The first slice of narrative-driven DLC for Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall asks you to lay down the mask, and put on the face of the man who started it all - the assassin, Daud. Events run parallel to those of the main campaign, with the opening sequence showing Daud piercing the gut of the Empress, as seen through his eyes.
It's a non-interactive cutscene, showcasing another perspective on the introduction to the main story in spectacular fashion. The rooftop approach to the pillared, ivory overlook. The sword sinking into flesh as a child cries for her mother.
Something feels different about this target to our ex-antagonist, and for the first time Daud is filled with regret. After the opening, his motivation is told through comic-strip style cutscenes, with a noir feel to the voice-over - think Max Payne in Dunwall and you're not a million miles away.
Although the story is passable, like the game proper, it's not the main attraction. The Outsider whisks Daud to his dreamscape, and whispers a name - Delilah. Daud then begins a journey towards its inevitable conclusion, in the search for the mystery woman. It's aserviceable plot, which I found to be more engaging than Corvo's tale. The main draw of the story, I found, is the dollop of personality our new protagonist brings into the fray.
A fleshed-out character, who speaks with words: playing as Daud feels like the leap between playing as the mute protagonist in Grand Theft Auto 3, to controlling Ray Liotta in its sequel, Vice City. This comparison works on multiple levels because Arkane Studios are also flexing their Hollywood muscle, bringing in Michael Madsen to fill Daud's rat viscera-covered boots.
The first mission takes place in a slaughterhouse. A whale slaughterhouse. Baked in the amber glow of the evening sun, the level opens with you perched on a roof overlooking the macabre factory. In true Dishonored fashion, there are multiple options for infiltration: you can enter through the sewers, wading through whale intestines, or you can activate a crane and use the chain on the crane to avoid going down the drain (sorry), or you could just kick in the front door, screaming, "Sparta!".
Strolling in the front is possible, of course. But I personally find stealth a much more satisfying bedfellow. Another thing is, if you do decide to enter through the front then you best be prepared to deal with many more adversaries than you've encountered before - and new, circular saw-wielding enemies, who are only vulnerable from the back.
The missions in this expansion are absolutely littered with sentries, making direct combat often overwhelming. It's an option, of course, but you will still have to use your powers and equipment wisely and, most importantly, strategically - making good use of some of the new items. First there are the arc mines, which evaporate your enemies like a miniature arc pylon. Then there's the chokedust, which leaves your opponents coughing and spluttering whilst you make good your escape, or take their heads from their shoulders.
The way the sentries' patrol routes weave through each other, with their lines of sight sweeping over their friends' locations and only small windows for action, it doesn't exactly make stealth a walk in the park, either. In fact, I probably died more times in this added extra than I ever did in the full game.
It's good then that Arkane Studios have seen fit to sneak in a few tweaks to the existing powers, with one of the changes in particular altering the experience considerably. The 'Blink' power is weaved into the fabric of Dishonored, and the subtle difference implemented here allows for the player to be much more accurate when it comes to acrobatics and subterfuge.
Now, when you trigger Blink, time freezes, causing you to turn invisible to the eyes of your enemies. This allows you to make a proper judgement without the precision of a mouse.
Before, if you were about to get spotted, you would likely perform a hurried Blink, which usually resulted in you smashing Corvo's faceon the Victorian London-inspired cobblestones. Now, you can sprint to the edge of a building and hurl yourself off with confidence. Because you're safe in the knowledge that you can trigger the power, causing you to hang in the air, in stasis, whilst you scout your surroundings for a sufficient perch - you can even change direction completely, allowing for some complex aerobatics.
I often found myself just hanging in the air, weighing up my options, with the alien-like sound distortions vibrating in my ear - yes, the sound is still phenomenal, with superb voice acting and ambient sounds, layered over the action.
'Dark Vision' is now called 'Void Gaze', which is unlocked from the start, but initially allows you to only see items such as Runes and Bone Charms through the walls. When you do unlock the second tier, you will find the range at which you can see enemies through walls drastically reduced with them having to be close enough to stab you in the face before they are highlighted.
Instead of summoning a swarm of rats, now you can conjure an assassin to fight by your side, who also provides nuggets of exposition when outside of combat. Even the upgraded agility skill seems to have been tinkered with, with the second upwards thrust being much more immediate.
Outside of the powers, you can even go for a swim now, without a group of hagfish trying to rip chunks out of you, causing you to develop an irrational fear of fish foot spas. This addition makes running away from your pursuers and diving into the river a viable option.
All these little details add up to make the game feel different, yet the same. One of the similarities that the expansion has to the main game is the mixture in the quality of the missions. The first two will whisk you to beautifully realised, original locales. The third mission is a recycled level from the main campaign, and it's one of the more forgettable of the bunch, too, taking you back to Daud's hideout in the Flooded District.
If your play style is similar to mine, you'll sneak through, soaking up the rich atmosphere and collecting all the things. You will activate all the 'favours' available in between missions - these present the player with more opportunities, with your operatives stashing Runes and intel around each sizable map. And because you want to explore, skulking around the branching paths of the intelligently designed maps, you will get plenty of kill for your coin - or pacifism for your penny - with the content taking me around eight hours to complete.
There's a lot to see, and a lot to do in this DLC - and there's more to come, with this being the first three parts of a planned six missions. But beware, those who like to speed through their games, as you will find the missions extremely short if you attempt to do so. Although Dishonored can be played with an action slant, it's easy to see that it's not the real intention and the missions will be over quicker than you can blink - and that's quick. This game is much like the core experience, and it will reward the patient, and punish the reckless. In this DLC, it's not Weepers you need to be afraid of, it's time.
- Two new areas of Dunwall to visit.
- More throat for your note.
- Blink pausing time is fantastic
- Talking protagonist.
- One duff mission.
- Short if you're rushy and stabby.
- Brilliant art style, but some muddy textures.