I tell ya, nobody loved Dishonored more than me. Well ok, I suppose the fellow over there with the Corvo bedsheets and rubber mask did, as well as the people who actually got the platinum trophy… ok, I suppose I just really liked Dishonored. For good reason, though; it was an incredibly flexible game, allowing players to get creative and express themselves via a robust set of mechanics, and it was atmospheric and nicely stylized to boot. Its only major drawback was a weak story, one with drab characters and a protagonist whom Arkane Studios couldn’t decide on being a vehicle for players to project onto or a traditionally likable hero in a revenge story.
Fast forward to today, when the first story-focused downloadable content for the game has been released. Titled Knife of Dunwall, the DLC stars Daud, the guilt-ridden assassin who killed the Empress and essentially sparked Corvo’s journey. Does this add-on continue to provide stealthy and supernatural fun, or is this knife duller than advertised? Let’s find out.
Taking place parallel to the events of the main campaign in Dishonored, Knife of Dunwall sees you play as Daud shortly after he murdered the empress. After being visited by the ever omniscient Outsider, he’s tasked with looking for a mysterious woman named Delilah in a quest to find answers and ultimately rid his guilt. Aiding him is Billie Lurk, the female lieutenant within Daud’s order of assassins, who accompanies him on each mission.
The story here is certainly an improvement over that in Dishonored’s main campaign, if only because Daud is given a more active role in the story compared to Corvo’s largely ‘errand boy’ status, and it serves as sufficient motivation to get players going. However, it still feels rather thin overall, and much like the original game, the writing here tends to be dry and lacking in personality. Daud is also fairly quiet throughout, and you’ll learn disappointingly little about his backstory or psychology that you didn’t already know.
That being said, Arkane have managed to retain the one way in which Dishonored‘s story did work, giving players the chance to tailor the protagonist’s personality via their playstyle and thus giving a sense of participatory characterization. Also, the plot does pick up further on, with a rather surprising twist and significant moral choice awaiting you at the end. Being the first of a two-part DLC saga, it ends on a cliffhanger, so we’ll have to wait for The Brigmore Witches in May to see if Daud’s tale reaches a satisfying conclusion.
It should also be said that the randomized dialogue between guards is as ridiculous as ever. Why they have to recite overly enthusiastic responses like “no way”, “of course” and “never doubt it” when lines like “most likely” or “probably not” would have sufficed continues to mystify me, though there is a self-aware joke in there about the whole whiskey and cigars shindig, so apparently even the developers knows their shortcomings.
Thankfully, the gameplay once again picks up the slack. I won’t waste time reiterating the core mechanics, since they’re almost exactly the same here and thus just as polished and gratifying. The few additions are as follows: Blink now puts you in slow motion when you’re standing still (convenient), you can now see bone charms and runes in Dark Vision mode as opposed to having to pull out the heart each time (also convenient), Daud can summon some of his assassins to help out in combat, and he’s equipped with smoke bomb-like Chokedust, electrocuting Arc Mines and Explosive Bolts for the wristbow, all of which are useful additions to the arsenal and afford the player even more options.
Fans of Dishonored or its spiritual predecessors, the Thief series, know very well that the games lived and died by their level design, and I’m happy to say Knife of Dunwall does not disappoint in this area. You get three maps, and although the last one has some unfair enemy placement (I can’t elaborate without spoiling) that makes it frustratingly hard to play in a pacifist run, the other two are just as large and well-rounded as anything from the main game. Levels are teeming with subtly placed platforms, vents, keys and other assets that make whatever path you choose to take, be it lethal, peaceful, nimble or something else entirely, feel balanced and rewarding. It’s clear that Arkane put genuine love and care into these levels and didn’t just lazily hash them out. Once again, I was absolutely sucked into the game’s world by the intricate level layout and brooding atmosphere, and like a freshly caught freshly caught Dunwall hagfish, I was completely hooked.
Unfortunately, the main game’s few fundamental flaws have made a return. It’s still nearly impossible to hear guards’ footsteps, meaning they’ll occasionally waltz into a room or turn a corner without any warning beforehand. In that case, upgrading Dark Vision is a must and is one of the first things you should do if attempting a pacifist play. Loading times are also longer than I would have liked, and considering I usually chose to re-load whenever I was spotted due to my choice of being a peaceful kitten, this got to be quite tedious. Lastly, some of the gadgets and gear are simply overpowered. For example, when upgraded, sleep darts incapacitate foes even in combat, though pacifists will probably have to rely on them anyway in the final level, due to the aforementioned iffy enemy placement.
Some may potentially decry this add-on as being short lived, but really, much like the full game, it all depends on how extensively you want to explore the levels and how keen you are on replaying missions. Being an obsessive searcher/collector, I spent five or six hours on my no-kill playthrough and definitely entertained the thought of playing the campaign again using different play styles. That length could easily be halved by less patient players, though even then, the fact that Knife of Dunwall has once again been smartly designed with multiple playthroughs in mind means you’ll get a lot for your money if you’re a Dishonored fan and genuinely dig the gameplay. There’s a lot to see and do here if you want to see and do it in every way possible.
If you liked Dishonored, then Knife of Dunwall is incredibly easy to recommend, because it’s essentially just more of it. More of the expansive levels, more of the flexible gameplay options and more of the incredibly gratifying core mechanics. Is that a bad thing? When the content in question is of this high a quality, absolutely not, and although I wish the final level was less rigid and both Daud and his tale were a bit more fleshed out, I was still engaged the whole way through and am eagerly awaiting the next and final chapter of our other favorite supernatural assassin’s saga. At $10, Knife of Dunwall is absolutely worth purchasing for anyone thirsting for more stealthy delights. Grab yourself some whiskey and cigars and enjoy another concentrated dosage of dishonorably good fun.
(Reviewed on Playstation 3. Review code provided by Bethesda. Many thanks.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Overall – 8/10
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Ratings: Mature (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)