The Lore and Design of Dishonored 2’s Famous Clockwork Mansion
“Welcome to the final mystery, Jindosh.”
The Clockwork Mansion is the point at which Dishonored 2’s level design goes from being simply magnificent in scope, detail and intricacy, to being also conceptually awe-inspiring. Lady Boyle’s Last Party is very clever — this is very clever and an engineering marvel on the part of the developers. While still retaining all the opportunities for different avenues of ingress, exploration and optional side activities, this mission eventually draws aside the curtain to reveal a central conceit both unforgettable and ingeniously disruptive to the playstyle you might have been developing. The very structure of Jindosh’s residence will move around you as you pass through it, and although the concept is kind of given away in the mission’s name there is no preparing for how impressive this is and how it informs the way you’ll engage with this environment.
Having rescued (or eliminated) Dr. Hypatia, the protagonist and Billie Lurk (still currently under the guise of Meagan Foster) now have information on Anton Sokolov’s whereabouts. He is being held captive by Kirin Jindosh, the Grand Inventor of Serkonos and a member of Duke Abele’s inner circle. Jindosh is a student of Sokolov’s who has with clockwork created marvels rivalling what Sokolov achieved did with whale oil. He is a brash technologist with no small amount of celebrity in Serkonos, and he inhabits an immense mansion commanding stunning views across Karnaca.
Before even reaching the mansion itself however, there is a vast vestibular area across two discrete maps with many buildings and side streets to explore. Where the Karnaca dockside and Addermire Institute were separated into two missions, this has the same structure as levels like House of Pleasure from the original game with a section of town followed by the key location, which two more levels to come will do as well.
This is where the sun-kissed mediterranean scenery of Karnaca really comes into focus. Where the dockside definitely felt warmer and brighter than pretty much any outdoors mission in gloomy Dunwall, the ritzy Aventa District where Jindosh has established his base of operations is picturesque, with views of rolling hills out to the sea and the weather seeming balmy. Its hilly setting is quite reminiscent of places like the Amalfi coast.
It is entirely possible to spend an hour or more in Lower and Upper Aventa. The first order of operations is to gain access to the carriage that goes to the mansion, having been dropped off in Billie Lurk’s skiff in Lower Aventa. There are some great side quests, including a tip-off from a beggar near the black market that some “people with whale oil” have gone into a nearby building, and scaling the adjacent building will reveal a plot to blow up the walls abutting the black market and burgle it. A plot which you can disrupt and then appropriate, naturally. There’s also an ambush by some Howlers behind the station, and a chance to encounter their leader Paolo as he threatens the black market operator — which you’ll want to do before robbing her, of course.
Paolo will return later in the game and is a key character, being the face of organised crime as well as working in league with Lucia Pastor’s efforts on behalf of the silver miners. If you attack and kill him at the black market, he will erupt into a flood of rats which will swarm you. This is due to a strange power he posseses, which means he needs to be killed twice before sunset for death to actually claim him. This will be important in a later mission.
Upper Aventa is the next stop and although you can take the carriage from there to the mansion, it is all in the same map and you can get to Jindosh’s residence on foot as well. The weirdly brilliant thing about this section, small as it is, is that the “intended” or at least objective markered method of continuing towards the mansion (finding the code to unlock the railtrack gate) seems the least likely way that you would do so. There is an unassuming guardpost right next to the carriage stop and the captain with the code needed to open the gate and continue on is even asleep on the top floor, so you can be done pretty quickly. However, your eye will be drawn by everything else. There are more guards on patrol in the street past the guardpost and it is brightly illuminated by the sun, instantly catching your eye. Past them is another Wall of Light and after that are more guards and an explorable area with items to be found. If you jump up to the roof of the carriage stop you’ll also see some helpful piping round the back of the guardpost which you can scale to get round everything and drop down to the rock outcrops that lead to the mansion. As if loudly reinforcing that you’ll be rewarded for exploring off the beaten path, the level design seems to deliberately make what your checklist is asking you to do the least likely thing you’ll end up doing. Because the sense of discovery and achievement for finding unexpected ways to do things in games is such a wonderful feeling, players may be more likely to seek out ways to sequence-break or uncover alternate routes after this.
This brings us finally to the inventor’s house, which is accessible only by carriage rail because it is situated on an isolated outcrop of rock jutting out from the cliffside, with sheer drops around. Oddly, the mansion door isn’t locked, and Corvo or Emily can walk straight in.
You’ll be presented with a couple of ornate rooms, a lever, and — if you look up — a skylight. If you pull the lever, the room will transform around you, walls sliding away to become ceiling, floors becoming walls and cabinets rising from the floor, the very structure reconfiguring to present an even more ostentatious entry hall with grand staircases. This first room is both an opportunity to impress visitors with the inventors’ wealth, ingenuity and technological accomplishments as well as a security feature, a doorbell that alerts the owner and activates more defense measures with the newcomer already on his turf.
