Dishonored was one of the games of 2012 as attested to by our review and refreshing in its aesthetic, ambition and entertainingly varied gameplay dependent on how you wanted to go about things. It did share some similarities with another darling of the generation in BioShock but then if you’re going to pay homage you really should pick the best. The opportunity to play as Corvo in a first-person perspective allowed for an all-out attack approach with your knives, guns or darts but also a quieter and stealthier way to play when using in tandem the aforementioned kill tools with your multiple upgradeable powers. Mixing things up on multiple playthroughs combined with the multitude of routes into and out of an arena ensured great fun and replayability. To that end it’s great to see Arkane Studios follow this up with The Knife of Dunwall, the second DLC for this title but the first to provide an alternative narrative running parallel to the main game.
In this three chapter selection you play as Daud, the leader of the group of Assassins who set you up at the very start of the retail release when they assassinated Dunwall’s Empress. On that basis you know how the story’s going to end but that’s for the next piece of DLC - here we experience only half of his story. It’s a sizeable chunk of material though, especially when taking into account the fact it’s designed to be replayed, again rewarding the player for going through the game with low chaos (kill few people, don’t get noticed and so on) and then high chaos by way of a different set of trophies. The first mission is longer than the second and this in turn is much longer than the short finale. But in total you’d expect around three hours for your first run through and one to two for a second if you wanted to be a completionist. If that sounds longer than an equivalent set of levels from Corvo’s adventure then it’s because playing on a similar difficulty level seems a little more of a challenge than before, largely because of the seemingly never-ending supply of bad guys in any one area. Whichever level you choose the content here is solidly lengthy and a worthy chunk of game is provided.
The first level is set in a slaughterhouse, a new area to fans of the game. The mission objectives are a mix of what you’ll have seen before such as assassinating a target or finding some item or documentation. The second area is a part of Dunwall that whilst not one you remember it does feel entirely familiar. The final mission is a reused location, albeit played back to front compared to how you remember it. It all means that nothing is really very different to what you’ve played before. Even when the area is new it still looks the same in terms of how it’s finished - yes the map is different and the way from A to B novel but the world of Dunwall, whilst wonderfully constructed, is a bit boring this time around. You get some new enemies too, harder ones called Butchers for example, who have a rather upsetting chainsaw type contraption powered by whale oil that can chop you to pieces and defend them when attacking from front-on. Daud has new powers - once you collect enough runes to make use of them - as well as a slightly varied but all-powerful Blink (thankfully it is still possible to complete the whole thing with this ridiculously wonderful teleportation skill pretty much alone) as well as various tools we haven’t seen before such as a gas grenade and a mini wall of light arc mine. The final chapter plays out differently to much of what we’ve seen before and is perhaps the most entertaining of the three, trying something different especially in terms of how it ends. A pity then it’s so short compared to the first two missions.
So there are a lot of different things allied to the fantastic gameplay we’ve already seen. But the time spent in Daud’s Dunwall is oddly cold and unengaging. You feel like you’re treading water just to get through things. There’s no wonder at what’s going on and no excitement building from the narrative at hand. You can artificially make things more of a challenge and try and fire the heart that way - why there’s even a fourth Master Assassin difficulty level waiting for the second playthrough - but it doesn’t change the basic fact that Dishonored is even at this early stage in the (presumably) franchise’s lifetime, in need of a change. We learn at the opening of The Knife of Dunwall that Daud is one of eight folk visited by The Outsider, the giver of the mark that the greatest and most learned assassins around the world (or whatever greater orb Dunwall sits upon, and universe it sits within). With little else mentioned it means thoughts turn to what a future setting and new character can be. Similar to the way Assassin’s Creed moves from place to place and avatar to avatar we might hope for the same here. A preferred comparison might be that of the aforementioned spiritual sibling series, BioShock. It’s needed as Dunwall and those within just don’t flex the desire and excitement as much as they once did.
This all adds up to a mixed bag of a conclusion. The quality of the action, the design of the maps and the addition of novelties for Daud is top-notch and deserves credit. Arkane themselves earn great respect for supporting the title with narrative-based DLC ensuring fans are sated. But in so doing they perhaps dilute what’s gone before. If you’ve only played the main game once then this will likely be a wonderful dessert. If you played it through in two or three different ways to see what you can eke out of it by tackling a particular problem an alternative way, or going for that platinum trophy, then what you have here is the World Cup third-place playoff. It needs to exist for various political reasons but no-one really wants it.