Dunwall is a city like no other city we’ve seen. Its steampunkish atmosphere permeates through canvas like backgrounds, and political turmoil like something out of Game of Thrones. A secret order of assassins carries out the whims of whoever pays; collecting bounties on valued targets such as you -- Corvo -- and the Empress herself. To battle these elements you are granted powers and abilities from a mysterious deity that appears when you activate his shrines. All of this is fun, well orchestrated and … familiar.
What is to account for this familiarity that oozes through your narrative?
Dunwall is a city in the future of Cyrodiil. That’s right. The same kingdoms you’ve fought and sacrificed for in Bethesda’s popular Elder Scrolls series has taken a leap in time to show you what is in store for the future of one city. Let’s examine.
One of the major points for this is The Outsider. A remnant of an ancient practice of religion that is outlawed by the government. Why are his ways outlawed? Simple, because there was a point where the Daedric Princes and Lords were hunted down and killed. Events like the Oblivion gates, and the turmoil caused during the events of Skyrim (not the dragons, but the side quests) became too much for the people of Cyrodiil to handle. At some point in the Elder Scrolls timeline there will be a unification of the kingdoms, and one of their first orders of business will be to free themselves from the tyranny of the Daedra.
So, like the hero in Oblivion, the realms of these specific Deadra will be breached and “cleansed.” This is not an unfamiliar tactic for large governing bodies, as it is a way to defend against possible threats. The people of Cyrodiil decide that they will be the masters of their fate, and not those who would manipulate for their own enjoyment. The once boisterous Daedra will be powerless against the united masses of Cyrodiil, and will eventually succumb to the product of their intrusions over countless centuries.
So what happened to the Khajiit, Dark Elves, High Elves, Argonians, and Nords?
Two possibilities. One, is that they are still around and they just aren’t allowed in the realm of Dunwall, or choose not to go there. Two, over the thousands of years it would have taken for a civilization to reach this point in the Elder Scrolls timeline, they were either killed off, or assimilated into the general populace through generations of cross-species breeding. This is probably more likely for the Nords and maybe the Elves, and less likely for the Khajiit and the Argonians, who would probably killed off in the preceding wars.
Magic has fallen by the wayside because it was too highly feared and not properly monitored. In Skyrim, the Mage’s College is a remnant of what it once was, and if that path continued then magic would eventually be discarded for military might. Century after century would pass, and the thought of magic would pass into the area of myth and legend. Taking it’s place would be the fossils and artifacts from the “dwarves” of Skyrim, and their mechanical inventions. Without magic, there wouldn’t be an efficient way to power these devices, so they begin to harvest the fat from the mighty sea creatures that inhabit the waters. Human ingenuity replaces magic.
Meanwhile, there is one surviving Daedra who has learned to keep to the shadows in order to survive. He/she has learned that gaining a mass amount of followers will only attract the kind of attention that got their fellow Princes and Lords killed. The best way for him/her to entertain his or herself, while still shaping the paths of those he/she deems as inferior, is to select people that have no interest in the deity themselves.
In the game there are six people who have had direct contact with The Outsider. Piero was taken to The Void (The Outsider’s daedric realm) and was presented with the idea of the mask that Corvo wears. It is not stated that Piero had any interest in contacting The Outsider previously, and was much more focused on his own inventions and natural philosophy. There is an unnamed boy who was given abilities by the Daedric prince to take vengence on those who wronged him previously. There isn’t any more spoken about him after that. There is Vera, otherwise known as “Granny Rags,” who was more interested in her suitors than she was in what the Outsider could do for her. There is Daud, who is the head of the Whaler’s assassin group, and there is you. Daud states that he has visited the shrines and seen The Void, but his interest seems to only be in what he can attain for himself with the abilities, and less with any kind of deity worship or curiosity.
Then we have Sokolov, the mastermind behind the devices and paintings in the city of Dunwall. He is obsessed with finding The Outsider, which is something The Outsider even directly addresses, by saying Sokolov would have an easier time getting in touch if he was just “more interesting.” Sokolov seems like a very interesting and influential person based on what he can accomplish, but he would also draw too much attention to the Daedric prince because of his obsession.
Think of it like this: Have you ever had a guy or girl who likes you so much that they are constantly trying to get in touch with you and want to take up a lot of your free time? Kind of a turn off for a lot of people. It’s like that for The Outsider and Sokolov.
The Outsider has seen what happens when too much attention is drawn to what a Daedra can do, so he operates from the shadows. He gently pulls on the right strings to watch the weave unravel, all for his own amusement.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to also see some sort of tribute to the Night Mother somewhere in the Whaler’s main base, as I believe they are a distant relative of the Assassin’s Guild. Their headquarters is now in this Dunwall (which could possibly be the city formerly known as Anvil) and have taken the name The Whalers based on the culture of the times.
So, to conclude, Dunwall is a jump to two/three thousand years into the future, after a major war between a united kingdom and the Daedra finished, with only one of the Princes or Lords surviving. This lord decides on changing his tactics in order to survive, and sticks mainly to the shadows and influencing people who have no interest in him outside of what they can attain. They are selfish people whose goals override their intrigue. Daud's is money, Corvo's is revenge, so was the young boy's, Vera's was herself, and Piero's was his inventions and ingenuity. Magic has been left by the wayside since it too easily corrupts and is too dangerous for any state to control, and the remains of Dwemer technology became the inspiration for the tech used in Dunwall.