At this point Jindosh will greet you across a loudspeaker — he is unconcerned that he has a sudden visitor, and says his house is always open. This is very different to most Dishonored levels where your presence at the target’s location is generally either unknown or responded to with hostility. Jindosh makes it quite clear that he is fascinated to watch you traverse the shifting environment, and equally fascinated to dissect you after one of his many security measures kills you. He will continue commenting on your actions as you progress, in one of the level’s two clearest nods to Portal — in addition to the continuous goading of an adversary, you’ll also find yourself having the opportunity to slip between the walls, out of the warm light and expensive flooring of the mansion itself and into the cold, grey machinery behind them.
You can proceed from here through the mansion as it continues to change around you. Combinations of levers, pulled in the right order, will unlock hidden rooms and passages, so that secret-hunters will continue finding new things even after several playthroughs. For example, Jindosh’s bedroom conceals a “hidden repository” with a stack of silver ingots, the certificate terminating his association with the Academy of Natural Philosophy and his own preserved fingers which he lost in an industrial accident. The bedroom has some of the densest configurations and it is possible to spend some time discovering everything here, as it can provide access to various hallways, a bathroom, and a straight path to the main laboratory. It seems that Jindosh always wants access to all parts of the house and dislikes losing time in which he could be working — indeed, he has banned the use of the lift between the hours of three and seven in the morning, as he only takes four hours sleep a night.
Meanwhile in the waiting area there is a harp and piano that, at the touch of another lever, can swivel over to be replaced with an arc pylon. The extravagent decor of the wealthy inventor’s house is often pulled aside to reveal more defenses, similiar to how Jindosh’s inventions can be seen in many homes throughout Karnaca in the form of silvergraphs that adorn people’s homes and capture precious memories; while his real talent lies in creating weapons. The waiting area however is an impressive piece of the puzzle as it can both lower the guests from the smoking room to the assessment chamber where they can admire their prospective purchases, and it can switch a nearby snooker table with a dining table.
One of the results of the constantly transforming environment is that it will challenge whatever style of play you have been developing, at least the first time through. If you are trying to be stealthy — already possibly rocked by the fact the target instantly recognises your presence and is tracking your footprints through sensors in the floor — it becomes more demanding to secure reliable hiding spots when a bookcase swivels in the floor to suddenly give the guards line of sight to you.
An assault approach will hold its own difficulties, as the Clockwork Soldiers the inventor is famous for have been activated upon your arrival.
The Clockwork Soldiers are imposing, standing far taller than Corvo or Emily and with vicious blades on the ends of their arms. They can also unleash electrical bursts and jump quite a distance to reach a target. They are one of Jindosh’s key sources of wealth, costing “more than a rich man will see in a lifetime”, according to him, and aristocratic prospective buyers are at the mansion when you arrive. You can overhear them talking about how long they’ve been kept waiting, and anticipating making their circle of privileged associates jealous with the new toys they are hoping acquire.
The best feature of the Clockwork Soldiers however is the voice recordings that will both alert you to their presence and what they are about to do, which have all been recorded by Jindosh himself. In a bored voice, you’ll hear him intone “Okay, the machine has detected… something…” indicating that the robot is onto you, or “Playback for combat protocols” which is when they’re on the attack. As well as telling you what one of the game’s deadliest enemies is about to do, they tell you about Jindosh himself. He has diligently recorded descriptions for every action, both for his testing purposes and presumably for his prospective customers to learn about their shiny new product. However, he has left in his debugging lines, hinting at a personality tending towards mad sessions of industrious creativity and genius engineering ability, but either a little sloppy or perhaps less interested in the tedious work of checking over everything he’s done. His ego and his pride in his work comes through too, such as when the machines successfully kill an enemy and it plays a recording that beams “well, if this plays, someone has been beaten by one of my machines.” Conversely you can hear his distaste should the machine have cause for “playback indicates… lost enemy.” In Death of the Outsider you can hear how one of Jindosh’s customers, Karnacan bank director Dolores Michaels, has programmed her set of soldiers with new lines that promote the bank and reel off customer service statements as well. Here though, you’ll only hear the creator himself.
There is a lot of dialogue recorded for these and they make every encounter with the Clockwork Soldiers both fresh and amusing, which is an extremely good decision for a tough enemy. Giving players a reason to laugh even as they’re having to beat a retreat or about to see a game over screen is a very positive thing, and an extension of the way stealth games like this and Thief provide patient players lots of entertaining guard dialogue to overhear so they don’t get bored waiting for the right moment. In fact, I am far more likely to delay my plan of action to let NPCs finish a conversation when playing these games.
Speaking of Thief, the Clockwork Soldiers are very similiar to the Children of Karras bots in Thief II: The Dark Age. They are a far tougher enemy than the basic guard, represent the technological might of a key adversary and are ultimately played for comedy. Far more so in Thief II, where Karras had programmed each bot with lines basically praising and revering himself (“the glory of Karras!”). But overall it is a very nice echo of a series that helped inspire the Dishonored games.
