I wasn’t that crazy about Dishonored, and I’m really not sure why. There are just so many elements that I feel that I should like, elements which I love in other games; a strong vivid fantastical setting, a clever story and crazy powers, what’s not to like? Yet somehow, Dishonored just didn’t come together for me. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but it just didn’t quite resonate with me the same way that it did for a lot of other people. Still, I felt that it was worth another look, and this new DLC, The Knife of Dunwall, was a perfect opportunity to try and find the core that made Dishonored so beloved. It’s a mixed success; there are three missions, two representing Dishonored at it’s very best and another at it’s very worst.
In The Knife of Dunwall we take control of Daud, the assassin of Empress Kaldwin. The plot takes place after her assassination, during the reign of the Lord Regent and Corvo’s imprisonment. We immediately find that Corvo wasn’t the only one contacted by the mysterious Outsider, as Daud is given a directive by him to solve the mystery behind the name ‘Delilah.’ Daud journeys into Dunwall with his cabal of assassins to find out who, or what, Delilah is.
Dunwall was a pretty great location, not up there with the Raptures and City 17s of the world, but great nonetheless. The first mission of this DLC shows us a side of Dunwall hinted at in the main game, but hitherto unseen. We know that Dunwall is a whaling city, it’s very existence hanging on power generated by whale oil, but the grisly reality of this is laid bare in the first mission of this DLC, which takes place in a slaughterhouse. Whaling is a key aspect of Dishonored’s lore, and it’s good to see it given a focus here, providing a nasty and vivid location which does a great job of inspiring disgust and a desire for righteous violence in the player. The second location is quite good as well, if not quite as far apart from the locations of the main game as the first, but still quite nice. The third is a massive disappointment, taking place in a map already used in the main game. This could have worked fine, if they’d done something to alter the style and feel of the map, but no effort is made, with this mission standing as a clear rush job. It’s a sad ending to an otherwise strong DLC.
The plot has some very interesting elements, particularly regarding the magical stuff linked to the Outsider, but it’s told in a clumsy and awkward fashion, with Daud failing to really come through as a character; it does make you realise that the blank slate approach, as taken with Corvo, is perhaps for the best in these kind of games. The best element of the plot if Billie Lurk, Daud’s right hand, who pops up regularly throughout the missions to offer violent advice. The fact that this DLC is the first in a two part story doesn’t help, as it ends just as things start getting interesting.
Gameplay wise, The Knife of Dunwall is broadly speaking more of the same, although there are a couple of cool and welcome additions. Daud can summon an assassin to fight by his side, a mechanic which reminded me slightly of the brotherhood in the recent Assassin’s Creed games. The most interesting new mechanic sadly doesn’t quite live up to its potential; at the beginning of levels Daud can purchase upgrades and items, but more interestingly he can also buy ‘favors.’ These favors can be a well hidden rune, the code to a safe or hidden explosives, and it’s a cool reflection of Daud’s greater position of influence to Corvo. Sadly, not nearly enough is done with this new, and interesting, element, and I hope to see more of it in the sequel to this DLC, and even in a sequel to the main game one day.
The new environments look very nice, and the voice acting is generally pretty good. The voice work was sometimes a bit hammy in the main game, but not so much in The Knife of Dunwall. We’re regularly told that Daud is torn and traumatised by his murder of the Empress, but the voice actor doesn’t really convey this at all, with Daud instead speaking in stereotypically gravelly tones. Still, at its best Dishonored had a pretty wonderful atmosphere, and the high production values get these across well in this release, at least for the first two missions.
The Knife of Dunwall is, for the first two thirds at least, a solid and enjoyable slice of DLC, with much better bang for your buck than average. It’s not perfect, with a rushed final act and clumsy storytelling, but it’s still fun, and worth a look if you’re fancying some more Dishonored.