonored 2
There's nothing sweeter than a completely disabled Arc Pylon... | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

It was also probably one of the first times I really became aware the developers had already accounted for something like this ahead of time. The fact I was there at all meant the mansion's moving walls and floors weren't just some sleight of hand video game trickery being pedalled to me. Far from it. Its design was deliberate and real and a functioning, physical thing. It was meant to be seen and interrogated by the player, and I absolutely loved that about it. It was like a little secret handshake between myself and the developers, of me thinking I'd broken through and beaten the system, when actually Arkane were there holding the door wide open and welcoming me inside. These are the kind of moments I live for in video games. That silent, but respectful meeting of minds where the only correct response is to say, "Touché," out loud to your gaming monitor and doff your imaginary cap to the developers.

A dead body in the rafters in Dishonored 2
A small desk in an underground section of a mansion in Dishonored 2
You never quite know what you're going to find in these hidden away spaces... | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

And on reflection, I'm not sure I would have clocked this at all if I hadn't spent so long in that place clearing it out. As I disabled every last sentry bot and clockwork soldier, and slumped every last guard and goon into an unconscious pile of snoring meat sacks, I eventually got to the point where I had pretty much free rein of the entire mansion. I was able to walk its halls at my leisure and get a real feel for the place and how it all fit together, taking the time to stop and appreciate its inner workings without the pressure of being caught or skewered unexpectedly. I remember playing about with the switches that changed the layout of its various rooms, and catching glimpses of what appeared to be little air pockets between its floorboards that made me go, "Wait a second, can I get in there? Surely not. I can! I can get in there! What an incredible thing!"

So thank you, slightly narked-off Katharine from 2016. Your resulting review of Dishonored 2 might not have been brilliant (trust me, I've been back and read it and opening with how much you love the quick-save/quick-load system isn't the best intro I've ever seen, but bless you, I also remember that week in November being absolutely insane for someone who was both the sole games reviewer on the your tech mag at the time and who probably also had fifteen hundred smartphone reviews to do at the same time), but you sure made some good memories in the process.

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