It is set in the Empire of the Isles, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of early to mid-19th Century Europe during an industrial revolution triggered by the discovery and harvesting of whale oil that leads to much social tension. It's led to the ascendancy of science, commerce, and technology over a more archaic social system of corrupt nobility, clergy and gentry, accompanied by the fading and displacement of an earlier tradition in occult magic grounded in the collection of runes and bone charms, that is largely being driven underground by the overseers of the Abbey of the Everyman and their magic-repelling devices. The plot of the games concern beings who are marked by the Outsider, the mysterious godlike being who lives in the Void, an Eldritch Location residing in the space on the borderland of dimensions and dreams. Individuals with the mark of the outsider, through use of powerful runes and bone-charms, have access to magical powers that allows them to change and shape the world. The Outsider gives his mark only to people who interest him, those whose moves he can't predict and anticipate.
Much of the plot of the first two games concerns a series of coups faced by the Royal Family of Dunwall, with Royal Protector Corvo Attano receiving the Mark of the Outsider to better aid him in his quest for revenge, while the sequel follows the adventures of his daughter Empress Emily Kaldwin. Extended DLC for the first game, and the standalone titles, focuses on the Assassin Daud and his apprentice and ally, Billie Lurk.
So far, the series has the following entries:
- Dishonored — The first game in the series which follows the adventures of Corvo Attano, showing how he received the Mark of the Outsider, as he gets framed for the murder of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, his lover and Queen. Corvo seeks to regain his honor and clear his name, and topple the conspiracies and restore the throne to Jessamine's (and his) daughter, Emily Kaldwin. The first game is set in Dunwall, capital of the Empire of the Isles.
- The Knife of Dunwall/The Brigmore Witches (2013) — Two-Part DLC for the first game which chronicles the adventures of the Assassin Daud, who murdered the Empress Jessamine. The Outsider offers Daud the promise of redemption, the mystery of Delilah Copperspoon, another recipient of his mark, who has formed a coven of witches with designs on the throne of the Empire. Notably unlike Story-DLC for other games, these missions comprise 2/3rds the length of the first game and its events serve as the true prologue and catalyst of the sequel. It is set between the six months of the prologue of the first game after Corvo is imprisoned and shortly after his escape from Coldridge Prison.
- Dishonored: Rat Assassin (2012) — A free mobile game released to promote the first game featuring gameplay similar to Fruit Ninja but slicing rats rather than fruit.
- Dishonored 2 (2016) — The sequel takes place in Karnaca, the Jewel of the South. The game potentially follows the adventures of either Corvo Attano, or a grown up Emily Kaldwin, as they set about toppling and repelling Delilah Copperspoon and her revived coven and new conspirators, who have taken over the throne.
- Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (2017) — A standalone entry that takes place several months after Dishonored 2 chronicling the adventures of Billie Lurk, former apprentice of Daud, as she travels in the underbelly of Karnaca to reunite with her old boss and set out on one final adventure, to kill the Outsider himself.
- Dishonored: The Wyrmwood Deceit (2016) — Titan Comics series showing a prequel adventure to the second game.
- Dishonored: The Peeress And The Price (2017) — Titan Comics series set after the events of the second game.
- Dishonored: The Corroded Man (2016) — A prequel to the second game that explores the region of Tyvia.
- Dishonored The Return Of Daud (2018) — A novel featuring Daud set during Delilah coup in the second game.
- The Tales from Dunwall (2012) — Three animated shorts set in Dunwall
Common tropes across the Franchise:
- Aerith and Bob: The franchise likes mixing a bunch of different names from a variety of cultures:
- Dishonored 1 has classically English names (Hiram Burrows, Farley Havelock, Custis, Treavor, Callista, Emily), some Anglo-American names (Samuel Beechworth, Billie Lurke, Teague Martin) with real world names from other settings such as the Italian sounding Piero and Corvo (the latter is more often used as a surname than a first name); Russian-Eastern European Anton, and in the case of Daud, an Arabic variation of David. Jessamine is likewise an Old English variant of the Jasmine flower.
- Dishonored 2 has a lot of Italo-Hispanic names such as Luca Abele, Lucia Pastor, Paolo, alongside Alexandria Hypatia, Aramis Stiltonnote , Breanna Ashworth, with the most out of place name being Kirin Jindosh as a "Kirin" (with that English spelling) is a creature from Japanese folklore.
- Athens and Sparta: The two major cities featured in the games have this dynamic, with one being a military violent city, and the other being associated with trade, commerce, art and culture.