They are a lot of fun to fight, but it is possible to complete the level — like every Dishonored level — without attracting any attention whatsoever, with or without your powers. The skylight above the very first lever will shatter if you Blink through it, and if you never touched the lever Jindosh won’t be alerted that there is an intruder. If you don’t have powers, you can pull the lever and then quickly scale up as the walls shift to get between them and hide, causing Jindosh to think there has been a misfire and ignore you after that. This creates a very different experience, as you will now need to find your way between the walls to get around the mansion and to your objectives. Eventually you’ll find a window onto the waiting area where you can begin to infiltrate for real. The guards aren’t expecting you and the Clockwork Soldiers aren’t active, making for tense exploration. You’ll also be constantly tempted by the levers that you pass — but if you pull one then Jindosh will know you’re there and comment on your “animal curiosity”.
Either way, Jindosh once reached can be dealt with in two main ways. If he knows Corvo or Emily is coming he’ll be ready with two Clockwork Soldiers who function as a sort of boss battle. If you’ve been taking them out so far (which doesn’t count towards kills or Chaos) you will have some kind of a strategy, using stun mines to short circuit them, getting above and drop-attacking, slashing at their vulnerable points or just hucking grenades or using incendiary bolts to burn away their woooden armour. If not this could be quite challenging, and on my first time through I just sniped Jindosh with my crossbow before running away from the machines. If you can take their heads off they will start attacking blindly and can deal with Jindosh for you, and even have lines of dialogue recorded for encountering his body. If you kill him as Corvo, you’ll get my favourite line of Stephen Russell dialogue in the game.
The non-lethal elimination method for this level is the first in the game to rival some of the truelly miserable fates that could be arranged for targets in the original Dishonored. The argument that it would be more merciful to simply give the target a quick death certainly applies here, and the protagonist will even give voice to it on discovering the applications of the electroshock machine. This is a device that Jindosh has been using to try and coerce information from Sokolov, and if you knock the inventor out you can place him in it instead. Powering it up by switching off the other applications in Jindosh’s main laboratory will allow you to use it to basically lobotomise him, and the worst thing is that the electricity will wake him up so that he is conscious for this. He has been letting you pull the levers the whole time, and now you’re pulling one he never thought you’d get to. He begs you not to go through with it, crying that an “age of advancement” will be lost. But it is too late. He comes to, barely able to formulate simple sentences. This is an act of intense cruelty and it would have been kinder to simply kill the man, who according to Harvey Smith is dead by the events of Death of the Outsider anyway.
His entreaties strike a chord, however. It is true that a mind with the capacity to enact immense progress is being destroyed, and not everything he has created is being used for violence. Although much of his wealth seems to be derived from creating weaponry and he is seeking ways to mass produce the Clockwork Soldiers, he powers his mansion hydroelectrically and with the Empire rationing whale oil influential technologists with an interest in alternative sources of energy could do important work. When you find Jindosh, he is literally in Sokolov’s shadow, studying under a painting of the famed physician, but he could have surpassed him.
The Outsider even says that he would have done so. Sokolov’s own achievements are no less mixed in the morals of their application than Jindosh’s, having not only been militarised as well but having resulted in a whaling industry that ‘A Captain of Industry’ showed was often as grueling for its workers as it was brutal for the animals whose oil it harvested. Even Sokolov’s mentor Esmond Roseburrow despaired at what his protégé unleashed thanks to the whale oil discovery, as seen in the Tales from Dunwall.
This is a lot to consider and it adds nuance to the act of eliminating Jindosh — the protagonist (either the Empress or her Royal Protector, either one a symbol of the status quo of fuel rationing and whale oil-powered lethal technology) has destroyed this man not for what he represents and can do, but because he is in their way. It is one of the best examples of how characters in these games usually exist outside of simple black and white, good versus evil binaries and provides an insight into the nature of technological progress and its relationship to power.
Either way you will have to think somewhat like Jindosh to navigate this level. Much as the Addermire Institute was akin to the mind of Dr. Hypatia — captive, containing dark and dangerous corners, and vulnerable to intrusion — the Clockwork Mansion reflects the ever-turning and ingenious weaponised brain of its creator. As you traverse it you’ll have to see, as the inventor would, the potential of the space and the technology around you, what it could be and how you can manipulate it for your own purposes. Kirin Jindosh keeps six versions of his bedroom memorised depending on what he requires and what time of day it is — if you can do the same then the mansion will work for you, instead of against you.
The level asks you to constantly respond on the fly but it lets you be the one pulling the levers. There could have been a version of this where it was all pressure pads and the structure would spontaneously move as you walked through it, or where Jindosh was a Saw-like figure, a puppet master making you respond as he changed the scenery. But true to the game’s philosophy (and the ego of Kirin Jindosh, certain as he is that none can match him) it is the player making the choices all the way through, and that’s what gives the level its real depth and replayability.
This essay is a sample from The Dunwall Diaries, where I review a level of the Dishonored series each week as I replay the games. It was originally a simple blog of my personal experience, but has mushroomed into larger pieces about the lore and how the levels work, based on my impressions as a non-designer. Check it out if you’d like to read impressions on levels from Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall, The Brigmore Witches and Dishonored 2, with Death of the Outsider soon to come.