Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall Review
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On 04/26/2013 at 05:00 PM by Travis Hawks
Return to Dunwall only to long for Dunwall even more.
For unabashed Dishonored fanboys.
If there’s anyone in the world who loves Dishonored more than they should, it’s me. Many were let down by the game after it received a skittering swarm of pre-launch hype that it couldn’t quite live up to – for certain people anyway. I was completely sucked into Dishonored’s city of Dunwall, which led to several days of me heading to work fueled by only three or four hours of sleep. Somehow I (and my career) survived this unhealthy escapism and I came out the other side infatuated with almost every piece of the game. Imagine my excitement when the first true DLC (in my opinion) for the game was announced where you would be revisiting Dunwall as the assassin who set the main game’s events in motion. Sadly, even though many of the things I love about Dishonored remain in The Knife of Dunwall DLC, it doesn’t live up to my lofty opinion of the original.
Promotional materials revealed that in The Knife of Dunwall your time inhabiting the master assassin, Daud, would be a little different than when you were skulking around as Corvo Attano. Both characters have The Outsider’s mark, imbuing them with some handy supernatural powers, but their abilities are a bit different. Obviously, since Corvo’s adventures take place over a full-length game he’s going to have a larger slate of powers. Even understanding that, playing as Daud without all of the skills we’re accustomed to chafes a little.
From a game design standpoint, ditching the ability to possess animals (fish, rats, and hounds) is logical since that would task the devs with creating even more alternate paths through levels and testing those alternate paths thoroughly. Not being able to possess other humans, though, is a little less understandable. I’ll admit that this may be more irksome to me than most players since my version of Corvo was a human-possessing fiend. My other main fallback power, summoning a swarm of rats, is also nowhere to be found on Daud’s curriculum vitae. O, how I longed to bring forth teeming vile critters to do my dirty work from afar, but alas I had to manage without.
In place of these skills, Daud has the ability to call forth one of his trained assassins. Yes, there is apparently an entire cadre of your assassins following you around and not having any trouble remaining undetected until called forth. Juxtapose this with Daud, being controlled by me, who is a frequent bumbler yet has all of these trainees nearby that are faultless. Alright, so this is a game and I can accept this logical goof, but I don’t have to actually enjoy using this skill. I didn’t hate it or anything, but it was fairly dull to call forth an assassin and watch him attack guards while I hid in the shadows. It was hard to tell why and when these summoned assassins would inspire their victims to call for help or sound alarms. It seemed significantly inconsistent compared to every misstep by yours truly that brought out the full brunt of the anti-Daud forces.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Even though I have some beefs with the skills available, it’s only because I was so completely in love with what Corvo could do. Daud can still zip from cover to cover, rooftop to rooftop, and fire a crossbow like nobody’s business. There are plenty of ways to accomplish the Knife of Dunwall’s missions in varied and interesting ways and that’s why I think this bit of downloadable content is actually worthwhile.
The first two levels you tackle are as precisely designed and polished as any from Dishonored proper, albeit a little on the small side. Particularly striking is the first mission, spent infiltrating a whale slaughterhouse and exploring all of the viscera-soaked warehouse spaces within. It took me quite a bit of poking around to devise a safe method of entry to the slaughterhouse, only to find several other means of entry later on during my explorations. Strolling around this cramped space wasn’t easy, as it was packed full of buzz-saw wielding butchers along with our old friends, the city watchmen. Options abound in almost every space in this and the other two levels, which makes nosing around looking for books and notepapers fairly challenging and enjoyable.
Digging into the mythos of Dunwall was what pushed me right into infatuation with Dishonored. This DLC package does a fair job of living up to that precedent. There are plenty of dull texts and fairy tales scattered about, but also diaries and audio logs that gave me some definite “whoa!” moments. If you’re expecting major revelations about what happened in the first game, though, don’t get too excited. I enjoy the minutiae of Dunwall and came away pleased, but there was very little in the actual story department to be thrilled with.
In fact, I would say the story seems pretty thrown together and pointless. We were taunted with finding out more about this conflicted assassin, Daud; what led him to assassinate a benign empress, and how he is handling the guilt of this vile act. Is it a spoiler to say that you don’t really find out anything about this at all? If so, I didn’t say that. The content sort of starts its own sub-story and then just kind of lets it fall to pieces by the end. (Note that I said “end” and not “conclusion” as that would be downright inaccurate). Although the ending has its notable elements, upon even minor reflection, you realize that most of the story was just silly chatter with no real purpose but to compel you to the next level.
At least the levels are still enjoyable. Even the third and final level which simply returns you to a location from the main game is sill fun. It’s a bit disappointing to clamber through recycled content, but in another way it’s a kick to return to a familiar place and get to fight different enemies using different tactics. Unfortunately, going back to that same locale with limited skills and watching the story crumble made me yearn for the real Dishonored instead of this merely passable substitute.
I’m not sorry I played the Knife of Dunwall—in fact, I quite enjoyed it. I’ve wanted to return to Dunwall for months and this was a great way to do so without replaying the full game again. However, this DLC feels like a definite add-on created with leftover resources and spare time. Some of the cutscenes are tacked together awkwardly and I ran into one fairly hilarious event that was an obvious work-around in order for my non-lethal choice to work. Little moments like that and the limited ability palette make the Knife of Dunwall a product that is only for the game’s biggest fans. Even for us, though, it’s hard to get too thrilled about expanded content that just reminds you of how great the real game is.