- "Think before you strike. If you kill me, you become the assassin we claimed you were."
- —Kirin Jindosh
Chaos is the element that affects the actions and reactions of characters during Dishonored and its DLCs: The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, and Dishonored 2 determining the fate of Daud, Emily Kaldwin, Corvo Attano and the Empire of the Isles.
Chaos controls how Corvo, Daud and Emily's quests unfold and their eventual resolution. It affects the number of guards present in each area and the strength of their forces, and increases the quantity of rats and weepers encountered during missions. It is chiefly calculated by the number of people killed, but is also influenced by several side objectives.
It has been reported that, for high chaos to be achieved, Corvo or Daud must kill 20% of the human population per mission. If Corvo's total kills exceed 50% of the population seen in Dishonored, Dunwall is irrevocably thrown into chaos, and the high chaos ending is depicted. Variations on the totals seem to trigger minor differences between chaos levels in Dishonored, such as Samuel Beechworth's behavior in The Light at the End.
The most violent path Corvo or Daud can choose, high chaos, is achieved by killing many human characters.
Having a high chaos rating when Corvo arrives at his final mission drastically changes the situation he encounters on Kingsparrow Island. Cosmetic changes, such as the presence of a large storm on the island, are paired with changes to the environment and story line that will alter how Corvo must navigate the area. At this level, Samuel will fire a gunshot to alert the guards to Corvo's presence, as a demonstration of his disgust with Corvo's actions. In Dishonored 2 high chaos is taken even further granting the protagonist the option to leave either Emily or Corvo in stone and rule the Empire alone (which can result in Corvo becoming the new Emperor of the Isles).
Medium chaos is a high chaos state exclusive to Dishonored, wherein Corvo has not caused enough chaos to warrant the highest rating. Samuel will not alert the guards on Kingsparrow Island to Corvo's presence, but will castigate him and say he never wants to see Corvo again. The events during the ending sequence will also be less severe than in high chaos. Dishonored 2 has a similar chaos state in which the protagonist, while has achieved high chaos, still didn't kill enough civilians to achieve the state of very high chaos.
Low chaos requires Corvo and Daud to avoid killing both enemies and civilians. Non-human enemies such as rats, river krusts and wolfhounds do not affect chaos. Early on, when there are many guards in Corvo and Daud's paths, following a low chaos approach can be difficult - however, in some of the later, less populated areas, it is significantly easier.
Effects of Chaos
|High Chaos||Low Chaos|
|Increase in the number of guards present.||Decrease in the number of guards present.|
|Increase in rat and weeper populations.||Decrease in rat and weeper populations.|
|More hostile reactions from Loyalist members.||
Loyalists will be friendlier and more respectful toward Corvo.
Increase in story-related deaths.
|Decrease in story-related deaths.|
|Negative changes in Emily's behavior.||Positive behavior from Emily.|
|Negative changes in Billie Lurk's behavior.||Positive behavior from Billie.|
|Kill assassination targets.||General|
|Kill members of the City Watch.||General|
|Poison Slackjaw's still for Granny Rags.||High Overseer Campbell|
|Kill Lord Montgomery Shaw.||Lady Boyle's Last Party|
|Kill the Royal Interrogator.||Return to the Tower|
|Use the Arc Pylon to kill hostiles.||The Loyalists|
|Destroy the Rothwild Slaughterhouse.||A Captain of Industry|
|Kill General Turnbull.||Eminent Domain|
|Deal with assassination targets in a non-lethal manner.||General|
|Avoid the use of lethal force against guards.||
|Avoid the use of lethal force against civilians.||General|
|Save Geoff Curnow from Thaddeus Campbell's assassination attempt.||High Overseer Campbell|
|Save Overseer Berthold and his sister from zealous Overseers.||High Overseer Campbell|
|Rescue a woman from a swarm of rats in an abandoned factory on the north side of Kaldwin's Bridge.||The Royal Physician|
|Release Anton Sokolov's test subject from confinement.||The Royal Physician|
|Save the plague survivors in Creating a Safe Haven.||The Flooded District|
|Use the Arc Pylon to incapacitate hostiles.||The Loyalists|
|Maintain Overseer disguise, leaving no evidence behind.||A Stay of Execution for Lizzy|
|Stop the Execution of the Guard who helped Corvo.||A Stay of Execution for Lizzy|
|Restore Water to the Canal.||The Dead Eels|
Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall, The Brigmore Witches, and Dishonored 2 are concluded in a manner that reflects Corvo, Daud, and Emily's actions.
If a low chaos path is attempted, more than 80% of the total human population, including weepers, must survive.
- Should Corvo choose to neutralize the assassination targets non-lethally in an otherwise high chaos playthrough, the wanted posters around Dunwall will still say that the victims were murdered. Various bits of guard or civilian dialogue will also mention the murders even though they never happened.
- In Dishonored 2, the protagonist's portrait in each mission summary screen will be darker and bloodied in high chaos, whereas it will be lighter and clean in low chaos.