- Dunwall, the Capital of the Empire featured most often in the games is shown to have a heavy military and police presence. The first game set during the Rat Plague more or less depicts the city as a Police State with quarantine enforced by the dictatorial Hiram Burrows. The city has heavy Urban Segregation, and gangs run entire city sections, and much of the NPC dialogue more or less paints the capital as a Wretched Hive that disillusions and disappoints everyone who comes there.
- Karnaca, is the "Jewel of the South". It is brighter and more opulent looking. Where Dunwall was always implied to have been bad and rotten, Karnaca's only faced tough times because of the current Duke Luca Abele. It has more openly altruistic NP Cs (like Alexandria Hypatia, Aramis Stilton) than Dunwall does (even Piero Joplin, the scientist who sides with the rebellion is a pervert). The city is filled with street-songs and folk music, and is associated with culture and sophistication, and also agitates in the Low-Chaos ending, for representational government and autonomy.
- Cold Ham: Most of the characters and the dialogue has a very understated, indirect quality, with the few characters who are comic being The Comically Serious at how restrained and repressed many of them come off like.
- Fantastic Noir: The games have a very distinct noir quality, thanks to the use of narration and first-person via audiographs and other devices, the overall theme of multiple characters having Dark and Troubled Past, the morally ambiguous nature of the world, and the focus on class inequality, government corruption, and powerlessness. The dialogue also has a distinct hardboiled flavor, thanks to gritty metaphors, such as the Outsider, the ostensible God of the setting, comparing one character's state of mind by noting that it snapped like "a cheap clock".
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Each game is set in a world resembling industrial Europe.
- Dunwall, the capital of Gristol, is London, capital of Britain, in a variety of different eras. The Rat Plague is modeled on the Plague Year of 1665, but it's mashed together with London from the Victorian era. It's got a filthy river polluted by industry, and the smog and air make the entire sky and atmosphere look gray much like the landscape of London was in the pre-sanitation movement early industrial era.
- Karnaca is intended to be a kind of 19th Century Mediterranean land with a pinch of South America thrown in, albeit it's not as tied to any fixed historical references unlike Dunwall.
- The Empire of the Isles is a state that is a kind of constitutional monarchy, but is also somewhat federal since the Empress rules through vassals and is hands-off in how they run. This form of decentralized rule is closer to the Holy Roman Empire and other federal empires and republics. Empress Jessamine at the start of Dishonored despite being the Head of the Empire has most of her authority centered in Gristol, and is struggling to get aid from other vassals to deal with the Rat Plague, while her successor Emily Kaldwin faced problems owing to Serkonos having far too much autonomy from Dunwall.
- Fantasy Counterpart Religion: There are two major religious and spiritual beliefs in the series:
- There is the Abbey of the Everyman which is a take on Christianity in its organized religion, based more on the Anglican Church than the Catholic Church, i.e. it is patronized and supported by the Crown and has simultaneous repressive and progressive aspects, i.e. a history of attacking dissenters, heretics, and persecuting magic users and witches (the latter of which was something Protestant Christianity did far more than the Catholics) while also patronizing and supporting science and using mathematics based devices in their activities similar to the Anglican Church which did support the Royal Society in the 1700s.
- Worship of the Outsider involves creating makeshift shrines made up of wood and other household parts and fashioning them in private and secret while collecting strange runes and charms in the hope for luck and fortune. This resembles Haitian Voudou religion in the creation of shrines and syncretic ritualism, as well as in the manner in which Outsider worshipers generally hide their faith in the privacy of their homes since it is an Illegal Religion by the state. Outsider worship is also associated with witchcraft and the occult similar to the Hollywood version of Voudou.
- Devil, but No God: The Outsider is real and features heavily in the game, but there's no suggestion of him having any counterpart. The Abbey doesn't have a figure of worship, their teachings are all about how to recognise and resist the corrupting influence of the Outsider.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Despite being a fantasy inspired by England and European history, the game series generally avoids emphasizing accents and generally has actors voice their parts in their accents. As such, there are a number of American accents across the games, alongside some Cockney accents for a few characters (such as Slackjaw and some of the background NPC gangsters).
- Two-Part Trilogy: An unusual example. The sequel Dishonored 2 more or less continues the arc and themes from the 2-Part DLC The Knife of Dunwall/The Brigmore Witches for the first game rather than the vanilla story. The Daud DLC had 6 extended missions (2/3rds the size of the first game) and is in effect the true middle part of the trilogy. Most of the supporting cast of the first game is missing in the sequel, either Bus Crash or Put on a Bus, with the exception of Anton Sokolov. The Daud DLC has more returning characters (Billie Lurk, Delilah Copperspoon and the Brigmore Coven) than the first game, in addition to the DLC's plot and backstory being major elements of the plot of this game. The only recurring across all three parts (or 2+2/3rds) is The Outsider.